Democracy is the best form of governance that provides freedom to people and protects their political, economic, social, cultural and individual rights. It is founded on values of freedom, respect of human rights, free and fair periodic elections and principle of inclusiveness. Proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the general standard of accomplishments for all peoples and nations worldwide.
Nepali people fought for democracy in different phases of history. Now they are reaping the democratic dividends. Nepal has become a federal democratic republic with independent judiciary and press freedom, and other elements of inclusive democracy. The country entered into an era of multiparty democracy and modernisation in 1951 when Nepali people revolted against the 104-year-old autocratic Rana rule. People’s aspirations to establish democracy had come true with the abolition of the Rana oligarchy.
However, it may be recalled here that the anti-Rana movement had proved to be very costly. A lot of people had to sacrifice their lives on the altar of revolution. Scores of democratic fighters, including Dashrath Chand, Dharma Bhakta Mathema, Ganga Lal Shrestha and Shukra Raj Shashtri, had attained martyrdom. It was possible for the people to see the dawn of democracy in the country because of the martyrs’ sacrifices. A host of others had also risked their life for liberty, equality and justice.
That movement was certainly a landmark political event in Nepal’s long history of democratic struggle. As the first people’s rebellion, the fight against the Rana regime is regarded as the mother of other subsequent democratic movements in the country. Although the people at that time had not been so educated and forward, their participation in the anti-Rana movement was amazing. That historic political change has had broader implications for the country’s political, economic, educational and cultural spheres. The epoch-making political upheaval generated the people’s consciousness tremendously.
However, it was unfortunate that the country was unable to sustain the multiparty democracy. Within a decade, the hard-earned democracy was nipped in the bud in favour of absolute monarchy. Even amidst the people’s massive nationwide protests, King Mahendra suspended the constitution, dissolved the elected legislature and dismissed the nation’s first democratic government led by BP Koirala. With the introduction of the party-less Panchayat system, the king started imposing his direct rule. Many leaders of the NC, including BP Koirala, were put behind the bars. One of the founders of the NC, Koirala is still regarded as a democracy icon. King Mahendra is also believed to have opted for that coup because of Koirala’s ever increasing popularity as a visionary and devoted leader at home and abroad.
Following that regressive political step, Nepali people were bound to initiate yet another movement for democracy as the autocratic Panchayat rule suppressed them. During the three-decade-long despotic regime, the country failed to make any significant stride in the social and economic sectors. Many people who had been involved in the agitation against the Panchayat system were tortured or killed.
However, with the active participation of the people in a joint movement launched by the NC and the United Left Front, the multiparty democracy was restored in 1990. After the promulgation of a new constitution, parliamentary and local elections were held. With the reinstatement of democracy, Nepal adopted a liberal economic policy. A myriad of sectors, including the media industry, started flourishing.
But the country saw different socio-political anomalies like corruption. The armed Maoist insurgency broke out across the country, disrupting the fledgling democratic process. The royal massacre plunged the country into another crisis. With that horrible incident, Gyanendra Shah came to power. The ambitious king attempted to further paralyse the democratic system itself. That, however, brought the democratic parties, including the Maoists, together. The political forces waged a joint movement against monarchy to establish a federal democratic republican system.
After passing through a long political transition, the country was capable of having the Constitution of Nepal, 2015 through the second Constituent Assembly. With the three-tier elections held in 2017, the new national charter has come into implementation. However, the country has failed to achieve desired political stability and socio-economic transformation even after the elections. The ongoing inter- and intra-party feuds have been responsible for this dismal performance. A lack of firm commitment of political parties and their leaders is another factor behind the prevalent instability.
It is sad to note that the main opposition CPN-UML has taken the Federal Parliament hostage since it was ousted from power in July last year as per the historic Supreme Court verdict. When the people’s elected body becomes defunct, even the vital issues of the people and the nation naturally fall in shadow. It is urgent that the ruling and the opposition parties should settle all sorts of problems through dialogues and mutual understanding. They must also dedicate themselves towards strengthening democratic institutions essential for consolidation of democracy and effective delivery of services.
There has been an encouraging trend among Nepali people to participate in democratic movements. But the political leaders have to work in line with the people’s sentiments and aspirations. As good governance and social justice form the cornerstone of democracy, the responsible political parties and authorities must make sure that all the institutions are running according to democratic norms and values. The parties can foster good political culture and spirit of constitutionalism only when they whole-heartedly embrace and practice inra-party democracy.
(Dahal is a deputy executive editor at TRN).