11 April 2006

Review: More at stake than the monarchy

With the partnership between Nepal's parliamentary parties and Maoists having brought the Himalayan kingdom to a historic turning point, the reconfiguration of Nepalese politics, social relations and foreign policy is a question that can no longer be evaded. King Gyanendra and his principal international backer, the United States, may be determined to hold on to power and even try and turn the clock back to an earlier era. But when the dust from the new wave of popular protest eventually settles, it is unlikely that either he or the monarchy — or the military commanders and businessmen who support him — will be able to continue in the old way. A novice in politics and statecraft, Gyanendra is all tactics and no strategy. In Nepal, then, the question is no longer `whether' but `when'. The `kingdom' will move in the direction of genuine democracy and popular sovereignty, with or without its king, and this can only have a salutary impact on the Nepalese state's relations with its citizens and with the wider world, including India.

Though the arrival of a clutch of books on Nepal at a time the country is in the throes of political turmoil might ordinarily be grounds for suspecting their quality, the three books under review are anything but "quickies". Each the product of solid research and analysis by leading scholars, the volumes provide the necessary historical, sociological and regional contexts to the ongoing struggle for popular sovereignty.

11 April 2006
The Hindu

Nepal beyond the monarchy

After years of upheaval, Nepal is on the brink of a major political change. What will a country of citizens — and not subjects — look like? Three new books provide some of the answers.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

DYNAMICS OF FOREIGN POLICY AND LAW — A Study of Indo-Nepal Relations: Surya P. Subedi; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 595.
TOWARDS A DEMOCRATIC NEPAL — Inclusive Political Institutions for a Multicultural Society: Mahendra Lawoti; Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., B-42, Panchsheel Enclave, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 395.
A HISTORY OF NEPAL: John Whelpton; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, distributed by Foundation Books Pvt. Ltd., 438/4, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 375.

With the partnership between Nepal's parliamentary parties and Maoists having brought the Himalayan kingdom to a historic turning point, the reconfiguration of Nepalese politics, social relations and foreign policy is a question that can no longer be evaded. King Gyanendra and his principal international backer, the United States, may be determined to hold on to power and even try and turn the clock back to an earlier era. But when the dust from the new wave of popular protest eventually settles, it is unlikely that either he or the monarchy — or the military commanders and businessmen who support him — will be able to continue in the old way.
A novice in politics and statecraft, Gyanendra is all tactics and no strategy. In Nepal, then, the question is no longer `whether' but `when'. The `kingdom' will move in the direction of genuine democracy and popular sovereignty, with or without its king, and this can only have a salutary impact on the Nepalese state's relations with its citizens and with the wider world, including India.

Though the arrival of a clutch of books on Nepal at a time the country is in the throes of political turmoil might ordinarily be grounds for suspecting their quality, the three books under review are anything but "quickies". Each the product of solid research and analysis by leading scholars, the volumes provide the necessary historical, sociological and regional contexts to the ongoing struggle for popular sovereignty.

While none deals at length with the Maoist movement - for that, interested readers can do no better than turn to S.D. Muni's Maoist Insurgency in Nepal: The Challenge and the Response (Rupa, New Delhi) - they do render more intelligible the wider processes and problems that any search for a democratic, inclusive future must come to terms with.

In his book, John Whelpton provides a detailed, yet, highly accessible account of the history of modern Nepal that is also full of contemporary political and social insights.

Tracing the evolution of the monarchy and the Nepalese state from Prithvi Narayan Shah in the 18th century to the ascendancy of the Ranas and the eventual return to full-blown monarchy, Whelpton describes the process of unification and `Sanskritisation' which enabled the gradual expansion of Gorkhali power across the length and breadth of Nepal. Ethnicity remains a potent factor in Nepalese society, he argues, but so does the notion of `Nepaleseness' which is not necessarily contingent on the monarchy as a unifying factor. Whelpton's chapters on Nepal's development experience and on the social changes brought about by the expansion of education as well as migration add an important dimension to the contemporary narrative which is often lost in the tumult of politics.

Exclusion

In Towards a Democratic Nepal, Mahendra Lawoti sees the Maoist insurgency in Nepal as an outgrowth of fundamental inequalities within the Himalayan kingdom. He provides a devastating account of the systematic exclusion of Nepal's ethnic and minority groups from the political and economic mainstream of the country — the adibasis, janajatis, dalits, Madhesis and Muslims — and pitches for a Constituent Assembly as a means of effecting fundamental reforms in the polity. Though Lawoti's emphasis on constitutional change suggests an overlap with what the Maoists and parties are saying, his proposed project is a far richer and complex one aimed not just at renegotiating the monarchy's position but also at bridging fundamental inequalities between Nepal's regions and ethnic groups.

Lawoti argues that the dominant group in Nepal today is the CHEEM, or Caste Hill Hindu Elite Male, who constitutes less than 31 per cent of the population but whose hold over all spheres of the state, society and market "is overwhelming." The author favours proportional representation as well as affirmative action policies aimed at raising the socio-economic level of Nepal's underprivileged communities. But for some of Nepal's communities, such as the Limbus, for example, the principle of proportionality may not be enough. Apart from the constitutional protection of minority rights, therefore, Lawoti argues for a federal structure in which a "House of Nationalities" would give voice to the country's diverse ethnicities. Though he concedes that the Maoists and even the monarchy have done more than the parliamentary parties to address concerns of socio-cultural exclusion, Lawoti says that "the institutions proposed in this book are not compatible with an autocratic monarchy or with the Maoists's Peoples' Democracy." A constitutional monarchy or a Maoist movement without violence, however, would be a different matter.

India-Nepal relations

In contrast to Whelpton and Lawoti, Surya Subedi's book is closely focussed on the relationship between India and Nepal over the past 55 years.

Taking as his starting point the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship that was signed when Mohan Shumsher and the Rana regime of which he was Prime Minister was about to be overthrown, Subedi argues that India has always concluded treaties with Nepal dealing with security matters "when the government in Nepal... was weak." As a landlocked country, "one of the first and foremost provisions in a peace and friendship treaty with India should be to guarantee Nepal's freedom of transit and right of free access to and from the sea," writes Subedi. "However, the 1950 treaty contains no such provision."

Subedi's arguments are strengthened by their firm grounding in international practice on the question of trade and transit rights of landlocked countries. His discussion about the marine fishery rights of landlocked countries, especially in the exclusive economic zones of their neighbours, is also fascinating.

Bilateral issues

While there may be some `nationalists' in India who will dispute Subedi's analysis of the security, transit and water issues which have bedevilled the bilateral relationship, especially the Mahakali and Tanakpur controversies, there can surely be no argument about his conclusion that all outstanding problems must be resolved on the basis of equality, openness, mutual respect and trust.

Arguing that the provisions of the 1950 treaty and the 1965 Arms Assistance Agreement on security matters "are very similar, [and] even identical to those of the 1923 treaty concluded by Nepal with British India," Subedi stresses that "antiquated colonial style treaties" need to be democratised. Democratisation of relations between the two countries would be in India's interest, he says, since "it would then be difficult for Nepalese political parties to win elections on the basis of an anti-India policy." Subedi doesn't say so but the key to that democratisation lies today with the Nepalese democratic forces, whose struggle against authoritarian monarchy will eventually open the door to more fundamental changes on every front.

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3 comments:

Paramendra Bhagat said...

Nepal: Malaria, Polio, Monarchy

Balaji said...

Hi Mr. Varadarajan,
I've read your articles on "The Hindu". I assume that you are highly pro-left. Can you comment on this article Why should not there be any reservation

Anonymous said...

History is teaching Lesson to Hindu Monarchy, which gained power by driving Dravidians away from Nepal. Now it is the end of the story for the Aryan Kingdom. Doomsday is predicted soon for the Aryan empire in this region. Every Aryan Hindu has to pay his price.