An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 09 February 2005

“What motivated him to take such a bold step? It is still a mystery. India and China both have taken a pro-democracy stand. This is not a pragmatic and mature diplomacy on part of India. India like any other country must promote its national interest first, and then ensure peaceful centres of power in its vicinity. The containment of the Maoist insurgency by strengthening the hands of the King and the Royal Nepal Army will always be in the great security interest of India.”

Recent Developments in Nepal –– Should Democracy Prevail or Monarchy?

By Dr. Alok Kumar Gupta & Debomita Ghosh*

The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal is again in the midst of political turmoil. King Gyanendra has once again sacked the Deuba government and transformed the constitutional monarchy into an absolute monarchy. The Monarch has promised elections and restoration of democracy in three years and to restore peace, law and order and economic development. However, the people are not sure what lies ahead in the future. The anti-democracy act of the King, makes it imperative to explore the reasons behind such a drastic step.

Reasons provided by His Majesty:

  • The resurgence of the menace of Maoism has held hostage both the spirits of democracy and governance in Nepal. According to the King, the Deuba Government failed either in reining in the Maoists or in bringing them to the negotiating table for peace talks.  Consequently, the Nepali people were doomed to a world of insecurity and uncertainty.

  • Corruption is widely rampant amongst the Government and the system as a whole. Nepal’s experience with democratic governance since 1990 has been anti people as there has not been any socio-economic development. The political modernization also could not take-off. There was massive abuse of power by political leaders. The King has ensured that a royal commission shall be constituted to investigate corruption and to seize and nationalize property amassed through exploitation and smuggling.

  • According to the King, he adopted the only available alternative in the interest of the country and the people of Nepal. He did it to ensure welfare of the people and protect ‘Human Rights’.

Reasons that led to the Usurpation:

  • Maoists as Direct Threat to the King –– Maoists are directly attacking the institution of monarchy hence it is of utmost important to check them. Since the Deuba government failed, the direct rule was probably the only option left to the King to deal with the crisis. There was an ever-increasing pressure from the international organizations like the UN High Commission of Human Rights, Amnesty International, etc., implying that there are serious threats to “Human Rights” in Nepal owing to Maoist insurgency. Maoists’ refusal to negotiate with Deuba denouncing him as the King’s puppet and insisting on direct talks with the King himself had created a crisis of legitimacy for the government. The Maoists, apparently, seemed to consider Parliament to be insignificant. The King sacked all the constitutional forces to concentrate all the parliamentary and democratic powers against Maoism in order to deal with the security crisis of the country, which had risen from the political differences.

  • The Hegemonic Intentions of the King — King Gyanendra’s democratic intentions are however, doubtful. The extraordinary and dramatic situations under which he became the King was followed by his declaration that he would not prefer to be a quiet King like his brother and he would play a more active role in Nepali life. His involvement in the state affairs opened up a three-way power struggle — a powerful Maoist rebel movement; Nepal’s parliamentary parties; and the monarchy. His antipathy to democracy is evident from the fact, (as reported in many newspapers) that “the King himself did not want the elections”. It is true that if the date for elections had already been announced, it would have made it harder for the King to justify his decision to rule directly and impose a state of emergency.

  • Gyanendra’s Suspicion and Insecurity — The three-pronged power system provided enough reasons to King Gyanendra to be suspicious and insecure against the political parties as well as the Maoists. He perhaps anticipated that the political parties might establish some sort of working relationship and try to get rid and overthrow the King himself. So, he crippled the Parliament, further declaring it corrupt and inefficient. The only other contestants were already on a negative stance due to their recourse to violence and avowed aim to oust the monarchy. The popular support is against the Maoists as they intimidate rural people to garner their support. The King furthered his goal by calling the rebels, in his speeches, as not “Maoists” but, “criminals and terrorists”.

  • His Existence Depends on His Triumph — With the two other premises of power at his neck and the restoration of power to Mr. Deuba last year, i.e. having empowered one of his enemies himself, Gyanendra might have realized that he stood on the edge. He had to sideline one and suppress the other. Sidelining the political leadership was much easier. And if he was now able to at least bring the Maoists to the negotiating table, leave alone the on-going violence, it would definitely stage him to the pedestal of victory and political security. In other words, despite the hue and cry over the breakdown of democracy from the external world, the King realizes that if he is able to bring significant changes in safety and security situations, all the external criticism will fade away and general public will support him greatly. Thus his action is but a gamble with a high risk factor because if he loses, he will end up inviting more causes for worry and would not only loosen the institution of monarchy but may also perpetuate a social, economic and political crisis in the country.

  • Maoist Ideology Against Monarchy — The Maoists have announced their ultimate goal to establish a socialist state by declaring Nepal as “communist republic”. It calls for a complete socio-political change. The very fabric of Nepalese monarchy is, thus, threatened. With the increasing power of the Maoists, it is becoming increasingly difficult to bring them under control. Given the present scenario in Nepal, containing the rebel movement by democratic means seems next to impossible but they can be taken into cognizance by military means and total subjugation. King Gyanendra seems to be more concerned to protect the Nepalese monarchy, even if it is at the cost of depriving his people the privilege of democracy.

  • Ambition to Create his own Lobby — Gyanendra along with declaring an emergency and dissolution of the Parliament has also put some prominent political leaders under house arrest. It is a hard fact that Gyanendra was installed on the throne under extraordinary circumstances when there were no other options left, and he still does not enjoy the confidence and blind devotion of the people. Not even the Parliament. Under the pretext of filtering the Parliament of corruption, the King might open the Parliamentary doors to his own people under the masks of different Commissions for investigations. At least this is apparent by seeing him unveil a ten-member Cabinet under his leadership.

  • To Overcome the “Crisis of Legitimacy” — Gyanendra became King under unusual circumstances as mentioned above. Hence, even the neighbours in the South Asian region and other countries of the world have not been able to digest his assumption of power. The SAARC summit which was scheduled on February 06, 2005 at Dhaka would have provided him the opportunity to overcome the erstwhile ‘crisis of legitimacy’ tag, where he would have represented the head of the state of Nepal along side the heads of six other South Asian countries. Thus, February 01, 2005 was the most opportune moment for the King to sack the Government and establish his rule. 

Democracy or Monarchy — Which Favors India’s National Interest

Democracy has its own pitfalls. A multiparty democracy has proved a nuisance for Nepal and has led to a more complex political system. Monarchy ensures a single center of power hence is easier to deal with. A democracy would demand far more advanced and careful diplomacy on the part of India as any negotiations get protracted for nothing. Yet it announced that democracy should be re-installed in the Nepalese country for the following reasons:

  1. A diplomatic step keeping in mind the eye of the world — India is the largest democracy in the world and a power to be reckoned with in the proximity of the South Asian region. Since India is a strong contender for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, it cannot afford to support anti-democratic endeavors. It has to support democracy in Nepal even if it is against the national interests of India.

  2. Border insecurity — Maoist literature speaks of creating a “Compact Revolutionary Zone” stretching from northern Andhra Pradesh through central and eastern India to Nepal. It is a constant source of threat to the Indian border. Indian government worries that with the advent of one-man-rule, the revolt could spin out of control and Nepal may become a breeding ground of terrorist groups and drugs trafficking. This theory is strengthened further by the fact the Maoists have control over 73 of 75 districts of Nepal. They are virtually running a parallel government in rural Nepal.

  3. Unnecessary Expenses — India shares around 1,600 kms of its border with Nepal. There are apprehensions that the monarchy in Nepal might not be successful and the vibrancy of the rebel movement may be stimulated with the downfall of democracy in the country. If this happens India will have to invest on ensuring the security along the long border. Presently the Indo–Nepal border is a porous one.

  4. Economic Prospects — Nepal has a potential of 80,000 to 1, 50,000 MW of renewable non-polluting hydel power. Both countries had already entered into the Mahakali Project Agreement. But the negotiations were mainly with the Nepali political leaders. The relationship with the King has not reached the stage of maturity, which was reached by prolonged interaction with the Nepalese Democrats. King Gyanendra made no attempts after he assumed power in 2001 to groom his relationships with the Indian government. India may suffer in terms of its exports, as 42.3% of Nepal’s chief imports comprise of goods and services from India. India, thus, has a high economic stake in Nepal, which it cannot afford to loose.

  5. Indian perceptions of the King are distrustful as he has proved to be unpredictable. Consequently, what India fears most is not the monarchy but the probability of an understanding and compromise between the monarchy and the Maoists. If that happens, the entire situation will go out of the hands of India in the following ways:

  • Maoism supported by anti-India groups –– there is enough information in the newspapers that there are established linkages between the Maoists and the LTTE, some Islamic Fundamentalists organizations, through the ISI of Pakistan. All such organizations work against the interests of India. Therefore, the increasing insurgency in Nepal would have enough potentiality to increase anti-India activities.

  • Strong Anti-India Stand of Maoists –– one of the strong bases of Maoists popularity is their anti-India stand. This makes it quite obvious that the rebel group can never be taken into confidence if India ever tries to provide its good offices for negotiations and peace.

  • A deterioration in Indio-Nepal relations means enhancement in Sino–Nepal and Pak–Nepal bonds — Nepal is a buffer-state between the two giants, China and India. Growth of hostility between India and Nepal would provide an opportunity to China to intervene and wean away Nepal, which would further invite strategic disadvantage to India. China is eagerly waiting to enter the Indian sub-continent via Nepal. It would obviously be fatal to the Indian security matrix.

Indian Diplomacy — The Task Ahead

The Indian government immediately after the political upheavals in Nepal took a strong step by denouncing the acts of the King and asked him to restore democracy as soon as possible. The Indian step appears as though the diplomatic community within the country did not achieve much. Hence, it is not a well thought out reaction. India needs to think more pragmatically. It is because democracy in the tiny state of Nepal has always been unstable, volatile, and vulnerable to outside manipulations. It creates multiple centers of power hence carrying out negotiations on any relevant issues of concern to both countries also, becomes a cumbersome process.

Monarchy means, just one center of power. Negotiation and striking a rapport and dealing with one center of power will be a much more stable, easier and less time consuming process. Hence, given the immense economic opportunity between the two neighbors, and common concern about containing internal conflicts, the long-term prospects of hydroelectricity, India requires to groom its neighbor in the right direction so that cooperation is maximized and conflict is minimized. This makes it imperative that there be a stable polity within Nepal, the chances of which are higher when there is one center of power i.e. monarchy.

The various problems and apprehensions of India, which have been enumerated above could be well taken care of if there is one stable center of power. The pace of progress also will be faster than it is now or would be under democracy. The problem becomes more complex when both the countries are experiencing democratic governance and frequent changes of head of the government. Indeed this is the bane of a parliamentary democracy.

Moreover, the spontaneous reaction of India is contradictory in itself. This is because India has been supplying arms and other logistical support to the Royal Nepal Army, knowing fully well that it is totally controlled by the King. Thus, strengthening the hands of the King on the one hand and speaking about furthering the cause of democracy in Nepal is antithetical to each other.

The inevitable interest of the international Islamic fundamentalist organizations in the Maoist insurgency of Nepal (primarily seeing the only Hindu Nation of the world in jeopardy and using it as a corridor to India) has already been established through various newspaper reports. These organizations are also providing funds to such insurgents. The small insurgent groups have become the dumping grounds of LTTE’s obsolete weapons. Knowing this, Gyanendra took the decision to contain the Maoist terrorism on one hand, and cut the chances of any kind of support from the Nepali parliament on the other.

What motivated him to take such a bold step? It is still a mystery. India and China both have taken a pro-democracy stand. This is not a pragmatic and mature diplomacy on part of India. India like any other country must promote its national interest first, and then ensure peaceful centres of power in its vicinity. The containment of the Maoist insurgency by strengthening the hands of the King and the Royal Nepal Army wil always be in the great security interest of India.                         

*(Dr. Alok Kumar Gupta is a Lecturer, Faculty of Policy Sciences at National Law University, Jodhpur and Ms. Debomita Ghosh is a student at the same University).

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