Nepali Times
State Of The State
A year of living anxiously


In the history of a country, some years become memorable on the strength of a single event, others are known for beginning processes with far-reaching consequences. Jang Bahadur Kunwar's bloody coup in 1846 heralded the rise of the Ranas. The Shah Restoration of 1950 ignited the process of democratisation.

1 June 2001 is unforgettable. 4 October 2004 will be remembered as the start of the creeping authoritarianism institutionalised on 1 February a year later.

What will mark 2006 for future generations: the April Uprising or the Himalayan model of armed conflict resolution? Whatever the answer, this year will perhaps be notable for the spread of apprehension in Nepali society. We dedicated ourselves to solving the age-old ke garne mystery and found that all possible answers are unsettling.

Every month in 2006 has been eventful in a year that began with a circus. Chairman Gyanendra, dressed in fatigues, dispensed assurances of peace and democracy to crowds who had been herded into secure enclosures by local administrations. Repeated again and again on Nepal TV, these scenes felt eerily like the last hurrah of a traditional monarchy.

The spectacle spilled over into February's farcical municipal elections held just to maintain the king's 'prestige'. The elections finally pushed the parliamentary parties over the edge. Mainstreamers decided to make common cause with the Maoists to end what they called "dictatorial monarchy".

The Ides of March cast their shadow on the institution of monarchy, as proactive Indian politicos helped forge unity between the parties and the Maoists.

In April, not quite four years after Gyanendra dissolved the legislature with the loyal obeisance of Sher Bahadur Deuba, 19 days of uprising put paid to those ambitions. April will also be remembered for the phoenix-like rise of Girija Prasad Koirala. Lambasted in the past by the Maoists, lampooned by the UML and lacerated politically by all kinds of monarchists, Koirala today seems to be the best hope of royalists, Maoists, and UML alike.

On 18 May, the reinstated parliament passed the Nepali Magna Carta with a voice vote. The declaration transformed the king into one of the lesser deities of the Hindu pantheon with no role or responsibility. The Shah Dynasty paid a heavy price for the authoritarian ambitions of one of its accidental kings.

The utility of the restored legislature over, Koirala and Pushpa Kamal Dahal agreed to dissolve it in June. Mainstream parties spent July bickering over the appropriateness of that decision. In August, the seven-party alliance and Maoists agreed to confine and contain combatants to temporary camps.

October saw the dramatic momentum kept up by army chief Rukmangat Katuwal presenting himself to the king and queen for Dasain blessings. (Incidentally, ornate portraits of the royal couple and the crown prince still decorate the Nepal Army auditorium at Bhadrakali.)

After months of negotiations, on 20 November, Koirala and Dahal signed the peace deal that declared the armed insurgency and counter-insurgency over. Almost a month later, the eight parties agreed on the terms of an interim constitution.

Events since then have been mundane in comparison: the nitty-gritty of translating commitments into action is time-consuming and complex. Despite temporary setbacks over ambassadorial appointments and promulgation of the interim constitution, the national commitment for constituent assembly elections hasn't wavered.

And therein, in the details of the terms of the election, lies the rub. If the year began with the farce of royal shenanigans, it's coming to an end with arson in Nepalganj, again a violent expression of the fear of the unknown.

That said, if there is one thing the last five years have taught us, it is to trust our hopes rather than fears.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)