A Way Forward with Nepal Elections

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

2017 Nepal election, the country’s first since 1999, has paved a new way for the establishment of democracy in Nepal. 

It is an ambitious nation where politicians and political parties subscribe largely to Marxist ideas. This election has made the transition of the country from a unitary system to a federal state.

The leaders of the Left alliance, namely KP Oli and Prachanda, were once bitter enemies, but now the alliance will form the government in six out of seven states.

There had been violence, just few days before the election, when Maoist militants opened fire on politicians, blew up vehicles, planted landmines and targeted civilians in dozens of attacks, injuring at least 17 people.

The ruling alliance, Nepali Congress, was shocked to see both rivals joining hands in the aftermath of the election. Although, power bargaining for key posts including the speakers and several key minister posts will remain a bone of contention in the coming time.

The country has already called China for investments to build trans Himalayan railways. The alliance might also bring a hydro-electrical project modelled on Three Gorges Dam, funded by the Chinese back into operation in coming time.

During the 1990’s, when underground Leftist parties launched a movement for democracy, it had got support from major Indian political parties, only opposed by the BJP.

By this democratic transition, common Nepalis demand good governance, an end to corruption, a pace in development projects and welfare for the victims of Gorkha earthquake that killed over 9,000 people and injured over 22,000 people.

Nepal still struggles with basic infrastructures such as schools and hospitals. It’s courts, police and civil administration still lag far behind in operating at an efficient level. There are still prevailing deep-seated political rivalries, ethnic and religious divide and lack of justice for victims of war crimes.

However, the good news coming from the recently concluded election has been the reservation of women seats (around 33%), which reflects Nepal’s concern of gender equality in south Asia.

When King Birendra led the monarchy during 1985, the country had annulled a Chinese tender for the construction of 204 km Kohalpur-Banbasa road, just because the King wanted to align with India, if Chinese and Indian interests clashed. Now, the political situation in the country has changed.

In the past, Nepal faced a ten-year-old civil war (1996-2006), when leftist rebels tried to overthrow the monarchy until the enactment of Comprehensive Peace Accord signed in 2006. During that time, about 19,000 people were killed including the armed forces. 150,000 civilians were internally displaced. During civil war, the Marxist militia regarded the monarchy as a ‘feudal force.’

The monarchy, during the civil war, imprisoned journalists, closed down newspapers and rejected the demands of militia wanting to become part of the legislative assembly. At that period of time, many Nepalis migrated to Gulf countries for jobs to make a living and for the fear of mass killings.

The recently concluded election may be a bad news for India, which has for years tried to exert its political influence in the country. This year, Nepal signed and endorsed Beijing’s ‘One Belt, One Road plan’ – a project that connects the Eurasian landmass with China, where the country is giving loans on concessional rates. The agreement would further cement Nepal-China communication links on all levels.

It is believed that Indian proxy population in Nepal supporting Hindutva politics and monarchy have largely given the vote to the Left, which reflects a massive failure of Indian diplomacy in Nepal. In the past, India had imposed an economic blockade for 18 months, during the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, after Nepal imported some weapons from China.

The Indian-Nepalese relationship suffered a brunt recently when a new constitution was made in Nepal that gave fewer powers to Madheshi ethnic group, living in the Terai region, who have a cultural affinity with people of Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. With issues of citizenship, representation, inclusion, autonomy and language remaining unaddressed, these problems, if not addressed, might lead to a political confrontation.

In some pressure tactics, the Madheshi border had been closed by its people, presumably at the behest of New Delhi. At that moment in time, the Nepali Left had secured China’s support when the blockade lasted six months.

India will try its best to renew diplomatic interests, as a ‘big brother’, and will make sure that Nepal doesn’t become an associate of Chinese state policy. A large number of Nepalese still look for jobs in the plains of India on a permanent or seasonal basis.

India also needs to make sure that Nepal doesn’t play into the hands of ‘red corridor’ phenomenon happening in India, that mainly consists of the insurgency of the ‘adivasis.’

If we look into the recent past, King Gyanendra, in 2005, facilitated China’s entry into the SAARC, as an observer country, even though member countries endorsed the decision unanimously.

Many political commentators have been critical of the PEON (Permanent Establishment of Nepal), where several advantageous minority castes, including Muslims, Dalits, Janjatis, have resisted change to its political, economic, cultural power in the Nepali society.

This issue, having dogmatic factors associated with it, might keep the universal reform attempted by political forces in the country in the backseat.


Popular Posts