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Democracy Contained

King Gyanendraâ??s proclamation of the restoration of the old parliament in Nepal is a ploy to stifle the process of free and autonomous self-reconstitution of Nepalese society. The political parties should have rejected this proclamation and carried forward the republican spirit of the pro-democracy movement.

Democracy Contained

King Gyanendra’s proclamation of the restoration of the old parliament in Nepal is a ploy to stifle the process of free and autonomous self-reconstitution of Nepalese society. The political parties should have rejected this proclamation and carried forward the republican spirit of the pro-democracy movement.


ever before have elite attempts at managing democracy, indeed, containing democracy been as exposed as in Nepal today. That democracy is “granted” by those in power as a way to save themselves, that democracy arrives as the perpetuation of their rule in a new and perhaps more veiled form is yet again proved by the specific manoeuvres of the king and the world’s largest and oldest democracies.

Power is parasitic on lot of things and, in its most vicious, on democracy itself. Innumerable times have such a democracy been born, still-born that is, providing fresh (democratic) legitimacy to power. 1990 marked one such moment in Nepal. But this time around it is proving difficult for the Nepalese ruling classes and their international friends to strengthen their hold by letting out a bit of pacificatory democratic gas. And, when this does not or cannot happen, that is, when democracy confronts power, becomes a weapon in the hands of the people driving deep furrows into the machinations of the ruling classes, the arbiters of democracy suddenly see the need for dialogue, reconciliation and “a way out of the crisis”.

One wonders what the crisis was when people turned out in lakhs in the streets of Kathmandu in support of democracy, for isn’t that democracy? Thus, precisely when democracy is in action, freely asserting itself with a long-withheld vehemence, putting its foot down on all who trampled it for so long, the brokers and contractors of democracy get active: democracy has to be saved! India and the US pressurise the king to talk to the political parties and “restore democracy”; the king announces “restoration of democracy” (thanks to India). Time for a victory procession; the people united shall always be victorious.

Reports of victory processions are flowing in from different parts of Nepal today. Such victory processions had taken place to celebrate the “restoration of democracy” in 1990 itself. And it is precisely according to the provisions of the 1990 democratic constitution that the king had overthrown parliament in 2002 and which he now promises to restore. Hadn’t the political parties also welcomed the same constitution and under which they formed governments and became prime ministers? The king is indeed a constitutional monarch, he acted according to the constitution. Or rather, he violates his supposed status as a constitutional monarch through the constitution itself. Thus the king very constitutionally takes away democracy and restores it, acting according to the spirit and letter of the constitution. Every time he gets away with it; and he would have political parties also playing along or fighting along as they squabble among each other and cringe before the king to become ministers. Not this time however, with the Maoists around.

Threat of the Other

The political space in 1990 was so constructed that the contending forces and parties basically agreed that the conceding of democracy was also the moment for the internal reconstitution of their powers in a new idiom and form: the idiom of democracy and the form of constitutional monarchy. That was the case of the prodemocracy movement in 1990. What is therefore unique this time is that there is the danger of the irrelevancy of the entire exercise as there is a force which stands outside of the given paradigm and which represents the Other, the or-else factor.

The Maoist outside has so reconfigured the balance of forces inside the mainstream democratic space in Nepal that democracy and republic do not carry their conventional positive charge today. Democracy and republic are the names of ideological moves made in order to protect the crown or ones geopolitical and strategic interests. For the policemen of democracy like India, the US and European Commission, therefore, democracy in Nepal is worth it only as a step toward decimating Maoists. Thus the Republic of India, with no a priori penchant for monarchy as such, does not pitch itself for a republic today since it thinks that a republic in the present juncture imminently carries the Maoist virus.

What India and the US are saying is that if republic has today come to mean a liberal democratic order, which is acceptable in Nepal today, that is not a problem in itself but, in that case, without the monarchy in place, wouldn’t the Maoists take over the country?

Economic and Political Weekly May 6, 2006

For the US, India and the so-called international community as a whole, given the looming threat of the Maoist take-over, the choice is between a monarch who has an army with him, physical force but no support at all and political parties that have neither an army, physical strength nor great credibility and legitimacy among the people. If not democracy, the king at least has force, the army with him. So actually from the viewpoint of democracy as ideology, of defending the ruling classes, it is not the king but the political parties that are playing the bad boys, traitors to global democracy.

Protecting the Crown

Choosing between the king and political parties might not have been a serious matter if there had been no third force, the big Other, with both mass support and force at their command, rattling the entire machinery, the ruling class dispensation.

In rejecting the king’s offer backed by two great democracies of the world, the political parties are sending a deeper message to liberal democrats: that they cannot, in Nepal today, survive by treating democracy as a means through which a new division of power is effected among the elites. A brokered democracy is possible so long as there is no force which will pull off the rug and not just expose but overturn the entire show, the orchestration and management of democracy; so long, that is, as there is no danger of the rejection of the entire paradigm. The tide has however turned in Nepal today. The deeper message of the political parties is therefore that democracy as a compromise, even as a pretext for war might be in abundant supply in the world but it is not possible in Nepal today.

Apart from the vigilance of the Nepalese people, the one factor which has so reconfigured the political space in Nepal that the dominant paradigm of the global capitalism is not so easily imposed, indeed rejected, is definitely the presence of the Maoists. As noted above, the Maoists are around, not in; they are outside the framework of liberal democratic politics, in fact, they are the outside. Thus when the king sidelined the political parties, left them out in the cold, there was no neutral outside space they could occupy. They had to negotiate with the outside, and learn a few lessons on democracy and the character of the Nepalese state and theirs: the 12-point agreement with the Maoists was the result. This changed the entire course of the pro-democracy movement and had its repercussions in the very core policies and designs of the global capitalist order.

This assertion of the outside, of the force from the distant margin shaking the very foundations of mainstream politics is what is feared by the votaries of global democracy today. What is therefore needed is force to keep things together. The king in his proclamation during the pro-democracy movement thanked the army for keeping order; it was the same army whose chief was in active negotiation with the Indian foreign secretary.

If Nepal today seems to be on the verge of a social implosion with underlying social contradictions seeking their unfettered resolution, any political form of the state and government seeking to withhold this process will surely be challenged. After all, it is in the teeth of the moribund feudal forces protected by the king and his army that the Maoist movement has so far initiated radical changes in the internal relations and structure of Nepalese society at all levels, from the social and economic to the cultural. And with the political parties too having agreed on some key points with the Maoists the process of revolutionising society has attained a wide base and unprecedented popular support. It is in the path of this free, autonomous self-reconstitution of Nepalese society that the present Nepalese state backed by the other powers like India and US, has come to stand as absolute dead weight, trying to crush this process with reactionary state violence.

Thus, the question of constitutional monarchy versus republic is not simply one of formal political structures of rule and governance. It is not just a question of good or bad governance nor simply of the wish of the people. Nor is it, theoretically speaking, just a question of the forms of political representation. In fact the present Nepalese state has no popular social basis at all, represents no popular classes (or even a section of it). The question therefore is one of carrying forward the very reconstitution of Nepalese society, economy and polity which is already happening in a big and unprecedented manner, of consolidating some of its gains by striking at the very crown, the head of the old order.

It is precisely in order to prevent the kind of radical changes that Nepal is undergoing that India, US and other powers are backing this structure of violence which is the Nepalese state today. But it is precisely for that reason that the people in Nepal want it to go. But then, since it is not just a question of formal political representation, since it has to do with deep changes that society is undergoing, merely dressing up the present structure of violence as a constitutional monarchy is not going to work.

Preventing Radical Change

The 1990 constitution whose “twinpillars” are constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy is, therefore, a cloak, a veil to hide the dagger beneath. The seven-party alliance has therefore committed a major blunder in accepting the king’s offer to revive the 2002 parliament under the 1990 constitution. By seeking to end the pro-democracy movement at the altars of that constitution, the political parties have not only violated their own 12-point agreement with the Maoists but have prolonged the labour pains of transition to a new political order.

It is in this context of a highly politicised society, with major emancipatory energies released, a country whose map can be drawn in terms of liberated zones that the present movement for democracy and a republic has to be seen. The demand for a republic with a new constitution through an elected constituent assembly is therefore an expression of this radical restructuring of society, social relations and polity. Thus the demand for a republic cannot be viewed merely in terms of working out a better form of political representation, of a formal change of political structures of representation and legislation. As the 12point agreement pointed out, the process of democratisation would be incomplete without restructuring the state and political power and particularly the role of the Royal Nepalese Army.

Given such a situation the new constitution cannot be the work of some elite nominated members forming the constituent assembly, who would be the architects and would craft the constitution with their superior foresight and vision. Rather, in the case of Nepal today the demand is to have an elected constituent assembly so that the republican constitution would be an expression of the revolutionary transformation of society. The king’s proclamation of the restoration of the old parliament is therefore a ploy to stifle the process of free and autonomous selfreconstitution of Nepalese society. The political parties should reject this proclamation and embrace and carry forward the republican spirit of the pro-democracy movement.



Economic and Political Weekly May 6, 2006

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