Monday, April 24, 2006

What the End of a Monarchy Looks Like: Nepal Links

Obviously, these protests are different. Last week, King Gyanendra of Nepal conceded he would have to "return power to the people," and reinstitute the Parliamentary republic that he suspended more than a year ago. No one was satisfied; it looks to me like the 'Kingdom' of Nepal is in its last days.

A quick introduction: as I understand it, Gyanendra's primary motive in assuming absolute power last year was to give him more leverage to fight the Maoists in the Nepali countryside. Wikipedia indicates that the Maoists control 70% of the country's territory. Since Nepal has some very sparsely populated regions, that statistic may not be quite as bad as it sounds (i.e., it accounts for a relatively small percentage of the population), but it's not good. 13,000 people have died in the civil war with the Maoists over the past decade.

In the past three weeks, millions of Nepalis have taken to the streets to agitate for democracy. A Seven Party Alliance (SPA) has been formed, whose primary goal is to remove the king. The protestors have been met with harsh repressive measures, that leading to 15 deaths, and as many as 5000 injured (including quite a number in protests that occurred over the weekend, after the king's announcement). The King's choice to use aggressive policing has probably further weakened any remaining popular support he may have.

I've been trying to explore some Nepali media to get somewhat of an inside look at what's going on there. What do the protestors really want? I gather the democracy parties are collaborating with the Maoists -- do they have a plan for what happens after the king is deposed?

1. The starting point for me here is Global Voices Online, which has a link-filled post here.

2. They link to a blog called Democracy for Nepal, where I read a post suggesting that the leader with the most stature, and who may be a popular choice to take over as President, is Girjia Koirala. (Another name often mentioned is the leader of another party, Madhav Nepal.)

One the same blog, there is a post about the central role of the army in all of this:

Many top brass have sent out feelers to Delhi that if the seven party alliance will play the game, they will ally with the alliance to get rid of the king and fight the Maoists. The army is going to come under the parliament. The parliament may order the army to keep at war, or declare peace. The army does not get to strike any kind of a bargain beforehand. The parliament will command the army. The alliance will give orders to the army. That is how it will happen.

Of course, the author is just speculating here. But it's an important point: protestors get things in motion, but for better or worse it's going to be the army that forces the king to go (and that will dictate how it goes down).

3. United We Blog. This site has some great photographs from the protests, as well as some detailed accounts of what is happening where:

4. is a news magazine with a number of interesting articles from the past three weeks. Here, an author suggests that the stridency of the current protests may reflect the disproportionate presence of Maoists.

And here is a pretty forceful manifesto, addressed as an open letter to King Gyanendra. (A bit strident for my taste.) And some pictures (warning: some of them are graphic).

5. The Kathmandu Times Here is part of a biting Op-Ed from the Kathmandu Times, in response to the King's statement last Friday:

Currently, Nepal stands at a crossroads. On the right side of it is a new Nepal where people are fully sovereign; insurgency is resolved and the Maoists join the political mainstream; the state is restructured to accommodate the disfranchised populace; and the society makes a peaceful transition towards prosperity. On the wrong side of it is the status quo, where the fundamental issue of sovereignty remains unresolved; the Maoist insurgency continues; state, under the direct control of the king, remains unitary and unwilling to address the issue of widespread exclusion. As Nepal has entered the final stage of the labor pain, the international community, unfortunately, seems to be supportive of the status quo. The international community's euphoric reaction to Friday's royal address is ludicrous, to say the least. It also shows how shallow is their reading of Nepali history and how far removed they are from the present ground reality. The foreign envoys' suggestion to the parties to break with the rebels and to take the royal offer is fraught with two serious problems.

First, it does not address the Maoist insurgency, the main problem of the day. Breaking with the Maoists at this point in time and rejecting their legitimate demand for a constituent assembly means more bloodshed and more chaos for several years to come. Second, it denies the Nepali people their sovereign rights to decide --- through peaceful means --- the future of monarchy. Between three to four million people, who have already hit the streets nationwide, demanding the election to the constituent assembly, didn't suddenly wake up one fine morning and said that they wanted to do away with the monarchy. These people have a painful memory of their history where monarchy has played, time and again, with Nepali people's democratic aspirations. King Tribhuvan failed to live up to his promise of constituent assembly elections in the 1950s. Then, King Mahendra dismissed the first democratically elected government in December 1960. King Birendra gave in to the demands of democracy only after dozens of Nepalis shed blood in 1990. Again in 2004, King Gyanendra sacked the elected government and in 2005 seized absolute power, jailed the political leaders and gagged the press.

6. India's role. Last week, envoys from India went to Nepal to see the king.

India had apparently promised support to Gyanendra if he conceded his absolute power and restored the constitutional monarchy. So after he made the announcement on Friday, within a few minutes the Indian government issued a statement in support of the "twin pillar" policy.

But apparently they didn't anticipate the degree to which popular opinion has solidified against the king. The center was forced to issue a second statement, indicating that they now support whatever form of government the people of Nepal select.

It's a terrible diplomatic miscalculation, but perhaps a predictable one, since Nepal has 'made do' with a monarchy for quite a long time. With terrible poverty and underdevelopment, it seems pretty easy to see why so many Nepalis now want to try something different.

* * * * *
Note: If anyone can suggest further educational links, I would be grateful. I'm still in the learning phase of my reading about what is happening in Nepal.


raina said...

the maoists have controlled all of nepal except for kathmandu, at least since 2002.
the only way the monarchy can survive is if gyanendra allows a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. in any case it is the beginning of the end for the monarchy. at least, i hope it is.

and hopefully, the end of india's imperialistic relationship with nepal. the twin pillars of stability is the vilest form of divide and conquer the indians learnt from the british.

as to your question - do they have a plan for what happens after the king is deposed?
they may not have a plan, but it seems they (maoists and parties) do know what they want- a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution to declare nepal a democratic republic. the monarchy would have a ceremonial role at best.

12:53 PM  
vk said...

"India's imperialistic relationship with Nepal"-really I did not know that India ruled Nepal.

The demand for a "constituent assembly" by the Maoists is a Trojan horse in the time honored communist tradition. I do not think they would plan to share power with anyone, and I think it is pretty naive to believe otherwise.

India's "Imperialism" would look a lot nicer when compared to the Maoists if they take power (or corresponding Chinese proxies).

The best thing would be for Gyanendra to cede power and the democracy of the past returned (with the King's role made more marginal).

4:31 PM  
T. Scrivener said...

Things are happening very rapidly right now:

Much as I hate to I agree with VK for once. The Maoists aren't exactly just going to settle down after this.

5:28 AM  
Rohin said...

Hey Amardeep, been a while. Thought you might like this link -,,1760683,00.html - seeing as you asked for other recommendations. I notice in one of the comments Tariq Ali is accused of having a subliminal anti-Hindu agenda, which is rather strange. I also linked you from Pickled Politics - very nice roundup for someone like me whose been completely out of things for months.


6:08 AM  
raina said...


yes, i acknowledge that it is naive of me to hope that the maoists would do what is right for their country.

with regards to indian imperialism -
1. imperialism doesn't necessarily mean direct rule ("The policy of extending a nation's authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations")
2. we are not talking about whether chinese imperialism would be worse (making a comparison doesn't let india off the hook)
3. indians tend to be sensitive (and ignorant) about india's role and desire in a weakened nepali state.

i apologize for bringing this topic up, as this is obviously not the right forum for it.

10:35 AM  
Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

I think Raina is referring to Indian imperialism in the same sense as people refer to US imperialism. India does tend to treat South Asia sort of like US treats Central America. Troops to Goa, Bangladesh, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Maldives and what not. Its clear India is trying to engineer exactly what VK and Scrivener are looking for. But the inconvenient fact remains that a vast portion of Nepal is sympathetic to the Maoists rather than the mainstream political parties. Any solution that excludes them will remain unstable. Unless India just walks in to Nepal. It doesn't seem to me like the fear of imperialism is unreasonable. Especially as India has repeatedly stated that Maoist guerillas are the biggest internal threat she faces.

10:42 AM  
vk said...

suvendra nath dutta,
The popularity of the maoists is not clear to me. The maoists certainly have some degree of popular support, but an insurgency does not require massive support, just a reasonable minority. Maoists are the most serious threat to both India and Nepal. I agree with you however they will not be easy to handle.

I sort of agree with your points in the second post, so my apologies for the brusque tone.

I am honored (and surprised), I did not know my opinions were unpopular :).

11:51 AM  
abhishek said...

"Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

I think Raina is referring to Indian imperialism in the same sense as people refer to US imperialism. India does tend to treat South Asia sort of like US treats Central America. Troops to Goa, Bangladesh, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Maldives and what not."

I am not sure if you can equate American imperialism w/ use of Indian forces in each of the cases you mentioned.
Goa: Trying to end project colonialism. Why should that be any different from GoI's concern in re foreign rule in say Pondicherry.
Bangladesh: Clear problem regarding atrocities by the Pakistani Army(well documented) and massive refugee problem. GoI had to do something.
Sikkim: I am not clear as to what exactly you are referring to here. There was a referendum (some say controversial), but hardly a military takeover.
Sri Lanka: arguably the only military adventurism on the list. Even then the IPKF was formed to oversee the peace accord b/w India and Sri lanka.
Maldives: The military aid was requested by the Govt of Maldives.
Imperialism, I think not. I think the term you are looking for is "watch out for our own interests". After all if South Asian countries destabilise, we are bound to do something about it considering their problems could easily spill over into own borders.

As for the maoists and Nepal:
The maoists derive their greatest support from rural areas where they are omnipresent. All that the king's antics have done, is to paradoxically grant them greater legitimacy. However I don't know whether there will be a lessening of support for them, now that the king has climbed down. All one can hope for is that the SPA restores normal democratic norms without letting the maoists have their own way (in the constituent assembly or wotever else is on the cards). The last thing any right thinking person wants is a "People's Republic of Nepal", which would end up like any other "worker's paradise".

2:14 PM  
Anonymous said...

from a former World Bank consultant who did his research in Nepal:

It's a bit econ heavy, but according to Bhandari, the Nepali conflict is, at its core, a land issue (distribution, redistribution proposed by the World Bank & govt that backfired, inequality, and productivity).

3:42 AM  

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