ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Legitimacy Crisis of Nepali Monarchy

The Nepali monarchy has always used Hinduism and the army to exercise control. Now, with all political parties coming together to remove the army from control by the palace, the monarchy's future seems in doubt.

Legitimacy Crisis ofNepali Monarchy

The Nepali monarchy has always used Hinduism and the army to exercise control. Now, with all political parties coming together to remove the army from control by the palace, the monarchy's future seems in doubt.


an Andolan II – the unprecedented mass uprising of April 2006 in which three to four million people in a country of 23 million participated – has led to the achievement of the twin goals of an end to monarchical rule and the end of a decade-long Maoist insurgency. The present transition is a reversal of the previous one undertaken in the aftermath of Jan Andolan I (1990) when the monarchy was “in” and the Maoists “out”. At present, the exit of the monarchy from state affairs coincides with the entry of an insurgent group – the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) or the CPN (Maoist) – championing for a republican system, as one of the dominant actors making the future of Nepal. This is one strong indicator about where Nepal is heading as far as the future of monarchy is concerned.

Another important upheaval is a sea change in the political equations – the break-up of the monarchy-political parties relations since king Gyanendra seized all powers in a royal coup on February 1, 2005, which consequently facilitated a partnership between political parties and the CPN (Maoist) in November 2005. It has been supplemented by a change in the role of international communities in the aftermath of the royal coup of February 2005, from that of active support for the monarchy to serious opposition.

More importantly, mass suspicion about the royal massacre of June 1, 2001, that it was a conspiracy and the notorious image of Gyanendra and the crown prince Paras has fuelled republican sentiment among the Nepali people. The rise of ethnic and regional activism is also in tune with republican demands. The monarchy’s two arms – the Hindu religion and the army

– have been formally cut down by declaring Nepal as a secular state and by deleting the title “royal” from the military and all other state organisations.

In one sense, Nepal is now a practising republic as the king has been kept away from symbolic activities, which are normally carried out by the head of the state all over the world, and these are now being exercised by the prime minister. The interim constitution of 2007 opens up the possibility of a transformation of the Nepali state into a republic through the ballot. The first meeting of the constituent assembly

– whose elections earlier scheduled for June 2007 have now been postponed – will take a decision on the future of the monarchy by a simple majority in the assembly. The survival of the two- and- a -half century long Shah dynastic rule in Nepal is at stake. This article deals with the sources of power of the Nepali monarchy and the erosion of its legitimacy.

Challenge to ‘Divine’ Rights

While taking power on February 1, 2005 Gyanendra asserted his inherent right to rule over the state. He stated, “The kingdom of Nepal was built on the foundation of the unification process initiated by King Prithvi Narayan Shah the great”.1

Prithvi Narayan Shah, the unifier of Nepal, established the Shah regime based on the rule of the sword. The Shah monarchy, as a hereditary institution, was reinforced by the traditional Hindu view of nobility of birth, the accepted tradition all through ancient and medieval times. Prithvi Narayan’s successors were weak, so post-Prithvi Narayan Shah, Nepal was marked by struggles among the ‘bhardars’ to capture power. The instability and chaos created by the power struggle among the bhardars culminated in the Kot massacre of 1846, which led to the emergence of Jung Bahadur Rana as a strong prime minister, more powerful than the king. The Shah king was reduced to the position of a de jure head and the Rana family became the de facto rulers. For both the Shah and the Rana rulers, their political authority was

Economic and Political Weekly May 19, 2007

derived from the traditional authority system. Both regimes were based on the patrimonial system, and the military and the administration were instruments of their rule.

The traditional authority system in Nepal was challenged by the 1951 revolution leading to the end of the century-old Rana regime, and following the assurance of the then king Tribhuvan, establishment of a polity based on popular legitimacy. But in due course of time, the constitution of 1959 provided a mixed system in that it respected both the inherited idea of the sovereign right of the monarch and the political process based on democratic procedure. But through a coup in 1960, the then monarch, Mahendra, dismantled the multiparty system and introduced the panchayat system with two basic characteristics – active monarchy and partyless polity. The panchayat constitution stated, “The sovereignty is vested in His Majesty and all powers – executive, legislative and judiciary – emanate from him”. Birendra himself defended the traditional authority of the monarchy as derived from a divine right. However, he was forced to put the panchayat system on trial in the 1980 referendum. The panchayat system acquired plebiscite legitimacy by a margin of 10 per cent against the multiparty system. Some procedures of liberal democracy were introduced but in essence, the panchayat regime was an authoritarian system.

The Nepali Congress (NC) and communist parties called for a joint popular movement in 1990 that succeeded in bringing to an end the panchayat regime and the traditional authority system based on a claimed divine right of the king. The constitution drafted by a commission, approved by the interim government and accepted by Birendra, was promulgated on November 9, 1990. The constitution provided for a polity based on constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. It made the people the ultimate source of power and vested sovereignty in the people.

The transition to democracy in the post1990 period did not have a good record. The post-1990 politics were characterised by an anarchy that was reflected in major events such as parliamentary elections held four times; recommendations for dissolution of the House of Representative (HoR) made six times; special sessions of the House summoned seven times; and the government changed as many as 13 times. The people’s discontent against the political parties contributed to the growth of the Maoist insurgency that began in February 1996. The state’s capacity in the democratic regime (1990-2002) was limited by the fact that the army was not under the control of the civilian government. The army’s loyalty to the monarchy was used by Gyanendra to derail the democratic process and the 1990 constitution.

Following the royal takeovers of October 2002 and February 2005, Nepal returned to its old form of a monarchical state. But unlike the people’s initial hope of the situation improving, the royal regime failed to gain support within and outside the country. Instead, the CPN (Maoist)’s violent “people’s war” – from February 1996 onwards – intensified and spread all over the country. The CPN (Maoist) further consolidated its position under the monarchical rule from October 2002 onwards. The king’s limited political manoeuvrability was exposed by the political parties’ continuous challenge to the royal repression and the opposition forces gradually acquired strength. The 12-point understanding made between the Seven Parties Alliance (SPA) and the CPN (Maoist) in November 2006 proved a landmark event for mass mobilisation that achieved grand success on April 23, 2006 when Gyanendra was forced to restore parliamentary rule.

Promotion of Hindu Nationalism

Ever since the unification of Nepal in 1768, the Shah dynasty had made concerted efforts to blend inherent rights with divine authority, promoting Hinduism as a symbol of Nepali nationalism. The 1990 constitution, upholding all previous constitutions, respected the historical and traditional legitimacy of the monarchy with the following provisions: (i) “His Majesty is a descendant of the Great King Prithvi Narayan Shah and an adherent of aryan culture and the Hindu religion”; (ii) “Nepal is a Hindu monarchical kingdom”; and (iii) “His Majesty is the symbol of Nepalese nationality and the unity of the Nepalese people”.

These provisions are reflective of the traditional legitimacy of the monarchy in Nepal. After the unification of Nepal in 1768, Prithvi Narayan Shah attributed Nepal to ‘asali Hindustan’ (the pure land of the Hindus) which indicated the state’s approach to national integration under the Shah regime (1768-1846). The Hindu polity

– in which monarchy and religion have decisive roles – was further enforced during the Rana period (1846-1951). The Rana prime ministers were also monarchs by title (‘Shree Tin Maharaj’) and by the power they enjoyed. Jung Bahadur Rana, founder of the Rana regime, promulgated a civil code in 1854 providing a legal framework to the Vedic prescription of social order in a hierarchical society. In fact, the Hinduisation process in Nepal followed casteism and the civil code of 1854 integrated originally non-Hindu ethnic groups into the Hindu fold, giving them a ‘matwali’ status below the brahmins and chhetris. In the post-Rana period, the Hinduisation process continued, albeit in a lesser degree and in a reformed manner. The decade of the 1950s, during the first experiment with democracy, saw a relaxation but the reinstatement of an absolute monarchy under the partyless panchayat system (1960-1990) revived the Hinduisation process. But integration through the Hinduisation during the panchayat period was somehow different from the orthodoxy under the Rana regime. The new civil code of 1963, in contrast to the old one, formally withdrew state support to the caste system. Though reformed, the panchayat regime continued the state’s policy of promoting Hinduism in various forms. For instance, national symbols set by the panchayat are associated with monarchy and Hinduism.2

The promotion of Hindu nationalism by Prithvi Narayan Shah, his successors and the Rana rulers took into consideration two major factors/interests: legitimacy and nationalism vis-à-vis India. The Hindu polity places the king as a sovereign lord, protector of territory and subjects, guardian of moral order, upholder of traditions, and source of all spiritual and temporal power.3 Another factor propelling Hindu nationalism was to give Nepal a distinct identity different from secular India. Projection of Nepal as the only Hindu state of the world had a two-pronged strategy: to put itself at a distance from the Indian state and, at the same time, to associate with the Hindu population of India in the interest of the Hindu king. Nepal’s Hindu monarchs have tried their best to use their leverage among the Hindus of India to counter a possible alliance between the secular forces of India and Nepal.4 Gyanendra’s visits to India twice a year in 2002 and his visits to a number of religious places of India demonstrated a continuity of Nepal’s Hindu monarchs’ strategy to cultivate the Hindus of the world, those of India in particular, during a crisis. The seventh World Hindu Conference, held in Gorakhpur (India) in February 2003, passed a resolution to protect the Hindu state and

Economic and Political Weekly May 19, 2007 monarchy of Nepal by declaring the king of Nepal as emperor of all the Hindus of the world.

Among the rulers of the post-unification period – from Prithvi Narayan Shah to Gyanendra – those who have/had a greater legitimacy problem pursued Hinduisation further. Prithvi Narayan Shah who acquired authority with the sword, pursued his project of making Nepal an asli Hindustan to gain legitimacy in the newly conquered lands. The need for the establishment of a new legitimacy also explains the initiation of an active and rigid Hinduisation by Jang Bahadur Rana, the founder of the hereditary Rana oligarchy. Jang Bahadur Rana too, establishing the Rana regime with the sword and his quest for religious legitimacy is well reflected in what he said, “In this age of ‘Kali’ this is the only country where Hindus rule”.5 The revival of Hinduisation by Mahendra in the 1960s is another example of a ruler who does not have a popular base invoking traditional legitimacy. By staging a coup in December 1960, Mahendra ended the multiparty system and instead introduced a partyless panchayat under his leadership. The panchayat constitution of 1962, unlike the constitutions of 1951 and 1959, made Nepal a Hindu state.

Gyanendra succeeded to the throne against the background of the June 1, 2001 royal massacre in which Birendra and his entire family and five other members of the royalty were killed. The report of a probe committee found the dead crown prince Dipendra the culprit of the royal massacre, though the people of Nepal on the whole did not buy the findings of a two-member committee headed by the chief justice. With the committee wrapping up its work in a hurry and in a suspicious manner, its findings were taken by the people as an eye wash of a conspiracy in the palace. The massacre, however, brought about a change in relations between the monarchy and the people. Gyanendra’s succession was in a horizontal line, unnatural and against tradition, if not illegal. He tried his best to project his kingship as the core of the Hindu ethos and also cultivated a leverage for the Hindu monarchy for obvious reasons. In sum, the promotion of Hindu nationalism has always been closely linked with the promotion of legitimacy of the Nepali rulers. Following the line of Birendra to defend divine right,6 Gyanendra, in replying to a question from a news correspondent said that he was glad to see his role as the preserver of all things, a role that has been spelled out for a king in Hindu mythology as the personification of the god Vishnu.7

Demand for a Secular State

Nepal’s identity as a Hindu state has been challenged in the post-1990 period by surging ethnic awareness as well as by other forces. It has obvious implications for a half-century long political struggle against the validity of divine authority of the Hindu monarch. The revival of ethnic movements along with ethnic assertion by the ‘janjatis’ of their distinct identity as non-Hindus has given strength to the ideology of secularism. The emerging trend of identity movement demands a change in national identity from a Hindu state to a secular state. Discontent against some signs and symbols – associated with the Hindu state and Hindu monarchy – i e, the national anthem (phrased in a way that equates patriotism with worship to the king), use of Sanskrit in education and media, etc, has now turned into agendas of oppositional politics and of the minority movements.

Along with the demand for a secular state, the ethnic movements stand for a restructuring of the Nepali state. The agenda of state restructuring is a clear rejection of some historically inherent characteristics – inbuilt from the time of the unification of the country in 1768 – of the Nepali state, i e, monarchical rule, Hindu state, unitary form of government, primacy of one language (Nepali), domination of the hill brahmins, chhetris and newars, centrality of Kathmandu, centralised administration, feudalism and patron-client based authoritarian culture. The monarch is the protector and promoter of these features of the Nepali state, which are now rejected by political parties, civil society and ethnic organisations. Those engaged in the mission of state restructuring are many – civil society, ethnic organisations, political parties and the CPN (Maoist) – and there is a broad consensus among them to seek alternative structures, i e, a secular state, a federal form of government, regional and ethnic autonomy, a proportional electoral system, devolution of power to local governments, equal treatment for all languages, equitable sharing of state resources, positive discrimination/reservation for minorities, and representation for different groups in public positions.

The ethnic demand for a secular state and a restructuring of the Nepali state is now well received by political parties. All communist parties stand for secularism. The NC – the oldest and most influential centrist party – recently changed its stand from neutrality to a demand for a secular state. Moreover, the Maoist group – whose presence is felt all over the country – is the catalyst in bringing about a new political and ideological equation with clear republican and secular agendas. It has succeeded in stopping the singing of the current national anthem and the teaching of Sanskrit – symbols of the monarchy and Hindu religion – in its controlled areas.

The change foreseeable in the cultural domain of the country – which will be obviously against the supremacy of Hindu religion – would also have repercussions on the legitimacy of the Hindu monarch. The ethnic rise in the past, particularly during the 1990 referendum, was used for the survival of the then panchayat regime.8 But the monarchy’s clout among the ethnic groups has been changed by the parliamentary parties in the post-1990 jan anodal period and recently by the Maoists. Among the competing forces, which are running to cash in on the post-1990 ethnic upsurge, the CPN (Maoist) seems more successful both in mobilising the ethnic capital and in giving a political framework for ethnic demands – autonomy and federalism. The Maoist party has its own 11 ethnic and region-based organisations. Based on ethnicity and regionalism, the CPN (Maoist) has proposed nine autonomous regional governments. So, anti-monarchical forces, rather than the palace, are far ahead in mobilising the emerging ethnicity for political purposes.

There is a broad consensus among ethnic organisations, civil society, political parties and the CPN (Maoist) on the agenda of restructuring the Nepali state. In the proposed state restructuring project, there is no space for accommodating the


Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

New Delhi - 110010

With reference to our advertisement published in the Economic and Political Weekly dated April 21-27, 2007, the last date for receipt of applications has been extended to May 25, 2007.

Asstt Director (Admn)

Economic and Political Weekly May 19, 2007

monarchy, at least an active and executive king. This is a clear indication of the erosion of the legitimacy of the Nepali monarchy. The recent declaration of Nepal as a secular state is a conscious attempt to hammer at the claim of divine right by the monarchy of Nepal.

Gyanendra’s Ambition

A monarchy with a social legitimacy problem has staked its future on seizing political power with royal takeovers in October 2002 and February 2005. On October 4, 2002, king Gyanendra dismissed an elected government led by prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba accusing him as “incompetent”. Gyanendra then began to form the government through nomination. His taking over power reached a climax on February 1, 2005 when he dissolved his own nominated government and then grabbed the post of chairman of the council of ministers. He had tried his best to justify his acts of taking over power by citing the failures of multiparty governments both in countering the insurgency and tackling the Maoists. The February 2005 proclamation is all about accusations against political parties and their leadership.9

The king’s accusations against the political parties were not baseless. The post1990 politics was characterised by anarchy. The political instability, frequent change of government, politicisation and divisions in the police, erosion of ideology, decline in the credibility of political parties and their leaders also counted for a weakening of the state’s capacity.10 Consequently, the people were dissatisfied with the way democracy worked and this was clearly manifested in a nationwide survey conducted with 3,249 respondents in August-September 2004.11 The same survey revealed that political parties and the parliament were the least trusted among the state’s political, constitutional and administrative organisations. People’s apathy towards parties was manifested in other forms; between 2002 and 2006 the masses did not come to join the anti-regression movements launched by the political parties.

In retrospect, the palace’s dismay with a new position of constitutional monarchy was manifest since the day of inauguration of the 1990 constitution. The monarch therefore gradually took back power, manoeuvering the politics of intense intra-party and inter-party rivalries. There are several records of the palace’s offensive against the words and spirit of article 35 (2) of the constitution, which bound the king to follow “the advice and consent of the council of ministers”. The expansion of the palace’s role in realpolitik was constantly felt in the nomination of members of the national assembly, in the appointment of ambassadors and other high ranking posts. Moreover, there were instances in which the palace went against the decision of the elected government – in the dissolution of parliament, in appointment of the chairman of the human rights commission, and in a bill related to the distribution of citizenship are just a few examples. Nevertheless, Birendra confined himself to manoeuvering in favour of the palace.

But unlike Birendra, Gyanendra is more aggressive, assertive and ambitious. From the day of his ascendance to the throne he gave enough indication of his ambition to become the executive monarch. He said, “The days of monarchy being seen but not heard, watching the people’s difficulties but not addressing them and being a silent spectator to their tear-stained faces are over”. The words eventually turned into action in a royal takeover in October 2002. This was a beginning that logically reached its climax in the February 2005 seizing of all power.

Gyanendra’s ambition was backed by the fact that the army is traditionally loyal to the monarchy. The bitter relations between the civilian government and the army was tested in the case of the Maoist insurgency. The state’s capacity in the democratic regime (1990-2002) was limited by the fact that the army was not under the control of the civilian government. The partymilitary hostility was compounded by a historical legacy,12 constitutional ambiguity,13 and non-cooperation. The government-military relation was further complicated by the palace’s separate dealings with the Maoists. The Maoist leaders, Prachanda and Babu Ram Bhattarai claimed to have an ‘aghosit karyagat yaketa’ (undeclared alliance) with Birendra and they said that Birendra was not in favour of the government’s plan to mobilise the army against the people’s war.14 The army had deliberately and consciously kept itself at a distance from the elected government and multiparty parliamentary democracy as if its primary duty was only to protect the palace. The relations between the government and military reached their nadir when the then prime minister G P Koirala was forced to resign on July 18, 2001 after the army betrayed him by disobeying the government’s order to act against the Maoist guerillas who took about 70 policemen hostage on July 12, 2001 at Holeri in Rolpa district.

In the post-October 2002 period, the monarchy used the Maoist insurgency card to mobilise international support and to divide among the political parties.

Role of International Community

The practice of an executive monarchy begun in October 2002, was well received by external players as they took the post-October 2002 political project as a scheme to combine the monarchy and democracy against the Maoist “terrorist”. The international community saw the post-October 2002 project as a way to help integrate the state’s political and military power under the command of the king. To what extent the international forces backed the post-October 2002 project is reflected in the then US ambassador Michael Malinowski’s statement. Reacting to the parties’ disapproval of the post-2002 political project and their taking to the streets in an anti-repression protest movement, he said, “Nepal’s house is on fire and the politicians are arguing about who gets to sleep in the master bedroom”.15 International backing for the post-October 2002 regime and militarisation is further evident in that Nepal acquired more sophisticated weapons and other military gadgets from the US, UK, India and other countries at that time.16

Manoeuvring international support for his post-October 2002 project, Gyanendra seized all power with a proclamation on February 1, 2005. This proved that the international community’s calculation of bringing the king and the political parties together – what they consider the “twin pillars of Nepal” – against the Maoists was wrong.

When they realised that Gyanendra had used external support for his projects, the international communities disapproved of his seizing power on February 1, 2005 and they spoke with one voice that it was a “setback to democracy”. The principal suppliers of military aid – India, US and UK – postponed their shipments. Many donors withdrew or cut their earlier commitment to development aid as well. The problem of external legitimacy for Gyanendra was well reflected in India’s successful move to postpone the SAARC

Economic and Political Weekly May 19, 2007 summit. The king was compelled to cancel his plan to attend the meeting of UN General Assembly because international dignitaries, including the US president and UN secretary general reportedly rejected the government’s request for a meeting with the king. India, which had been given the lead and a coordinating role by the international community, had taken a tough stand asserting that the reinstatement of democracy was a precondition for foreign aid and support. Taking into consideration Gyanendra’s rigidity and uncompromising temperament, the international community pushed and backed the “anti-repression” struggle launching by political parties. India played a role in bringing the parties and the Maoists together for the democracy resurgence movement. After February 2005, Gyanendra was isolated, humiliated, and derecognised by the international community. International agencies, including diplomatic missions to Nepal, bilateral and multilateral donors, and international organisations, i e, the United Nations, collaborated with political parties for the restoration of democracy and peace.

Political Realignment

The change in the role of the international community paralleled the change in the parties’ relations vis-à-vis the monarchy. Political polarisation in the post-February 2005 period posed a real threat to the survival of the monarchy in Nepal. Of the three main actors – the monarchy, political parties and the Maoists – the first two were put into a basket of “constitutional forces” vis-à-vis the third. The 1990 constitution guaranteed the perpetuity of constitutional monarchy and multiparty parliamentary democracy. While defending the constitution, parliamentary parties strongly countered the Maoists’ agenda of republicanism, asserting that there could not be a compromise on constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. The parties’ ideological position vis-à-vis the monarchy went into reverse gear as their hope of a reconciliation with the monarchy was dashed by the royal takeover of 2005. The Communist Party of India (United Marxist-Leninist) passed a resolution making “loktnatrik ganatantra” (democratic republic) the declared goal of the antirepression movement. Similarly the Nepali Congress in its most recent national convention, deleted the word “constitutional monarchy” (its faith from the time of the party’s formation in 1947) from its own constitution. Parties reviewed their own position vis-à-vis the monarchy in reacting to the king’s act of seizing power.

The demand for a republic was not merely a reaction to the monarchy’s dictatorship. The four kings of three generations – Tribhuvan, Mahendra, Birendra and Gyanendra – all showed that they were uncomfortable with democracy and constitutional monarchy and all of them imposed executive monarchy as an alternative to democracy. Gyanendra’s takeover of power in 2005 was a reincarnation of the 1960 royal coup by Mahendra. Political parties have their own historical and ideological imperatives that they cannot offer the king more than a position of a constitutional monarch. As the monarchy rejected what the political parties offered, a new generation of party workers and civil society members are exerting pressures on

Announcement India China Institute Fellows Program

The India China Institute (ICI) based at The New School, New York, invites applications for its second fellowship program:

Prosperity and Inequality: India and China India China Fellows Program (ICFP), ICI seeks applicants who are highly accomplished, innovative and emerging leaders with 5 to 15 years of professional experience in their respective fields.

Applicants from diverse backgrounds such as public administration, academics, media, civic action, art, architecture and private entrepreneurship are encouraged to apply.

Applicants should address the program theme with particular focus on regional development, migration, and design strategies. Priority will be given to applicants who are sensitive to social, cultural and gender aspects.

This two year fellowship requires:

  • 1. Indian citizenship and proof of residency for more than 5 years.
  • 2. Masters Degree or equivalent experience.
  • 3. Willingness to be an active and essential participant in an interactive, intellectual, collaborative research project that will be innovative and influential.
  • 4. Commitment to participate in 4 international residencies: March 16-30, 2008, NY August 23-30, 2009, India November 2-9, 2008, China April 14-18, 2010 (tbd)
  • 5. Total fluency in English, working knowledge of the computer and access to internet for communication and research purpose.
  • The selected fellows could continue their current profession during their fellowship period. They will be assisted in the research proposal, travel, workshops and compensated appropriately by an honorarium. Applications must be postmarked no later than August 30, 2007. Late applications will not be considered.

    For further information, please write or email:

    Dr. Anita Patil-Deshmukh,

    Senior Advisor, India China Institute,

    C/o PUKAR, 1-4, 2nd floor, Kamanwala Chambers, Sir PM Road, Fort, Mumbai: 400 001.

    Tel: (O22) 6505 3599. E-mail:

    Application Forms can be downloaded from:

    Economic and Political Weekly May 19, 2007

    the parties for a revision of their position on the monarchy.

    The February 2005 event opened up a new political equation. In a new power equation, the parties and the Maoists came together against the monarchy, despite the former’s initial reluctance to make a common front with the Maoists because of its declared objective to overthrow multiparty parliamentary democracy along with constitutional monarchy. But both sides gave enough signals that they wished to come together, provided one respected the basic stand of the other. The CPN (Maoist) leader Babu Ram Bhattarai proposed to the parties, “You accept republicanism, we will accept multiparty-ism.”17 In conformity with this line and against its ideological stand for one-party people’s democracy, the Maoists have now inserted the component of competitive party politics in its recent proposal of “democracy in 21st century”.

    Political parties and many others suspect whether the CPN (Maoist’s) revised ideological position is merely a tactic or a genuine commitment. But the Maoists have shown considerable flexibility. For instance, they realise the need for the election of a constituent assembly, which is the bottom line of the CPN (Maoist) for a negotiated settlement of the insurgency. A reversal of the old parties-Maoists relations is manifest in other ways as well. In November 2001, the UML and other left parties rejected the Maoist proposal to form a loose left coalition on the agenda of a republican system and election of a constituent assembly. Later, all communist parties and the Nepali Congress joined forces to bring the Maoists into a joint struggle against the royal regime. The 12point understanding made between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the CPN (Maoist) in November 2005 was a landmark event to unite popular forces in a fight against “absolute monarchy”. The mainstream parties have endorsed the Maoists’ demand for the election of a constituent assembly and the Maoists reciprocate with an assurance to accept a multiparty competitive system. The 12point understanding between the SPA and the Maoists strengthened the ultimately successful popular mobilisation in the April 2006 mass movement.


    A republican sentiment has been growing in Nepal since the day Gyanendra became king. Once he climbed the throne against the backdrop of the tragic royal massacre, monarchy in Nepal was no longer respected as it was before. The Nepali people who do not believe the report of the probe committee on the royal massacre suspect the credibility of Gyanendra. Ethnic assertion for a secular state and the popularity of the project for restructuring the Nepali state has had negative consequences for the traditional legitimacy of the monarchy.

    The CPN (Maoist), an emerging and strong political force, has a clear republican agenda. Moreover, by taking back executive power in October 2002, Gyanendra opened up another battleground with parliamentary parties, in addition to fighting against the insurgent Maoists since February 1996. This naturally aggravated the vulnerable position of the monarchy. Gyanendra’s ambition to becoming an active monarch had changed the position of the political parties in an opposite direction, from an ally championing the cause of constitutional monarchy in the past to a promoter of the republican project.

    Gyanendra has been alienated by emerging social forces (the ethnic and civil society movements), a rising political organisation (the Maoists), established political forces (the mainstream parties) and external powers (the international community). Unlike the acknowledgement in the post1990 mass movement of the monarchy as one of the actors in an interim arrangement and in constitution-making, the present transitional politics refuses to provide any role to the monarchy in transforming the achievement of the April 2006 popular uprising into a legal/political structure.




    1 Text of His Majesty King Gyanendra’s Royal Proclamation, on February 1, 2005.

    2 Harka Gurung, ‘State and Society in Nepal’

    in David N Gellner, Jonna Pfaff-Czarnecka

    and John Whelpton (eds), Nationalism and

    Ethnicity in a Hindu Kingdom: The Politics

    of Culture in Contemporary Nepal, Harwood

    Academic Publisher, Amsterdam, 1997, p 505.

    3 Priyaj Raj Sharma, ‘Nation Building, Multi-

    Ethnicity and the Hindu State’ in David N

    Gellner, et al, (ed), (op cit), p 475.

    4 For details see Sanu Bhai Dangol, The Palace

    in Nepalese Politics, Ratna Pustak Bhandar,

    Kathmandu, 1999.

    5 Quoted in Sudhindra Sharma, ‘The Hindu

    State and the State of Hinduism’ in Kanak

    Mani Dixit and Shastri Ramachandaran

    (eds), State of Nepal, Himal Books,

    Kathmandu, 2002, p 25.

    6 In defending the source of the legitimacy of the Nepali monarch, Birendra observed, ‘In Nepal, the monarchy and his subjects have been governed by Dharma, a system drawn from the Hindu religion. The King can not change this value system’ (quoted in Shaha 1975: 7).

    7 Quoted in Krishna P Khanal, Nepal’s Discourses on Constituent Assembly: An Analysis, Friends for Peace, Kathmandu, 2005, p 40.

    8 Gurung, op cit (1997), p 526; Rishikesh Shah,

    Essays in the Practices of Government in Nepal, Manohar Publishing House, New Delhi, 1982, p 160.

    9 Op cit, 1.

    10 To understand Nepali politics in the post-1990 period, see Lok Raj Baral, Nepal: Problems of Governance, Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 1993; Lok Raj Baral, The Regional Paradox: Essays in Nepali and South Asian Affairs, Adroit Publishers, Delhi, 2000; Lok Raj Baral, Krishna Hachhethu and Hari Sharma, Leadership in Nepal, Adroit Publishers, New Delhi, 2001; Michael Hutt, (ed), Nepal in the Nineties, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1994; Martin Hoftun, William Raeper and John Whelpton, People, Politics and Ideology: Democracy and Social Change in Nepal, Mandala Book Point, Kathmandu, 1999; POLSAN, Political Parties and the Parliamentary Process in Nepal: A Study of the Transitional Phase, Political Science Association of Nepal, Kathmandu, 1992; Ole Borre, Sushil Raj Pandey and Chitra Krishna Tiwari, Nepalese Political Behaviour, Sterling, New Delhi, 1994; Dhruba Kumar (ed), State, Leadership and Politics in Nepal, Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Kathmandu, 1995; Dhruba Kumar (ed), Domestic Conflict and Crisis of Governability in Nepal, Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Kathmandu, 2000; T Louise Brown, The Challenge to Democracy in Nepal: A Political History, Routledge, 1996; Krishna Hachhethu, Party Building in Nepal: Organisation, Leadership and People, A Comparative Study of the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), Mandala Book Point, Kathmandu, 2002.

    11 See Krishna Hachhethu, State of Democracy in Nepal: A Survey Report, SDSA/N and International IDEA, Kathmandu, 2004.

    12 The army was used by Mahendra to stage a coup in 1960 against the NC government and the multiparty system. The army had also been used time and again to suppress movements against the partyless panchayat system (1960-90).

    13 The 1990 constitution has a separate provision for military mobilisation, the security council (consisting of the prime minister, defence minister and the chief of army staff) which can only recommend it and the king takes the final decision.

    14 Kathmandu Post, June 4, 2001.

    15 International Crisis Group’s report, ‘Nepal Backgrounder: Ceasefire-Soft Landing Or Strategic Pause?’, April 10, 2003, p 17.

    16 For details see Dhruba Kumar and Hari Sharma, Security Sector Reform in Nepal: Challenges and Opportunities, Friends for Peace, Kathmandu.

    17 Babu Ram Bhhatarai, ‘Nepal: Triangular Balance of Forces’, Economic and Political Weekly, November 16, 2002.

    Economic and Political Weekly May 19, 2007

    Dear Reader,

    To continue reading, become a subscriber.

    Explore our attractive subscription offers.

    Click here

    Back to Top