This year, Baisakh 11 fell on April 24. It is a significant date for Nepal. On this day, 11 years ago, King Gyanendra handed over power to Nepal’s political parties, ending his 14 month-long direct rule. This transfer was facilitated by senior Indian National Congress leader Karan Singh and the-then Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran — special emissaries of the-then Indian PM Manmohan Singh. The handover of power, along with the appointment of G.P. Koirala as Nepal’s PM and the revival of the House of Representatives and the king’s declaration that Nepal’s new constitution would be prepared by an elected constituent assembly, brought a 19-day mass movement to an end.
Ecstatic leaders promised to use a “consensus”-based approach to take Nepal along the path of political stability and economic prosperity. There were some historic announcements in the first session of the constituent assembly on May 4, 2006. These included declaring Nepal, till then the world’s only Hindu kingdom, a “secular country”. Members of the royal family were to be brought under the tax net, and the king’s daughter, if she was the eldest among her siblings, would be eligible to the throne. All this gave an impression that Nepal was following the South African model in which Nelson Mandela and the apartheid regime worked together during a transition period to carve out a future based on reconciliation, putting a bitter feud behind.
But politics took a different course as subsequent events unfolded in clear deviation from the “spirit of Baisakh 11” and the May 4 declarations. Apparently, the contents of the royal declaration were decided after a series of back-channel meetings and parleys between Indian emissaries and the king. The Indian emissaries also met leaders of the pro-democracy parties separately. But the Maoists, who had spearheaded the decade-long insurgency from February 1996 and were part of the movement along with seven parties this time around, were not made party to the Baisakh 11 solution. Instead, they made their radical voice louder and warned political parties against retaining the monarchy in any form. The Maoists were apparently used as a “reserve force” to upset the Baisakh 11 settlement based on reconciliation between the king and pro-democracy forces.
The monarchy was put under suspension, then removed in May 2008. Nepal’s two largest parties — the Nepali Congress, led by G. P. Koirala, and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist — could not defy the Maoists. India’s ministry of external affairs (MEA) threw its weight behind the Maoists and their radical agenda. Why did the two pro-democracy parties follow the Maoist radical agenda unconditionally? MEA’s clear support to the Maoists perhaps, and India’s clout in Nepal’s politics, made all the difference. But this also resulted in India losing the trust of at least three major forces in Nepal: The monarchy, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party (UML) that transformed into a democratic party some 16 years. Why did India prefer a radical force, whose democratic credentials were not tested, to its traditional allies?
This action not only resulted in a loss of credibility for India in Nepal, but also contributed to its competitor, China, being perceived as more trustworthy and dependable. Indian policymakers failed to foresee this in 2006. The recently-concluded joint military exercise between Nepal and China, and the latter emerging as the biggest contributor to FDI over the past three years, are just two examples of the growing ties between the two countries. India, in contrast, has not been able to find new friends, at least, no one as effective as its traditional allies of yore. With Nepal’s prolonged transition and its failure as a democracy, Baisakh 11 invariably casts its shadow not only on the country’s journey to peace, stability and economic prosperity, but also on India’s ability to identify forces which will help it develop smooth bilateral relations with Nepal. “The seven parties had their own agenda, and Maoists had theirs. The king immediately complied with the message of Dr. Manmohan Singh,” revealed Karan Singh last year in an interview to a Nepali newspaper. Clearly, democracy and political stability have not taken roots in Nepal, and Karan Singh could not conceal his frustration.
Eleven years down the line, this year, the Nepal government removed Baisakh 11 from the national calendar as “Loktantra Diwas”. That seems to be an indicator that political forces in Nepal have realised that the movement of 2006 has lost its direction and goal. But they can still prove its relevance by admitting that the endorsement of a radical agenda is, in the long run, inimical to democracy and its values. Democracy gives space to all shades of opinion, and ultimately, to the people, who have not been involved in any crucial political decision so far.