Nepali Times
State Of The State
Fear of freedom or freedom from fear?


It took three months under house-arrest to finally bring Madhab Nepal to his senses. He realised that the fundamental question of governance in Nepal remains unresolved to this day and he wants the future of monarchy to be a topic of national debate. This should dispel doubts about the UML's democratic credentials.

Sher Bahadur Deuba will have ample time as he sits in the cooler to reflect upon the self-inflicted wounds that led to his own descent into political irrelevance. Ambitious schemers on Deuba's coat-tails started bringing him down the day he stepped into Singha Darbar as a palace pawn to checkmate democracy. He was persuaded that a chronically squabbling parliament was a hindrance to fight the Maoist menace. He ignored the advice of those who told him to show patience and restraint.

Whatever you may say about Girija Prasad Koirala, at least he has been consistent in his main demand - restoration of parliament as a point of departure for progressive changes in the polity. Now, seven mainstream parties representing 95 percent of parliamentary strength have supported this demand. The Europeans, Indians and the Americans welcomed this new-found unity among the parties and have finally realised the folly of supporting the needless political experiments of the last three years. These developments augur well for the restoration of Nepali democracy.

However, the head-in-the-sand attitude of Kathmandu's ruling elite about February First persists. It is this unwavering faith in dogmatism that allows the regime to eject passengers from aircraft, stop leaders from meeting political detainees, arrest activists freed on court orders, flex administrative and financial muscle to muzzle the media in excesses that transcend the Panchayat. We see the same tendency to justify the unjustifiable in the name of protecting the 'national interest', a vague expression that can't conceal its intrinsic militarism. In the days to come, countering such pretensions from the self-appointed guardians of the national interest will be the main challenge to institutionalise democratic nationalism.

Anywhere in the world a change of government outside the provision of the constitution of the day is called a 'coup'. On Sunday we will be celebrating the third anniversary of 22 May 2002-the day Deuba dismantled parliament and announced elections he knew could never be held. This was a creeping coup, carefully calibrated to foreclose the possibility of public outcry. The charade continues today. On the specious pretext of ensuring freedom from fear, fear of freedom is being instilled in the minds of the vulnerable middleclass. We are being told repeatedly and in shrill tones to crave peace before development and then only democracy, as if such a neat precedence of fulfilment of human desires were possible. The royal takeover is defended by fanning fears of a Maoist takeover. Reason invariably collapses under grief and outrage at the barbarity of violence. The fight against terror is used to justify curtailment of civil liberties, dismantling of democracy and to excuse vigilante justice. It is a theatre of the absurd.
It is impossible to put a timeframe for this process to unravel but a democratic and progressive Nepal is sure to emerge from this churning. We can't predict the future but we must prepare for it. Now that the parties have their act together, the palace, too, must stop prevaricating and spell out its stance on constitutional monarchy. The importance of the restoration of parliament was important before, now it has become urgent as well. It is pointless tinkering any more with royal cabinets, it's time to restore due process under the constitution through a reactivated lower house.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)