01 October 2004

Inside Nepal I: Thinking aloud about kingdom without a king

1 October 2004
The Hindu

Inside Nepal - I

Thinking aloud about rule without a King

By Siddharth Varadarajan

Kathmandu: It is a paradox of political life in Nepal that of all the
demands raised by the Maoist insurgents in the past few years, their
call for a democratically elected Constituent Assembly has proved to
be the most subversive one. It has animated the traditional supporters
of democracy and republicanism and drawn fresh support to their side,
especially amongst the youth. But it has also infuriated the defenders
of the monarchist order – the King, the Army, and a section of the
traditional political elite – who have no intention of leaping into
the constitutional unknown and are determined to resist any talk of
change, even if this means delaying the possibility of a ceasefire and
a negotiated end to the decade-long civil war which has wracked the

In his famous 'Six Questions', Maoist leader Prachanda asked Prime
Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba last week whether his government was
really committed "to making the people sovereign through an election
to the constituent assembly". Prachanda's question is a ploy, a
tactic, Mr Deuba told The Hindu on Wednesday, adding that he could not
agree to any proposal which might compromise the country's system of
constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. "The monarchy is
widely respected… we need constitutional monarchy for the unity of the
country." When reminded that most parties – including the Communist
Party of Nepal (UML) and the G.P. Koirala faction of the Nepal
Congress – had broadly endorsed the idea of a Constituent Assembly, Mr
Deuba said the question could only arise if there was "a national

Though the Maoist demand has been around for years, what seems to have
tipped the scales was King Gyanendra's October 2002 decision to
dismiss the democratically elected government and his subsequent
refusal to compromise with the political parties. "After the King's
takeover of power, the youth of all the democracy loving parties has
gone over to the republican movement", says Shyam Shreshta, editor of
Mulyankan magazine and a former comrade of the Maoists until he broke
with them on the question of violence. Pointing to the results of a
'referendum' organized earlier this year by the student organizations
of the UML, Nepal Congress and others in which 85 per cent of college
students 'voted' for a republican state, Mr Shreshta says that if the
King delays the handover of power, "the probability is that most of
the people will go over to that side". Pressure from below is even
pushing a traditionalist like Mr Koirala towards this demand, he says,
with Nepal Congress district presidents in 48 out of the country's 75
districts issuing a statement favouring a Constituent Assembly.

Mr Shreshta says the Maoists want the Constituent Assembly to abolish
the monarchy and establish a republic "but will accept the outcome if
the Assembly says no". Others, however, are not so sure. Madhav Kumar
Nepal, leader of the UML, told The Hindu the Maoists "need to give
assurances that they will really respect the sovereignty of the
people, human rights, the supremacy of the Constitution". "They have
no tolerance at all", he said. "They are killing the cadres of other
parties. The social-fascism of the Maoists has crossed the limit. They
really have to change their attitude towards others, and be prepared
to co-exist."

A Constituent Assembly is acceptable to Mr Nepal, whose UML is part of
the Deuba-led coalition, provided it is part of a peace process and is
preceded by a round-table conference and the formation of an interim
government. But Mr Nepal feels the Maoists should not raise this
demand as a precondition. "They should not ask so many questions, one
after another. This type of quiz contest is not so good. If they feel
the Deuba government has no legitimacy, that it is so beholden to the
King or Army that it cannot do anything, let them test this by sitting
at the table".

For republicans like Mr Shreshta, who do not accept the official line
that the monarchy is central to Nepal's unity, a Constituent Assembly
would also provide the King with a chance to restore his legitimacy.
"Because of the palace massacre, Gyanendra does not enjoy the same
legitimacy as the late Birendra", he says. "But nothing prevents him
from getting fresh legitimacy through a Constituent Assembly if, for
example, the people of Nepal are really for constitutional monarchy".

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