Equality and participation: preconditions for ways out of crisis
Paper presented at the conference
on The Agenda of Transformation: Inclusion in Nepali Democracy,
is striving for narrowing the gap to the modern world for the past fifty years
or so. This is not an easy undertaking in view of the mediaeval like feudal
structures that were prevalent at the end of Rana times. It is the special
problem of countries in similar circumstances that, within an extremely short
period of time, they have to pass through developments that have slowly grown
over decades or centuries in modern industrial states.
means a hopeless venture for countries like Nepal. It would not be justified to
deny that Nepal has experienced enormous changes after 1950. The reasons for the
failure of the 1990 system have only in part to do with the developments and
events of the past twelve years. For the most part, they are sought out in
developments and conceptions that go back to the founding years of the modern
Nepali state, i.e. the late 18th and early 19th century.
following table may provide an overview over the different reasons for political
instability without laying claim to completeness.
of these factors are not new to Nepal. There are only a few that have originated
in the 1990s or even very recently. The escalation of dissatisfaction and unrest
along the lines of the older factors has a lot to do with the achievements of
1990 and later. There may have been shortcomings and contradictions in the
constitution, disregard and misuse of the same by the political leaders,
corruption as well as illusory promises and expectations. But ironically, it
have been the positive improvements that have contributed to the growing
discontent of greater sections of the society, e.g. better and extensive
education, the guarantee of well formulated fundamental rights, a more or less
liberal press, the formation of numerous organizations that provide for
awareness and demand for civil rights, etc.
have been extremely high when the democratic system was introduced in 1990/91.
First, the general public had been fed up with 30 years of panchayat
politics, but the leaders of the political parties also used the transition to
stir up expectations they should have known that they would never be able to
fulfil. The country was already down in 1990, and no political party,
whatsoever, would have been able to change this situation over night, despite
great amounts of foreign money that flowed into the country.
next factor has to do with the question of political representation. There are
already a number of shortcomings in the constitution of 1990. They have to do
with the upholding of traditional elements and structures even under the current
democratic system. One of the basic factors in this context is the definition of
the state as a Hindu state. This mixture of politics and culture prevents the
participation and integration of greater sections of society that are non-Hindu
or disadvantaged according to Hindu-social conceptions. All the political
parties, who should be the vehicles of representation in the modern democratic
system, are especially dominated by male Bahuns,
to a lesser degree also by Chhetris and high caste Newars; missing democratic
structures of the parties prevent an appropriate participation of all sections
governance is another important factor that has contributed to the great
frustration in formally democratized Nepal. Every party claims that democracy
only exists when it is in power; there is no democracy when other parties are in
power. For their personal strive for power, the political leaders have misused
the constitution and its provisions for more than 12 years. The total disregard
of the directive principles and policies of the state (articles 24-26 of the
constitution), self-destructive fighting within the parties upto party
splitting, irrational coalitions for the mere reason of power, refusal of
cooperation in basic questions of state politics, and the excessive and
irresponsible use of else democratic pressure tools like demonstrations and bandhs,
are to be mentioned in this context.
not unknown in panchayat times, has reached unimaginable forms in current Nepal.
It is only in very recent months that the state has started to call to account
some of the leading persons, but a clear line is still not found. The obvious
corruption and ineffective political behaviour have caused the loss of
credibility of almost all party leaders.
so-called people’s war, started by the Maoists in early 1996, can be
interpreted as a way to express dissatisfaction with this situation. But the
more or less honourable original demands of the Maoists take a backseat against
their violent approach. The conflict has escalated over the years with the
security forces not being able to guarantee security. On the contrary, the
people in rural areas were in the same way afraid of Maoists and of state forces
because of their total disregard of human rights.
royal massacre of 2001 and its aftermath have further complicated the situation.
Right from his accession to the throne, King Gyanendra has claimed that he wants
to be an active monarch. After the previous government of Sher Bahadur Deuba had
already dissolved parliament and local bodies, King Gyanendra finally finished
the constitution on October 4 by grabbing sovereignty and executive powers. The
illegitimate and incompetent government, installed by him one week later, was
neither able to solve the Maoist conflict nor to restore democratic structures.
Instead, the conflict was now between three forces: Maoists, political parties
and monarchy/security forces. The recent ceasefire seems more to be the result
of changed Maoist politics than of constructive government politics.
have already mentioned the lack of participation and integration of greater
sections of society. This has to do with the history and ways of state formation
in Nepal. The stratified social system has once been applied and legalized by
the ancestors of King Gyanendra and their high caste supporters. It still exists
in the minds of many of the political leaders, and it is reflected by some
articles of the constitution and numerous subordinate laws. Those affected most
are members of ethnic groups, Dalits, Madhesis and the women in general.
continuously high growth rate of population combined with better education has
given rise to further tensions. Every year, hundreds of thousands of young
people leave schools with their SLC dreaming of a better live. But there are no
jobs and perspectives, especially for those of disadvantaged population groups.
Thanks to their education, they are aware of their rights and of the deplorable
state of affairs in Nepal. These young folks are a fertile breeding ground for
revolutionary movements like that of the Maoists.
economic and regional factors mentioned in the table probably need no further
explanations. But I would like to remark something on the consequences of
September 11. On the one hand, then Prime Minister Deuba used the chance to jump
on the American bandwagon and tried to get foreign support for a forceful
suppression of the Maoist insurgency. On the other hand, misunderstands the
American government that this conflict has nothing to do with international
terrorism, but that it is homemade because of the numerous reasons mentioned
before. The obvious American pressure not to take the movement as a political
but as a terrorist issue further complicates ways to a solution.
of the 1990 constitution
was in a state of lawlessness in early October 2002 with a more and more violent
and escalating Maoist conflict, and power striving and irresponsible politicians
that had brought all democratic institutions to a standstill. There were neither
a democratically elected parliament nor local bodies nor was it possible to hold
elections to these institutions in a foreseeable time. I other words, the people
could no longer be called sovereign. The constitution of 1990 was already almost
dead when King Gyanendra finally delivered the deathblow on October 4, 2002.
There has been a heated debate in the following months with the king claiming to
have acted on the basis of the constitution and the party leaders calling the
royal step unconstitutional. I think that both are partly right and partly
wrong, and I will explain this a little bit more.
the same way does the commitment to democracy mean little. This phrase has also
been in use during panchayat times when monarchy played an absolute role
of representing and controlling executive, legislative and judicial powers. The
use of plural forms when the king is talking about himself, finally reminds of
the traditional absolute position of the monarch. This may be explained by
grammatical rules of the Nepali language, but these seem to have their reason in
this kind of traditional thinking.
the second paragraph of his October 4 address, King Gyanendra repeats his claim
of solidarity with the aspect of welfare and promotion of the Nepali citizens
but, this time, it becomes specifically connected to his Shah dynasty, which
united Nepal in her current form by military expansion and subjugation of other
territories between 1743 and 1816.
Following this pretended tradition of benevolent Shah kings, King Gyanendra
describes the introduction of democracy in 1990
as one such benevolent act of the Nepali Shah kings. All those who observed the
events of 1990 carefully may find this interpretation quite disconcerting when
they remember how the institution of monarchy had come under pressure during the
people’s movement (jana andolan) of
spring 1990, especially during the great demonstration in front of the royal
palace on April 6, 1990. Gyanendra’s statement is further contradicting to the
numerous attempts of the palace to save as much power as possible under the
constitution promulgated on November 9, 1990. So, the institutional
democratization of Nepal in 1990 was, in fact, not a benevolent and farsighted
act of the Nepali monarchy, but it had to be forced out of monarchy by those who
demonstrated on the streets, partly loosing their lives, and by their
self-claimed representatives who organized the demonstrations and later entered
into negotiations with the palace.
his further statements, King Gyanendra correctly mentions that, during the past
twelve years, a number of political exercises have been adopted for the
consolidation of democracy. In some of these cases, the institution of monarchy
has in so far been involved as it has been defined as royal executive and
legislative tasks by the constitution of 1990. But contrary to the regulations
of the panchayat constitution, the king’s executive and legislative
rights and duties are exclusively those of a constitutional monarch. The king
can only exercise executive power on the recommendation and advice, and with the
consent of the council of ministers. In the same way, the king can no longer
completely refuse his assent to bills or even change such bills at his own
discretion as it was normal during panchayat days.
his address of October 4, King Gyanendra referred to the dissolution of the
House of Representatives which was accepted by him on the recommendation of
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. And also the setting of November 13 as
election day happened on the recommendation of the prime minister. On August 6,
the Supreme Court (SC) decided that such kind of recommendation is a political
prerogative of the prime minister.
In other words: the king has had no other chance than to dissolve parliament.
this background, King Gyanendra is right when he denies any personal
responsibility for the dissolution of parliament and the setting of the election
date. The correct holding of these elections became the main task of Sher
Bahadur Deuba who, after the dissolution of parliament, was no more than the
leader of a caretaker government. King Gyanendra is further right in his claim
that this caretaker prime minister has asked him to remove difficulties that
have arisen in connection with the implementation of the constitutional rules
according to article 127 of the constitution. The question is, if this situation
justifies the procedure of King Gyanendra in early October.
it must be decided in which way article 127 is to be applied. Naturally, this
article can only be applied in cases that are not solved by other regulations of
the constitution. The article simply mentions the king, i.e. the head of state,
who can issue necessary orders to remove difficulties in the implementation of
the constitution. Such orders must then be laid before parliament. This already
makes clear that the king cannot act independently from other constitutional
bodies. Since the application of article 127 is an executive function, the
fundamental rules of executive procedures must be observed. This means according
to article 35 (2) that the king can only act on the advice and recommendation
and with the consent of the Council of Ministers.
Besides, three conditions have to be fulfilled: the application of this power
must be objectively necessary and not subjectively desirable; the order to
remove the difficulty must be nor more than necessary to remove it; the order
must not be incompatible with any other provision of the constitution (Dhungel
at al. 1998, p. 680).
Gyanendra, in application of article 127, removed caretaker Prime Minister Sher
Bahadur Deuba and his Council of Ministers out of office. But this was neither
the recommendation of the prime minister nor was it the constitutional
difficulty that had arisen. The problem as forwarded by Deuba was simply that he
could not fulfil the constitutional regulation to hold general elections within
six months after the dissolution of the house of representatives as prescribed
by article 53 (4). The reasons for this shortcoming were manifold. First, the
situation of law and order in face of the Maoist insurgency was not so to hold
elections in November 2002. Secondly, the SC took about two and a half months to
decide on the correctness of the dissolution of the house of representatives.
Thirdly, the three member Election Commission (EC), itself a constitutional
body, delayed the important decision on the recognition of the split Nepali
Congress (NC) groups by more than three months. Fourthly, many oppositional
politicians, especially Deuba’s estranged former party president Girija Prasad
Koirala who simply rejected the decision of the SC, did everything to hinder
preparations for the elections.
a constitutional application of article 127 would have meant, for example, that
the period of time for the holding of elections was extended for some months.
And this was exactly what Deuba had recommended when he approached king
Gyanendra. This would have been a strong intervention into the regulations of
the constitution but, against the background of the circumstances, it would have
been justified. Gyanendra fulfilled this recommendation, but only in the second
position and not mentioning a time limit, which is regarded as necessary for the
application of article 127 (Dhungel et al., 1998, pp. 680 f.)
the first position, King Gyanendra mentions the removal of caretaker Prime
Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his Council of Ministers. This brings us to the
question if the monarch has any constitutional right to remove a prime minister
from office. The answer is given by article 36 (5) which mentions four reasons:
if he submits
his resignation to the king,
no-confidence resolution has been passed by a majority of the total number of
members of the House of Representatives
if he ceases to
be a member of the House of Representatives
if he dies.
of this happened, and other regulations are not to be found in the constitution.
This leads to the conclusion that the removal of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur
Deuba and his Council of Ministers was an unconstitutional act. Either King
Gyanendra has been misguided concerning the monarch’s constitutional role or
he has acted fully aware of this breach of the constitution. In the latter case,
his procedure would have been a putsch, maybe similar to that of his father in
final remarks of Gyanendra’s address already have little to do with
constitutional monarchy. He mentions that he himself will undertake the
responsibility of governance and that he himself will exercise the executive
powers. He asks the political parties for cooperation and recommendations
concerning the constitution of an interim council of ministers, and already sets
the conditions for the composition of this council. In other words, this is the
end of constitutional monarchy and democracy. The council of ministers and
political parties are treated as executive instruments that can be used by the
king on his own discretion. Leaving the existence of political parties aside, we
seem to be back in panchayat times. In contradiction to this, Gyanendra
claims that he will never allow any compromise on the commitment to
constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy.
the end, Gyanendra leaves open how he wants to make adequate arrangements for
peace and security and to conduct the elections. More than ten months of
mobilization of the army, whose supreme commander the king is, had brought
nothing to improve the situation in the country. On the contrary, the political,
social and cultural conditions in Nepal have never been worse than in recent
years. If the state of emergency has proved anything, than that the conflict can
never be solved by force.
it would be too easy to use King Gyanendra as a scapegoat for Nepal’s
political disaster, for he is not the only one who has broken constitutional
rules after 1990. Unconstitutional behaviour and demanding has a tradition in
institutionally democratized Nepal. This may only partly be excused by the
inexperience of the party politicians and the miserable conditions of the
country. Personal ambitions and power hunger of party leaders, short-sightedness
dependent on cultural and traditional conceptions, lacking participation of and
missing understanding for disadvantaged sections of Nepal’s multicultural
society, all these are further reasons that have hampered the democratization
process in Nepal.
I would claim that the constitution of 1990 and its political system was already
dead when King Gyanendra took his step on October 4. And for this was not the
king responsible but all the political parties including the CPN (Maoist). For
the latter, it may have been some kind of success since they had fought to oust
this system. Against this background, King Gyanendra’s step could have been
seen as a final stroke to allow a new beginning if he had interpreted his step
in this way. In this case, his breaking of the constitution would have been to
safeguard the interests and the well being of the people. But he did not explain
it in this way. Instead, he claimed to act on the basis of the 1990 constitution
in the interest of democracy. Besides, he used every chance to have the
institution of monarchy being celebrated in an unbearable manner as it last
happened in panchayat times.
months have already passed since the royal step, and neither the parties nor the
king have moved a bit to find a solution. The leaders of the political parties
only have their own power interests in mind,
and the king uses this situation to prevent democracy and instead strengthen his
own position. History seems to be repeating again in Nepal.
Krishna Bahadur. 2000. Possible ethnic revolution or insurgency in a predatory
unitary Hindu state. In: Dhruba Kumar (ed.), Domestic conflict and crisis of governability in Nepal, pp. 135-162.
J. Duncan M. 1976. Rajadharma.
Journal of Asian Studies, The
Surya P.S., Bipin Adhikari, B.P. Bhandari and Chris Murgatroyd. 1998.
Commentary on the Nepalese constitution. Kathmandu: DeLF.
Kanak Mani. 2000. Has Nepal
failed as a state?. In: Ram Pratap Thapa and Joachim Baaden (eds.), Nepal: myth and realities, pp. 165-171. Delhi: Book Faith India.
Kanak Mani and Shastri Ramachandaran (eds.). 2002. The state of Nepal. Kathmandu: Himal Books.
David N. 2003. Social Order,
Inclusion, Hybridity: Preconditions of Democracy in Nepal (paper presented at
David N. 2003 (ed.). Resistance and the State: Nepalese Experiences.
Delhi: Social Science Press.
David N., Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka
and John Whelpton
(eds.). 1997. Nationalism and ethnicity in
a Hindu Kingdom: The politics of culture in contemporary Nepal. Amsterdam:
Harwood Academic Publ.
Paul. 1958. Der Dharma-.Begriff des Neuhinduismus. Zeitschrift
für Missions- und Religionswissenschaft 42:1-15.
Paul. 1965. Dharma im Hinduismus. Zeitschrift
für Missions- und Religionswissenschaft 49:93-106.
Karl-Heinz. 1978. Der politische
Hinduismus von Nepal unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Königtums. Unpublished
M.A. thesis, University of Bonn.
Karl-Heinz. 1981. Das Königtum in der
modernen nepalischen Geschichte: Ein Beitrag zum Verständnis hinduistischer
Politik in Nepal. Sankt Augustin: VGH Wissenschaftsverlag.
Karl-Heinz. 2000. Requiring
a social history: must Nepali history be re-written?. In: Ram Pratap Thapa and
Joachim Baaden (eds.), Nepal: myth and
realities, pp. 499-521. Delhi: Book Faith India.
Karl-Heinz. 2001. Nepal. In:
Dieter Nohlen, Florian Grotz and Christof Hartmann (eds.), Elections in Asia and the Pacific: a data handbook, vol. I, pp.
621-659. Oxford: Oxford UP.
Karl-Heinz. 2003. How
Representative is the Nepali State. In: David N.Gellner (ed.) Resistance and
the State: Nepalese Experiences. Delhi: Social Science Press.
Dhruba (ed.). 1995.
State, Leadership and Politics in Nepal. Kathmandu: CNAS.
Dhruba (ed.). 2000. Domestic conflict and
crisis of governability in Nepal. Kathmandu: CNAS.
Donald Eugene. 1963. India as a secular
state. Princeton: Princeton UP.
Mukta. 2001. Democracy and cultural diversity in Nepal. Himalayan
Research Bulletin 21,1:22-25.
Parshuram. 1997 [2054 v.s.]. Janajati
ra rastravad (kehi lekhaharusangalo).
nationalism (a collection of works)]. Kathmandu: Jana Sahitya Prakashan Kendra.
Vishwanath Prasad. 1974 (1954). Studies in
Hindu Political Thought and its Metaphysical Foundations. Delhi,
To remember: The male Bahuns constitute less than 6.5%
of Nepal’s total population according to the census of 2001.
Without any doubt, Nepal owes her independent existence to the
military actions of Prithvinarayan Shah and his successors. But as every
other ruler in history, he had first of all his own power and affluence in
mind and not the farsightedness of a benevolent king who does everything for
his subjects, as it has time and again been pretended by the Nepali kings
and their supporters.
The events of 1990 are usually called the reinstatement of democracy.
During the 1950s Nepal had already faced a number of democratic experiments
with young political parties favouring the introduction of a western type of
democracy and a monarchy that, at the same time, managed to restore more and
more of the absolute powers it had lost to the Ranas after 1846. There was
only a small interval of democracy in 1959/60 with first general
parliamentary elections and one and a half years of Nepali Congress
government. But all this happened under a strong monarch Mahendra who still
hold key positions of power under a constitution introduced by him in
February 1959 only six days before the elections.
This decision of the Supreme Court came after contradictory decisions
by the same institution in similar cases during the 1990s. In these earlier
cases, the Supreme Court had gone into detail before it decided for one or
the other side. In this way, the earlier decisions became strongly
influenced by the political affiliation of the judges. With its recent
decision, the Supreme Court has finally forged about the matter defining it
as a political decision of the prime minister and thus keeping it out of
future judicial quarrels.
This view is confirmed by the most fundamental commentary on the
constitution: Dhungel, Surya
P.S., Bipin Adhikari, B.P. Bhandari and Chris Murgatroyd. 1998.
Commentary on the Nepalese Constitution. Kathmandu:
DeLF, p. 679.
In the discussion that followed the royal step of October 4, there
have been a lot of confusing discussions within the party camp, obviously
depending upon the respective personal interests of the party leaders. So,
NC president G.P. Koirala demanded the reinstitution of parliament, because
his NC had an absolute majority in the dissolved parliament. In this case,
the NC majority would have been preserved and there would have been a chance
for Koirala to become prime minister again. But the SC had already decided
that the dissolution of parliament was based on the constitution, and it
also was not the reason for royal intervention. The UML leaders came forward
with two different options. One was the support of Koiralas demand to revive
parliament. The reason was simple: Madhav Kumar Nepal hoped that he would
become prime minister in this case since his UML had become the strongest
party after the split of the NC. The same reason lay behind the UML demand
to form a UML government in application of article 128 of the constitution.
But this was a ridiculous demand since article 128 belongs to the
transitional provisions of part 21 of the constitution which could never be
applied after once a government had been formed on the basis of the first
general elections in 1991. Finally, Deuba wants his government re-installed,
because this is his only chance to return to power. His demand may be
rightful against the above analysis of the royal step, but there is every
doubt that his government would ever be able to solve the national crisis.
I have written on this more extensively in my MA thesis (1978) as
well as in a small book on Nepalese monarchy (1981).
There would be numerous examples. I only want to mention two. The
process of Nepal’s unification by the Shah rulers of Gorkha is always
presented and celebrated as a glorious, selfless and positive event which is
only viewed from the perspective of the ruling elite. There is lack of a
social historiography of Nepal that also includes the perspectives of those
sections of Nepali society that had to suffer a lot of discrimination under
this system (see Krämer, 2000). Another example, I want to mention, has to
do with the celebration of festivals. There is still a great lack of
understanding that the different ethnic groups also celebrate different
festivals. So, why call Dasain the greatest and most important festival of
all Nepalis if there are groups that celebrate festivals which are more
important from the view of their own culture? It’s high time to see
Nepal’s cultural wealth in its diversity.
I’m sure that this is also the problem of many of the current
politicians. They have been made blind for the country’s social diversity
and problems because of their own one-sided education.
See also David Gellner’s suggestions in his paper for this
Copyright © 2003, Karl-Heinz Kraemer