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Analysing Tensions Between Liberty and Order


P.R. Chari

CONTENTIOUS POLITICS AND DEMOCRATIZATION IN NEPAL
Edited by Mahendra Lawoti
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 348, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 2 February 2008

We have here a book of essays put together by Mahendra Lawoti, who teaches Political Science in Western Michigan University, and is President of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies in the United States. These essays have been written by a group of younger scholars located in Canada and the United States, also in Nepal. The latter have largely been trained abroad. Together they explore various facets of the political struggles and divisive politics that have excoriated Nepal since democracy was ushered in the monarchical state in 1990. They also analyse the influence of these contentious politics, good and bad, for Nepal’s democratization process.   Revolutions have ushered epochal changes in nations, engendering a decompression effect on their polity that has long proceeded in a particular direction. Consequently, suppressed political forces are unleashed, which could take the nation in unexpected directions. Ideally, the overthrow of an autocratic regime should engender a democratization process, with power transiting in an orderly fashion from the despotic few to the unprivileged many. Equally, however, a revolu-tion could result in a more repressive regime establishing itself, especially if the release of political energy leads to chaos and anarchic conditions. It is an empirical fact that revolutions have a way of swallowing up their leaders, as the course followed by the French and Russian revolutions must inform us.   These general observations are fully applicable to Nepal, long under the heel of a rapacious monarchy, which also enjoyed a quasi-religious authority in the country. Before that the feudatory Ranas had ruled the country with great ruthlessness, but little concern for the abject poverty and misery of the people, especially those in the villages. Not unexpectedly, the disadvantaged groups in Nepal like women, dalits and Madhesis in the Terai region have asserted their rights now by seeking to strengthen the democratization process. The surprise finding in this study is that ‘some of the privileged groups have engaged in collective protests to protect their traditional turfs and privileges’, by hindering the democratization process. One of the essays in this volume makes a case study of the transport cartel, which coerced the government into abandoning its plans for liberalizing the transport sector to provide better services to the people. Another finding records that protest in Nepal is largely a middle-class, urban phenomenon. Rural areas have generally been quiescent, except for small ethnic groups in the countryside that were galvanized into ...


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