The issue of a republican system has ignited a serious debate for the first time in contemporary Nepal. In 1950, the goal of the Nepal Communist Party was to establish a communist republic. Eleven years later, when the party split, the republic was still a common cause among the different communist factions, despite some leaders showing pro-king shades. In 1996, the Maoists resorted to an armed struggle to usher in a people's republic. But it was only after the Nepali Congress started to consider the matter that it finally became a matter of national debate.
Officially and practically, the Nepali Congress, the UML and other communist blocs are in favour of monarchy even now. Even the upper echelons of the Maoists have said they would respect the king if he drops his ambition to rule the country.
So how is it that a republic state is becoming an issue? The Nepali Congress is not against a republican system. It has accepted a constitutional monarchy with a view to transform it for the greater good. But things changed after the palace massacre and the royal takeover a year later.
The palace massacre raised doubts and questions about the respectability and need for a traditional monarchy. The political parties and parliament failed to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. In fact, the parliament did not even seriously discuss the issue. This clearly showed that the monarchy had not truly become constitutional even after the 1990 movement.
The Nepali Congress doubts the king for another reason: his haste and lack of procedure in naming Crown Prince Paras Shah as his heir without clearing the latter's name of past controversies. The royal takeover of Fourth October made it clear that he had removed taking himself from constitutional boundaries. Those who supported a people's republic and expected progressive reforms in the monarchy were forced to label the king's move as regressive.
There is pressure building up from the grassroots in the Nepali Congress that the party statutes need to be changed and the party should be ready for a republic. In the past, people believed that the end of the Panchayat system meant the end of Nepal. We're still around. Similarly, the country will probably survive without a monarchy. The people and our institutions can save the country. The constitutional monarchy has been the policy, not the principle, of the Nepali Congress. No matter how important policies are, they are subject to review. This is why the party is now debating the need of a monarchy. Even if the streets become quiet again or the Maoist guns fall silent, the country will travel on the republican road.
The real challenge is to prepare the public for a republic. Nepal has always found itself saddled with political systems backed by the Nepali Congress, although the party often fails to run them with any lasting success. Monarchs do not deign to correct themselves. It falls on the institutions of the people. We have to correct things, and respect, reform or even change the monarchy. The sooner we comprehend this, the closer we'll find ourselves to the solution of the present crisis.