Democracy On A Razor Edge
Democracy On A Razor Edge
By: John S. Shilshi
Eleven years ago, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) walked out of the Nepali Parliament to begin an armed struggle popularly know as the “People’s War”. The reason put forward by the party was that, the then Parliament under 1990 Constitution was not democratic in nature, and therefore it failed to fulfill the aspirations of different sections of the people. The movement began with an avowed promise of making the red hammer and sickle flag fly atop the Mount Everest, and dole out a Republic Nepal to the People. However, after a decade long fierce arm conflict, the people’s war was no where near achieving the above promise. Instead, it ripped Nepal right through its belly, where 13,000 people got killed, 5000 disappeared, 40,00,000 migrated to different countries, over a lakh displaced within Nepal, and many more maimed, disabled, orphaned, and widowed. The war also pulled out the otherwise ceremonial bound Royal Nepal Army to a battle field, who in many ways contributed to the above human tragedy.
The conflict reduced Nepal to almost a state of nothingness. Infrastructures got destroyed at regular intervals, poverty level climbed after every passing year, trafficking of women and children became rampant, and the economy nose dived at one time to as low as 2% GDP growth. In other words, Nepal was a nation badly bruised and wounded as direct outcome of the Maoists People’s War. Adding to this overflowing cup of woes was an arrogant King, whose very accession to the throne was questioned by many. He assumed executive power beginning February 2005 and wanted to rule the country by throttling the voices of democratic institutions. His autocratic rule, carried out through coterie of palace stooge further complicated matters. And as dislodging him from centre of power seemed increasingly remote, mainstream politicians and the CPN-Maoists, who were locker head since the start of the People’s war decided to adopt a policy called ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, and came together. They formed a united front with the common objective of removing the Monarchy.
Thus the Jana Aandolan II of April 2006 took root, and after 19 days of street protests, the King tasted the bitter pill of engaging people’s power from the wrong end. He was forced to make an ignominious exit only to be reduced to an ordinary citizen in the days that followed. Since then the process of scripting a new political history of Nepal began, and after bouts of hiccups, it culminated into an epoch making event of January 15, 2007, where Nepal parliament became the first in the history of the world to promulgate a statute effecting its own demise, only to be born again within few hours with a different name and more members which included those who once said they had no faith in the very institution. The international community watched this unfolding of history with interest, and Nepal as a nation was accorded the highest regard as never before all around the world. In its own courtyard, the Nepalese breathed a longish sigh of relief because they felt that since conflict ultimately ended where it actually started, it would now be end of the road for violence.
However, even before the euphoria of January 15 settles down, the neo-democratic government of Nepal suffered a rude shock in the form Madhesis protest which brought normal life to a grinding halt in ten terai districts. The Madhesis occupy 21 districts in terai region and constitute roughly about 31% of Nepal’s population. Though the region has stretches of fertile land and its topography is development friendly in comparison to other regions of Nepal, it remains under developed and the people are poor. As a matter of fact, the Madhesis suffer from identity crisis. And estimated close to 4 million people among them are still without citizenship certificate, though the newly enacted Citizenship Act (2006) is expected to address this issue. Under successive regimes, they have suffered from racial discriminations and their representation in politics and other organ of governance are far from satisfactory. The erstwhile Royal Nepal Army (now Nepal Army) in fact has no representation of Madhesis at all. This is a fact acknowledged by the intelligentsia and right groups even among pahade community.
Apart from being subjected to years of differential treatment by the government, the Madhesis themselves suffer from certain mental block. They believe in a wrongly conceived notion that speaking for their rights is not their cup of tea. This mindset being largely prevalent, they lack unity and rather believe in the unwritten principle of ‘united we fall, divided we stand’ and prefer to be on pahade blaming mode for whatever plights that befall on them. However, in the present democratic system of Nepal, they now not only found a new political environment and space to speak out, but also a change in mindset. They are protesting that the interim constitution has not adequately addressed their demands with regards to federal structure of governance and representations proportionate to population. These issues have takers not only within the Madhesis community, but outside the community as well. Several commentators from the pahade community, including well known media personalities have written extensively in support of the Madhesi issue. There is also a general feeling of concern among mainstream politicians about Madhesi voice falling into deaf ears for far too long.
This indeed is a healthy trend for an emerging Nepali polity. But in the midst of this newly found political culture of inclusiveness, there is also an impending danger for the nascent democracy. And the threat comes from none other than the CPN-Maoists. The party opting to interpret the present Madhesi movement as handiworks of criminal elements is a case in point. It is disheartening to note that it came from a party, who once considered a parliament undemocratic, because it failed to listen to the cries of different sections of Nepali society. Also despite projecting itself as a party with a difference, the CPN-Maoists was also slow in admitting that it was the reckless act of one of their men in Lahan, which sparked the present unrest. Whether Prachanda and company like it or not, the fact of the matter is that, many of their cadres still continue to remain prisoners of gun culture, and therefore are not use to taking orders from other quarters. Similarly, the tones and tenors of their politicians always carry elements of veiled threats which are not conducive for democracy.
Through out their struggle, the Maoists assert that Complete Democracy is what they held close to their hearts. But, in the last ten months or so that they have been wedded to mainstream politics, their attitude towards participatory democracy hardly demonstrates this claim. Unless this attitude change, the world shall continue to doubt their intentions, and most importantly, Nepal’s democracy shall continue to balance itself precariously on a razor edge.
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