Originally Published 2005-08-24 04:50:13 Published on Aug 24, 2005
A recent study published in an American journal places Nepal at the 37th place in a list of 60 prospective failing states all over the world. The study must have been conducted a few months earlier. Today, Nepal must have moved up in the list.
Nepal: Dangerous drift
A recent study published in an American journal places Nepal at the 37th place in a list of 60 prospective failing states all over the world. The study must have been conducted a few months earlier. Today, Nepal must have moved up in the list. It was the concern for the deteriorating internal situation in the kingdom and its royal regime's wild allegations against India (for supplying faulty INSAS rifles to the Royal Nepalese Army) to divert attention that prompted India's National Security Council to meet and discuss the Nepalese situation recently. After the meeting, a strong statement in favour of restoration of democracy in Nepal was issued. 

Far from the King's claims to stabilise the situation within 100 days after his takeover on February 1, 2005, Nepal looks confused and chaotic. Militarily, the RNA (Royal Nepal Army) suffered a severe setback in the first week of August, in Pili of Kalikot division in western Nepal. Almost the entire army base was wiped out by the Maoists and huge stores of modern arms were captured by the rebels. Administratively, the King has tried to put his people in zonal and district control but their writ does not run. At the village level, many of the newly appointed Village Developmental Council (VDC) members have quit their positions. 

The worst erosion of the royal regime is evident at the political level. The King's refusal to do anything to restore the democratic process has brought the political parties and the Maoists together. There is a tremendous upsurge among the party cadres in favour of a republican Nepal, so much so that if the top party leaders show any hesitation in responding to this upsurge, they may be pushed into oblivion and a new, more radical and youthful leadership may take over. It is under this pressure from the grassroots that the Nepali Congress has decided to drop its organisational position of being supportive of the constitutional monarchy and the United Marxist Leninist Communist Party unanimously expressed its support for a republican democracy in Nepal in its Central Committee deliberations. 

The civil society groups like journalists, lawyers, civil servants and youths are agitating against the regime. The King is being caricatured and lampooned in the media and from public platforms openly for his authoritarian political ambitions, lack of administrative acumen and financial mismanagement. Manifold increase in the budgetary allocations for the palace and the RNA is a matter of sharp criticism in public places. Some of the important industrial and business concerns like the Uniliver are shutting down under the Maoists threats as the security forces cannot provide them adequate security.The second Cabinet reshuffle by the King after February 1 under his own chairmanship has alienated even some of the old Panchayat loyalists from the royal regime. His appointment of former Generals on lucrative ambassadorial positions has also been disapproved of publicly. 

The royal regime by its sheer obstinacy in refusing to restore the democratic process has also managed to distance itself from the international community. The regime has had a particularly acrimonious exchange with the British Ambassador who refused to treat the Maoists as a bunch of terrorists. Even the US support for the King has been diluted. The King's Foreign Minister boasts of Chinese support but it is clear to everyone that even the King's efforts to participate in some of the international fora did not get him the support he was looking for. The international community, in particular, India, the US and the UK, has started reviewing its policy towards the royal regime seriously. 

The most important question in Nepal today is the emerging nature of democratic and anti-monarchical forces. The political parties and the Maoists have started getting together to build a united front against the royal regime. Almost all the political parties are actively pursuing this objective except the Rastriya Prajatantra Party of the old Panchyat loyalists. The King is trying his best to subvert and delay the formation of this united front through devious means and surrogate party leaders, but in view of the fast changing popular perceptions, he is not likely to succeed. As and when the united front takes a concrete shape, and that may not be too far, a strong anti-King agitation will surface all over Nepal. This will amount to a political implosion in the kingdom on a much larger and stronger scale than witnessed during the "people's movement" in1989-90. 

It is time for India and the international community to shed off its self-imposed dilemma and lethargy of a twin-pillar approach of supporting democracy under a constitutional monarchy. Instead, India and the international community must engage constructively with the rising popular forces in the form of a united front of the political parties and the Maoists. The Maoists have repeatedly assured that they want to follow a democratic route by accepting a multi-party democracy. They have stopped their violence against the political parties and are prepared to accept independent international monitoring of their conduct in this respect. They have also given assurances to agree to free and non-violent elections for the Constituent Assembly, which most political parties are willing to accept. 

The international community's engagement with the united front of the popular forces would provide the much-needed sense of security and confidence to the political parties as it will also cast a moderating influence on the Maoists. It is possible that an open and declared support of the international community for the popular forces may force the King to gather his political balance, prepare for a compromise and political accommodation and initiate the possibility of a peaceful and democratic resolution of the problem. 

India must take the lead in this regard. More so because it faces today a very turbulent neighbourhood, full of worrisome prospects. Sri Lanka's peace process is on the verge of collapse in the aftermath of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar's assassination. Bangladesh is fast coming under the grip of Islamic extremism and terrorism and Pakistan looks as enigmatic as ever. India's responses towards all these situations are half-hearted and wishy-washy, leaving room for undesirable domestic and external forces to have a field day. If Nepal can be brought to the track of stable democratic evolution, one of India's major worries would be over. 

The author is Professor, South Asian Studies, JNU, New Delhi, and Honorary Director, Research, Observer Research Foundation.

Source: The Tribune, Cnahdigarh, August 24, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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