Friday, May 30, 2008

Fingers Crossed at Nepal’s Republican Utopia

Fingers Crossed at Nepal’s Republican Utopia
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Nepal is at the crossroads. The 239-year-old Hindu monarchy has been consigned into the dustbin of history. A constituent assembly meeting on May 28, 2008 in the capital, Kathmandu, overwhelmingly voted to make Nepal "an independent, indivisible, sovereign, and secular and an inclusive democratic republic nation." Thousands of people came out on the streets nationwide to celebrate the declaration of republic. The government announced a two-day public holiday in celebration of the republic.

The promise of a republican utopia has generated a great deal of expectations in Nepal. The people of Nepal have entrusted their faith in the Maoist leadership that they would quickly address the issues of their country that’s long been neglected due to feudalistic nature of the Nepalese political system. The Maoist in turn has made the people believe that the worst is over and Nepal and the republican utopia is the correct path for the recovery and reconstruction of the Himalayan nation.

However,the skeptics cast doubts over the Maoist claim and say to keep the fingers crossed and watch whether the Maoist would live up to the expectations. Their reasons are obvious. Nepal ranks among the poorest countries of the world, with a per capita income of just USD 260 per annum, and 42 per cent of the population below the poverty line. Poor connectivity afflicts much of the country, with isolated and dispersed populations in the hill areas largely unconnected by roads. A large proportion of the cultivable land and of the rural population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. GDP growth has tended to lag behind population growth – with a consequent decline in per capita incomes, and a rising population in poverty. Worse, Nepal has one of the most rapid rates of population growth in the region, adding 11.25 million to its year 2000 population of 24.43 million by 2020, to realize a 46 per cent augmentation at 35.68 million. The current population is already estimated to have exceeded 29.5 million). This will push up population densities from 166 in 2000 to 242 in 2020, creating unbearable burdens on the country's resources, which are already stretched to a limit.

Given the magnitude of the problems, the agenda of national transformation that the Maoist has taken on their shoulders looks to be a Herculean task. They could only accomplish this either in engagement with democracy or end up resorting to totalitarianism. Under democracy it would be really a hard task to take drastic action against those who actually control power, influence and wealth in Nepal. The stratified social order there makes the task much more difficult. In such case, if they fail to deliver at least some economic relief to the people they would be testing their patience once again. That means Nepal has moving towards totalitarianism if wants to address its problems. At this stage it’s really hard to say which side the pendulum would rest but suffice would be to say that the worst is not yet over.

The only high point about the change in Nepal is that an insurgent group that has been waging an armed rebellion against a state is able to capture power through the democratic process. This is something remarkable feat in the annals of the insurgent movements. The Maoist leadership has to be saluted for the timing of the judgment to jump into the democratic bandwagon. They should also be appreciated for the realization that the power necessarily do not flow from the barrel of the guns. The Maoist of Nepal defiantly provides lessons to many similar groups waging similar ideological war in South Asia.

However, South Asia has some unofficial rules that’s never been preached but masterly practiced to capture power. The various groups that operate here have one point agenda to acquire power by manipulating democracy, to suit their ends. And after having doing so, the commitments and promises vanishes into the blue and priorities to self aggrandizements. This is true about Nepal as well.

Nepal’s struggle for democracy began after monarchy took over the reins of power in the early 1960s. It’s more than 30 years hard struggle that a multi party democracy system was restored in Nepal in 1990. High hopes were pinned on the democratic forces but they failed to change the lives of the ordinary people. What they did was to keep fighting among each other as who would loot the country. In a span of 10 years Nepal saw more than 12 governments. When the so called democratic forces made a mess of the governance, the monarchy had to assert. Thus began the third phase of struggle for democracy in Nepal and the rise of the Maoist.

The rise of the Maoist was more due to the inefficiency of the democratic forces rather than the ills of the Monarchy. But the Maoist did not choose to attack the democratic forces, because if they demonized them, their quest to capture power may have eluded them forever. They knew if they said they would establish a Chinese, Russian or Cuban model of governance, they may not have any takers. So they engaged themselves with the democratic forces, but at the same time differentiated by raising the bogey against the monarchical order. This was a tactical move to gain legitimacy, through popular means.

As far the Maoist is concerned so far they had a dream run in Nepal. The classical theorist and the text books Marxist would relish at the feat of the Maoists leadership. They have translated the Marxian-Hegelian theories into practice and shown it to the world. However, how they would reorganize the country, is another story that is yet to unfold?

The popular perception is the Maoist commitment to pluralism and parliamentary democracy is unquestioned. However given the plethora of the problems that Nepal faces, it would be really unrealistic to fix them under the present framework of governance. This means after five years the Maoist leadership would be asking for another term and then another term. Can they tackle all the ills of the country in 10-15 years of time frame? What’s the guarantee they would not fall prey to the endemic corruption and ineptitude that has afflicted Nepal's other political formations?

The other option before them is to assert that the power could certainly be secured under the shadows of the gun. In such case Nepal would to turn to another totalitarian state as it is the case with most of communist ruled states. However, that would be another story for another day to tell.

Right now in Nepal the bees are fighting for honey; all are struggling to reach the beehive. In the bandwagon the Maoist are also there. Will they deliver the promises after they start sucking the juices of power. All this will be known only after a considerable time have lapsed. Right now as an optimist, one must welcome the change in Nepal but at the same time keep the fingers crossed and watch the drama unfolding at the Himalayas.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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