Ajay Vaishnav/ ZRG
Nepal’s tryst with democracy – beginning from its transition to a constitutional monarchy in 1990 to the latest dissolution of the Constituent Assembly – has been far from memorable. Will the election later this year due on November 22 change the course and put Nepal back on track?
While the transition from an authoritarian Hindu kingdom to a constitutional monarchy brought hope among the people, the experiment with democracy never took off in real sense due to fractious political agendas and despotic interventions by the monarch.
The relief provided by the peace agreement of 2006 after a decade-long civil war with Maoist insurgents was short-lived. The failure of Nepalese political parties to reach an agreement on a draft Constitution since 2008 despite repeated extensions to the Constituent Assembly has pushed the Himalayan nation into further political bewilderness. Add to this confusion protest calls and shutdowns by Nepalese political parties that have severely hit economic activities and compounded the problems of ordinary people.
However, it is worth asking whether election to elect a new Constituent Assembly is the way forward for Nepal’s fractious polity. The election call comes in the midst of the clamour for restoring monarchy.
But Prof Lok Raj Baral from the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies (NCCS), Kathmandu thinks otherwise. “Multi-party democracy has no alternative as of today. Nepal has already experimented with monarchical authoritarian regime and cannot go back to the old model as such regimes cannot cope with challenges being thrown open by various forces and trends. However, conventional multi-party democracy without social justice and inclusiveness is not likely to be successful”, he stressed.
However, Rohit Viswanath, a foreign policy analyst at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), doubts Nepal’s capacity to sustain democracy. “Baburam Bhattarai’s move to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, although aimed at averting further violence, was a regressive move for Nepal’s democracy. It is improbable that fresh elections will herald any consensus among the leaders. I see the emergence of even more divided legislature.”
Many others in India share Viswanath’s pessimism. Anshuman Behera, an analyst with the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) at New Delhi, points that present crisis has the potential to generate into a violent conflict. On June 1, 2012, Behera in his comment piece ‘Nepal: The Constituent Assembly that was’ warned: “The hopes and aspirations of the people have been betrayed as the largest democratically elected body ever in the history of Nepal could not accomplish its mission. The ensuing uncertainty has the potential to drag the country into further instability and violent conflict.”
Prof Baral at NCCS, however, is optimistic that Nepal will overcome the crisis. “The present constitutional crisis will be overcome in the course of time. The major political parties are under tremendous constraints. Either they should accept the fresh election to the new Constituent Assembly in November or forge a consensus for a national unity government which is expected to settle all outstanding issues concerning federalism, election system and form of government.”
The turn of events has serious implications for New Delhi, especially in view of growing Chinese influence in Nepal. ICRIER’s Viswanath calls for redrafting India’s Nepal policy: “There isn’t much that India can do in the present circumstances. Even offering to mediate between the various parities and help in reconciliation and bringing about stability would be perceived with contempt. The Chinese threat has historically ensured India takes keen interest in the happenings in Nepal and try to influence them to its advantage. Such actions have led to a belief in Nepal that their country’s fate could become like that of Sikkim or Bhutan.”