Nepali Times
Guest Column
One year itch


There must be something in our national psyche that makes the Nepali mood swing so swiftly between irrational exuberance and incorrigible pessimism. Those who joined the April Uprising to overthrow the royal regime and those who subsequently assumed the reigns of power exuded irrepressible confidence and spoke of righting all the wrongs and writing up a brave New Nepal.

Ordinary citizens, who'd suffered through such promises in the past, were wary, and those who had lost out in the royal debacle were forlorn. Nearly a year later, the national mood is back to self-doubt and despondency.

Much has happened politically in the past year that has generated immense enthusiasm for the future. The whole state machinery, the political parties, civil society, and regional and ethnic forums had begun to focus their energies on the task of holding the elections to the constituent assembly. For a moment it seemed as if we could all live together happily ever after.

Alas, except for just the small matter of the South that had been forgotten during the celebrations. The sudden violence that engulfed the eastern tarai left April's triumphant paradigm in tatters. There was the sight of mighty leaders and their auxiliary intelligentsia first dismissing the madhesi uprising as the handiwork of a few miscreants, then threatening the use of force to put out fires supposedly ignited by fundamentalists and reactionaries, and finally making a 180-degree turn to embrace the same revolt as their own-all within a week.

While it is understandable that the eight-party ruling coalition should differ on ideology and policy, it displayed consensus on the nature of the malaise that has been afflicting the Nepali nation. Over the years, especially during the past year, the '238-year old monarchy' has been identified as the single most unremitting evil that has plagued the country politically, economically, and culturally. According to this explanatory matrix, subscribed to by the political parties and civil society formations, and endorsed by the Indian establishment and the west, this country can not hope for salvation as long as the author of the unitary state and the 'feudal' Hindu culture, the House of Gorkha, is done away with.

If this is the considered and principled conclusion of the victors of the April Uprising, what is delaying the declaration of a Nepali republic? What the king offered on 24 April 2006 after 19-days of urban uprising was an unconditional surrender: the crown has already put its head on the chopping block. It is now up to the victors to carry their conviction to its logical conclusion, roll up their sleeves, and get on with the real task of creating jobs, health care, and education for the masses.

Enough pulpit pyrotechnics: people need bread, not just circuses. As the Speaker has reminded the politicians on several occasions, parliament that has been resurrected on the strength of the revolt has unlimited powers, including the one to terminate the monarchy permanently. If this is the political reality, the constituent assembly might turn out to be another dogmatic fetish that serves no practical purpose. What can the constituent assembly possibly accomplish that the existing legislature can't do? Since the communist and the liberal parties that have passionately espoused the anti-monarchy line have complete control over the 330-member interim parliament, a proposal for a federal republic or any other restructuring that is deemed fit could sail through with an absolute majority.

This ambivalence is encoded, perhaps unwittingly, in the 2006 treaty that was signed between the seven party government and the Maoists. The historic deal was not christened shanti sahamati (peace agreement) or shanti sandhi (peace treaty) but shanti samjhauta (peace compromise, or compromised peace). Does the choice of words convey that the deal was a negative convenience for both parties rather than a positive consensus? The interpretive slippage between compromise and agreement perhaps reveals something about the quality of the new peace.

Saubhagya Shah teaches at Tribhuban University. This is the first of a three-part analysis of the year after the April Uprising.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)