Nepali Times
State Of The State
The proletariat and the Praetorian Guard


Every political party believes its manifesto is different, if not better, than those of rivals. But they all have underlying similarities.

No party is advocating an activist monarchy. And even the Maoists don't dare support a dictatorship of the proletariat in public. Between these two extremes, major political actors differ only slightly over name, election method and the authority of the chief executive. However, very few care to mention the elephant in the room: the Nepal Army.

The recent war of words between the Directorate of Public Relations (DPR) of the Nepal Army and the Central Information Bureau of the CPN-Maoists hides an ugly fact: both have worked in the past to subvert parliamentary democracy in the country. Either through the "understanding" that Maoist ideologue-in-chief Baburam Bhattarai says there was with slain King Birendra, or by working separately for the same cause.

The end result was that both undermined the parliamentary system, subverted democracy and took the country to the brink of civil war. It was the discredited political parties that brought the country back on track and are now trying to mainstream the Maoists and reform the military.

Making the Maoists stick to the path of non-violent politics hasn't been easy. Even after becoming a part of the ruling establishment, the former rebels still behave like they belong in the jungle. In the midwest, there is still 'one country, two systems' where kangaroo courts pass judgements that are enforced by YCL cadres. Maoist renegades have formed ethnic and tribal militias in the hills and Tarai. The Maoist leadership must own up to the responsibility of igniting a fire that has begun to engulf their own politics.

The Nepal Army dropped its 'Royal' tag after the April Uprising. Since its complicity with the autocratic ambitions of various kings during the military coup of King Mahendra in 1960, the Nepal Army has acted as the palace's praetorian guard.

And it isn't being apolitical just because it's not royal anymore. The aggressive tone and blatantly political tenor of the army's statement in the runup to the elections sounds a lot worse when seen in the context of its past record.

The challenge of reforming the Nepal Army will probably be even more complex than rehabilitating Maoist combatants. Despite its aggressive denials, the army is composed of even more politically indoctrinated members than the Maoists.

Loyalists to the crown continue to dominate the army brass. The force is still largely feudal and considers itself the custodian of religious rites that used to give our monarchy the divine right to rule. But our national unity and integrity can now only be sustained with a vibrant and broad-based democracy.

The reform of an institution as ossified as the Nepal Army will be long-drawn. More inclusive recruitment policies, better orientation of soldiers and socialisation of officers will take time. But there are symbolic gestures that can send a signal to the army brass that Nepal is determined to take the republican road towards more inclusive democracy.

For a start, Prime Minister Koirala may want to think of appointing a defence minister who wears a dhoti, chews pan and has no hesitation in issuing instructions in his native language rather than in the king's Nepali. Even Matrika Yadav, perhaps. Yadav's tantrum this week against his army guard was an electoral gesture to his home constituency as much as an effort to deflate the ego of a force that has done little to justify its expensive upkeep.

The smooth transition of the military from a Gorkhali Army to the modern
force of a new federal Nepal must underpin Nepal's democratic future.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)