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Celebrating Democracy Day in Nepal

Issue 08, February 24, 2008

By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

At the time Nepalis are heading to celebrate a republic day, the coalition government of the seven-party alliance (SPA) is preparing for celebrating the 58th democracy day on February 19, 2008 in a grand manner. The government has announced that it is going to celebrate the democracy day starting on February 18 and ending on February 20, and decided to request the Nepalis in general to illuminate their homes with light on evening of these three days. The government has set up a democracy day celebration committee headed by none other than Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. How this democracy has became the national day for celebration let us see.

Nepalis marked the Martyrs’ Day on January 30, 2008. Four brave sons of Nepal gave their precious and youthful lives to tear down the despotic Rana family rule. They were: Ganga Lal Shrestha, Sukra Raj Shastri (Joshi), Dharma Bhakta Mathema, and Dashrath Chand Thakur. The then-tyrannical rulers called Ranas shot Ganga Lal Shrestha and Dashrath Chand Thakur, and hanged Sukra Raj Shastri (Joshi) and Dharma Bhakta Mathema to death for simply asking for a few fundamental rights for Nepalis in 1942. The autocratic rulers felt those four youths were a great threat to their tyrannical regime. The ruling Ranas felt that they would not be in a position to use all the national revenue for their luxurious lives depriving all Nepalis of even basic needs if they gave in to the demands of those four brave youths. They are the real martyrs.

Nepalis did not give up their fights the four warriors have started for rights to live humanely. So, they followed the path shown by the four brave sons of Nepal. They continued to fight against the family rule of Ranas, and ultimately forced them to surrender to the Nepalese people in 1951. However, the then-so-called leaders of the Nepali Congress (NC) rather than finished the Rana regime off once and for all, compromised with them on a coalition government. Ironically, the last Rana ruler became the first Prime Minister of the Interim Government of Nepal set up by the people’s power. Obviously, he transferred the power to the then king.

In 1951, the Nepalese political leaders, the losing Rana rulers, and the helpless king Tribhuvan under the Rana regime talked to each other under the auspices of the then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi, India. The king had taken a shelter at the Indian Embassy and had flown to New Delhi. The Ranas attempted to install his four-year old grandson as the new pawn king of Nepal in absence of the puppet king and run the administration in his name but it did not work, so under the growing popular uprising against the Rana regime, agreed to talk to the king in exile and the political leaders in New Delhi to resolve the political deadlock in Nepal. They agreed to declare Nepal a democratic country, call its government the Government of Nepal, and hold an election for a Constituent Assembly (CA) that would write a constitution of Nepal.

On February 18, 1951 (Falgun 07, 2007), the Nepalese political leaders, and the king triumphantly returned to Nepal. Nepalis in general shed their blood to tear down the Rana regime; however, the king stole the show. Cheers greeted the arrival of the king at the Kathmandu airport. He became the hero of the democratic movement and took all the credits for bringing democracy in Nepal whereas the so-called political leaders took the backseat of the political drama played by the king and his sycophants.

On his arrival in Nepal, King Tribhuvan declared Nepal a democratic country, its government the Government of Nepal and promised to hold an election for a CA. The king never bothered to keep up his words given to the Nepalese people. Rather putting the clock back, his progeny called Mahendra made Nepal again his kingdom rather than making Nepal a sustainable democratic country, changed the Government of Nepal into His Majesty’s Government of Nepal, and never held an election for a CA. He even made political parties illegal, put most of the prominent political leaders behind bars, and killed many leaders taking the country to the dark age of feudalism in early 1960s.

On his arrival in Nepal from New Delhi in 1951, Tribhuvan formed an interim government headed by the former Rana Prime Minister. This government was supposed to hold an election for a CA. However, the NC political leaders forgot about holding an election for a CA for writing a constitution in the greed for grabbing power. Tribhuvan deliberately put on hold the election for a CA, as he might need to accept the position given to him by the Nepalese people’s representatives representing on the CA. At that time, Nepalis would have given him a very revered and permanent position to him and his institution if he had faithfully held an election for a CA. Then, the interim Rana Prime Minister gave up his position transferring the power to Tribhuvan ending the 104-year Rana regime set up by the most controversial man called Jung Bahadur Kunwar. He replaced his family name Kunwar with Rana after he became the dictatorial Prime Minister in 1847.

Tribhuvan played one political leader off against another to consolidate the newly acquired power from the Rana rulers. He appointed one leader or another to the position of Prime Minister and forced him to form the cabinet of the ministers of his liking. At the same time, his health ruined by more than four decades of luxurious life without duties and responsibilities under the Rana regime further deteriorated, and went to Switzerland for treatment. However, he was happy that he had successfully tricked all the political leaders to lose their political influence on the Nepalese people, and install his progeny as the future absolute king in Nepal. He failed to understand that it was the beginning of the end of the Shah dynasty in Nepal.

After the death of Tribhuvan in Switzerland his son Mahendra became the king of Nepal and spent a large sum of taxpayers’ money on his coronation. His queen and he rode on the highly decorated elephant and went around Kathmandu to show that he was the king. While going around, at times he threw a handful of one-rupee silver coins at the onlookers and enjoyed the scene of how the innocent Nepalis scrambled for picking up the coins. After a few days he did the same thing in Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. Foreign dignitaries and local royalties riding on decorated elephants accompanied the newly crowned king and queen and enjoyed the ceremonies of the highly expensive coronation performed at the cost of the poor Nepalis.

Mahendra was a shrewd politician and ambitious person. He neglected to hold an election for a CA, and was not in a mood to give in to the demands of the people for institutionalizing democracy. Rather he engaged in consolidating the power in his hands and set up a secretariat at his palace parallel to the secretariat of the Government of Nepal. He ruled the country by decree.

Nepalese people led by the NC leaders launched a non-cooperation movement demanding an election for a CA that would write a constitution, and set the country on a democratic path. Mahendra felt that Nepalis would not leave him in peace if he would not meet their demands. However, he bargained with the NC leaders over the writing of a constitution, and succeeded the NC leaders to accept his constitution rather than holding an election for a CA. It was a third constitution of Nepal after the first constitution introduced by the Rana Prime Minister in 1947 and the interim constitution of 1951.

Following the king’s constitution, a general election for a parliament was held in 1958, and an elected government was formed. The NC won 79 seats in the 109-member parliament. The NC leaders formed an elected government that was supposed to be the people’s government. However, they could not only make it the Nepalese people’s government but also even the government of all NC people. The circle of the NC rulers became smaller and smaller ejecting even the sincere NC cadres and leaders out of the power circle. Corrupt and insincere NC members successfully influenced the leaders and dominated the administration in their interest rather than in the interest of the Nepalese people in general.

Mahendra has been watching the NC administration, and went on a tour of various parts of the country, and talked to the people in person. He found that the Nepalese people were not happy with the NC administration, as the NC leaders have been indulging in enjoying the power for their own interest and not meeting the people’s aspirations for rule of law, democracy and prosperity.

The corrupt NC administration created a favorable environment for Mahendra to grab the power from the elected government. In addition, he used the religious fundamentalists to create violence and discord among the people in various parts of the country. Mahendra used the favorable situation for grabbing the power.

On December 15, 1960 (Poush 01, 2017), with the help of the army, Mahendra tossed the third Constitution of Nepal into a trashcan, dissolved the elected parliament, dismissed the government and put the NC leaders behind bars saying the democratic parliamentary system of governance was foreign and not suitable to the Nepalese soils. He disbanded the political parties and dismantled whatever democratic institutions built during the 10 years of democratic practices in the country. It was the end of democracy in Nepal. He did not understand that it was the first nail he drove on the coffin of the Shah dynasty.

After two years of his absolute administration, Mahendra promulgated a fourth constitution that made him constitutionally the absolute ruler in 1962. He replaced the Government of Nepal with His Majesty’s Government of Nepal, and added royal to the names of the state agencies and organizations. He introduced the non-party political system called Panchayat; however, he did not fail to add to it a word democracy.

Panchayat was the multi-tiered system. People elected their representatives to the Village Panchayats and Town Panchayats. The elected local level representatives became the Electoral College for district representatives and the district representatives in turn became the Electoral College for national Panchayat from which Mahendra chose men and women for Prime Minister and ministers. Thus, Mahendra enjoyed absolute power during his heydays.

Panchayat lasted for 30 years. During this period it became synonymous with corruption, nepotism and the rule of discretion. Mahendra sow the seeds of corruption, and institutionalize the state employees breaking the law with impunity. Consequently, Nepalese people lived at the mercy of the state employees and the members of Panchayats.

Internationally, Mahendra set China against India, and took the benefits of the cold war prevailing at that time. The international democratic community was afraid of making a communist revolution, and the communist international afraid of democratic forces coming to power if not supported the administration of Mahendra. So, Mahendra’s Panchayat flourished in Nepal for some time. Mahendra died in 1972 and his son Birendra took over the state power.

In 1990, the democratic and communist forces united and challenged the the-king Birendra. After forty-nine days of street rallies against Birendra and the Panchayat system his father introduced in place of the multi-party democratic system, Birendra surrendered all power to the democratic and communist leaders, formed the Interim government as desired by the political leaders for formulating a new fifth constitution, and reinstated the multi-party democratic system of governance.

After making the multiparty system and the constitutional monarchy irremovable in the fifth constitution of Nepal of 1990, the then-political leaders thought that they have made the democratic system unshakable, and confined the king in the palace forever by the constitution of 1990.

However, the history of political events seemed to be repeating again. In the elections held in 1991 for the House of Representatives, Nepalese people gave a mandate to the NC putting 110 NC members in the 205-member House of Representatives. The NC leaders gradually narrowed down the large circle of NC leaders and their cadres, and harvested the benefits of the democratic system of governance for their own benefits. They lost the power to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML) for nine months after the second general elections for the House of Representatives in 1994. For some time, both the NC and CPN-UML leaders were reluctant to mix up with the heavily tainted former members of the Panchayats. After getting tainted with corruption, they shamelessly collaborated with the former members of Panchayat, and ran the administration under the leadership of the members of the past Panchayat, and heavily discredited the democratic system in Nepal, as in late 1950s.

A group of left politicians not satisfied with the performances of the government of the parliamentary parties submitted the 40-point demand warning of taking up arms to revolt against the government if the government would not consider it within the deadline they set for it. The then-Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba brushed them off sending them to take up arms against the state in 1996. By 2006, they took majority of the rural areas under their control.

On June 01, 2001, the world press disclosed that Birendra and his family members were shot down in cold blood. The news report blamed the then-crown prince for the murder of his parents and siblings. However, the then-elected government headed by Girija Prasad Koirala could not form a commission on investigation into the murder of Birendra and his family, and on the demise of the crown prince. He let the Shah prince called Gyanendra Shah manipulate the Standing Committee of the Privy Council and the Constitution of Nepal of 1990 to declare the crown prince in coma as the king and declare himself as the crown prince and then let the newly crowned king die and crown himself as the king of Nepal.

On February 01, 2005, the so-called king Gyanendra drove the last nail on the coffin of the Shah dynastic rule taking absolute power in his hands suspending the Constitution of Nepal of 1990 and the constitutional monarchy, and becoming the absolute monarch snapping cell phones and landline phones for several months, muzzling the press and putting political leaders either in the house arrest or behind bars. He promised to bring the rebels under control, bring peace and hold elections for the House of Representatives. He could do none of these things.

Gyanendra’s absolute rule brought the parliamentary forces and the rebel forces together to reach a 12-point understanding for finishing off the monarchy and declaring Nepal a democratic republic in November 2005. By April 2006, they tore down the absolute monarchy and reinstated the House of Representatives dissolved in May 2002. The House promulgated an Interim Constitution on January 15, 2007. Following the Interim Constitution of Nepal of 2007, 330-member Interim Legislature-parliament including 83 rebel members was formed. After the third amendment to the Interim Constitution, the Interim Legislature-parliament declared Nepal a democratic federal republic, and made the Prime Minister an interim head of state and suspended the king on December 29, 2007.

The Government of Nepal had celebrated February 18, 1951 (Falgun 07, 2007) as the democracy day until Mahendra took over the power in his hands on December 15, 1960 (Poush 01, 2017). Thereafter, His Majesty’s Government of Nepal celebrated December 15 (Poush 01) as the national day sidelining the democracy day for 30 years until the democratic forces tore down the Panchayat system. Gyanendra would have celebrated the February 01 as another national day had he succeeded in his mission to set up his absolute rule. Now, again the Government of Nepal headed by Girija Prasad Koirala wants to celebrate the February 18 (Falgun 07) as the democracy day in a grand manner. Thus, democracy has taken a full circle of events.

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