People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 16

April 16, 2006

Nepal: Royalty On Its Way Out


Naresh ‘Nadeem’


THOUGH the four-day strike, called for by the opposition seven-party alliance and supported by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) ended on Sunday, April 9, this was in fact the beginning of a new phase of struggle for restoration of democracy in Nepal. The strike, significantly, took place on the 16th anniversary of the revival of democracy in this Himalayan kingdom in 1990.




One would recall that the democratic set-up was revived in Nepal in 1990 after a gap of three decades since the royal overthrow of the B P Koirala government in 1960. That time too, the impoverished and oppressed people of the country had to wage a long struggle --- now a low-pitched one, now in high tone --- and make many sacrifices for the purpose. That was the time when the late King Birendra had to relinquish absolute power and agree to be the titular head of a democratic government in the country. It was thus that Nepal again ushered into the age of a constitutional monarchy.


But the situation took an ominous turn when King Gyanendra sacked the prime minister Shyam Bahadur Deuba, dissolved the parliament and took all powers in his hands in February 2005. Alongside, he also suspended many civil liberties and rights enjoyed by the people, and put many opposition leaders in house arrest or behind the bars. Emergency was also clamped during a part of his direct rule though the suspended rights and liberties of the people were not restored even after the emergency was lifted.


Though the pet plea of the monarch was that the elected government had failed to contain the Maoist threat and allowed the country to slip into chaos, the argument had few takers inside the country or abroad. Numerous people have been suspicious about Gyanendra’s conspiratorial motive ever since his brother King Birendra along with his family members was gunned down by the heir-apparent himself, in an inebriated condition, and then the gunner was himself gunned down. Be that as it may, soon after he was anointed the king, Gyanendra began to create problems for the people’s elected representatives, several governments were formed and dissolved, and finally he staged a coup some 14 months ago. 


Several Nepal watchers and common people also suspect imperialist hand behind Gyanendra’s moves.




However, whatever might have been his loud professions, Gyanendra singularly failed to contain the rebel activities; nor could he rally the people behind the monarchy in the name of fighting the Maoist menace. The reason is simple. His regime has utterly failed to make any dent in the extreme poverty stalking Nepal, which is the root cause of the ongoing rebellion in many parts of the country, and the economy posted a paltry 2.5 per cent rate of growth in 2005. However, instead of honestly pondering over the causes of this situation, Gyanendra chose to adopt a more convenient route: of blaming the rebellion for the whole situation. It is another thing that this cause-consequence inversion failed to convince anybody.


It was in this situation that seven biggest parties of the country came together to form an alliance for restoration of democracy in the country. These include a big chunk of the Sadbhavana Party, both of whose factions used to be pro-monarch. 


But the alliance scored a major success with the mainstreaming, so to say, of the rebels. The latter remained cut-off from the democratic currents and kept waging a war on the government for more than eight years, in which period some 13,000 Nepalis belonging to the two sides or to none have been killed. But, finally, the rebels too came to realise the necessity of joining hands with the opposition parties for achieving their goals. The four-day strike in the country, from April 6 to 9, was the first major action on part of this combine. Only a little before the onset of the strike, the CPN (Maoist) had unilaterally declared a ceasefire, which was yet another significant event in the ongoing pro-democracy struggle in Nepal.   




The success of the called-for strike was a foregone conclusion even before it commenced. However, instead of reading the writing on the wall, the monarch chose to adopt still tougher measures. True he did not go to the extent of imposing emergency yet another time though he threatened to do so, but he clamped curfew in Kathmandu, Kirtinagar, Lalitpur and some other areas in central Nepal --- to which a shoot-at-sight order was added on April 9. In effect, in his anxiety to foil the strike that had by now become the centre of international attention, the monarch gave his forces a free hand to do whatever they liked.


But the most significant aspect of the strike was that it turned out to be a big success even though most of the leaders of pro-democracy parties had been behind the bars. It was the hurriedly cobbled mohulla committees that formed small well-knit groups of protesters, set up road barricades, and guided the people in resisting the police and armed forces, defying the curfew and staging other protest actions. Though such a kind of leaderless protest has its own perils, this showed the depth of the hatred the people of Nepal harbour against Gyanendra and his coterie.


During the strike, desperation reached a new pitch in the royal camp. Though Kamal Thapa, the home minister, tried to put up a brave face, saying that he won’t refrain from taking even harsher steps (on April 8, draft of an emergency proclamation was reportedly discussed in a hurriedly convened meeting), it was clear that his voice lacked convincing power. The government also jammed mobile services in a bid to foil coordination between the strike’s organisers, but the action was still a success. 


On its part, the government controlled media continued to run its own solo song with two refrains. The first of its propaganda was that the Maoists had infiltrated the ranks of protesters. This was nothing but ridiculous propaganda, as Maoists were among the strike’s sponsors and it was not surprising that their cadres worked for the action’s success.


Secondly, though in vain, the media tried to give the impression that the royal forces kept their cool everywhere and that it was the people who turned violent, thereby provoking the forces to retaliate. But this too was a baseless piece. Everywhere, it was the riot police and security forces that charged at peaceful demonstrators, whipped batons, fired teargas shells and rubber bullets, beat up crowds, arrested protesters, and opened real fire at places. As an example, soldiers shot down a woman in Narayanghat, a southern city, when she was sitting on her terrace and had nothing to do with protesters; she died in a hospital the next day. Similarly, on April 9, the police opened fire on a peaceful crowd in Banepa town on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu, when they were demonstrating against a previous killing. In the picturesque Pokhra town on the same day, it was the police that refused to give the people the body of a protester, killed in the firing on April 8, and thus provoked the people to storm the main hospital.


The Nepal office of UN Human Rights Commission has already reported and expressed concern over “the continued use of what appears to be excessive force” by royal forces.


Yet another desperate move of the monarchy was the offer made through the home minister --- that the government was prepared to talk to the mainstream parties provided they broke their ties with the Maoists. The offer was spurned with the contempt it deserved.




To return to the point made in the beginning, with the recent four-day strike begins a new phase of struggle. Despite the ban on political rallies in central Nepal and some other parts including Pokhra, the threats to take still tougher measures and the shoot-at-sight order issued to security forces, the royalty is not sure whether it would be able to tide over its crisis of a life time. Though the officials estimate the death figure at less than a dozen, the actual figure may be somewhat more. Despite that, however, the Nepalese are as firm on regaining their rights as they were before and at the onset of the recent strike.


In the meantime, people have begun to remove the signs and demolish the symbols that remind one of a monarchy’s existence. The slogan “Burn the Crown” has caught the public imagination from one part of this Himalayan nation to another. Small-scale rallies are continuing to take place all over, and the curfew has failed to deter the people. As The Nepal Times editor Kunda Dixit writes, “Each day that passes, the pro-democracy chariot is picking up momentum.” The anti-royalty mood of the people became evident on April 9 itself when people in Kathmandu and the adjacent valley observed a “blackout” protest by keeping their houses dark for 15 minutes.


It is clear that the monarchy has already met its death in mass consciousness, even before it meets its death in actuality.


It is in such a situation that the monarch is trying to get some help “from across the seven seas,” i e from the United States, whose agents and a group of marines are active in the country. At one stage, the US too tried to supply sophisticated weapons to the king via India, but without success. Quite recently, the US indeed made a plea for restoration of democracy in Nepal, but one cannot be sure about the superpower’s sincerity. In any case, more active US involvement in Nepal’s affairs in the days to come cannot be ruled out. This is something pro-democracy, freedom-loving people of the whole subcontinent have to keep a watch on. Trying to get a foothold in Nepal has been a part of the US’s China policy.


Not unexpectedly, the king has received undiluted support from the VHP and presumably from other Sangh Parivar outfits. But this is not surprising in view of the utterly retrograde world outlook of these outfits who are busy propagating that the world peoples are out to destroy the only Hindu kingdom on the globe. In Delhi and some other Indian cities, they tried to mobilise support for the notorious and murderous Nepalese monarchy, but failed to move the secular and democratic Indian masses.


As for the future course of action in Nepal itself, the people have begun to issue appeals to the police and army to remember their roots and side with the struggling mass. On their part, rebels have declared that they would take control of the highways --- something that may have serious repercussions for this landlocked country.


But the most significant announcement that came out on April 9 was that the opposition seven-party alliance would carry on with its agitation “indefinitely,” till the monarchy is brought down. And this is something no Nepal watcher is ready to dismiss lightly. But this means the days of the monarchy in Nepal are numbered. And there are also reasons to believe that if the absolute monarchy is toppled, which may well take place sooner than expected, it would be replaced not by a constitutional monarchy but by a full-fledged republic.

April 11, 2006