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Trajectories of Political Change

Dinesh Kafle

By Prashant Jha
Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 358, Rs. 395.00


Prashant Jha’s Battles of the New Republic chronicles the two eventful decades, after 1990, of Nepal’s experiment with democracy. Written in a non-linear, lucid narrative, and with an enviable access to political and intelligence sources, the book provides powerful insights into the Maoist insurgency, the Jana Andolan of 2006, the Madhesh Andolan of 2007, the Constituent Assembly (CA), the debate on inclusion and federalism, and India’s dubious role in Nepalese politics.  The roots of the contemporary battles are to be found in the crisis of democracy in Nepal, which was compounded by the uneasy relationship between the monarchy and the political forces on the one hand, and the continuing economic, social and regional inequalities of the country on the other. Nepal had its first tryst with democracy in 1951 when King Tribhuwan, who had taken political asylum in India, was reinstated in exchange for, among other things, a promise of holding an election to a CA. But he died, in 1955, without fulfilling his promise. His son, Mahendra, dismissed the first democratically elected government in 1960, jailed Prime Minister Bisheshwar Prasad Koirala, banned political parties, imposed party-less Panchayat rule and after two years, promulgated a Constitution that defined Nepal as a  Hindu monarchical state. The 1990 People’s Movement, the Jana Andolan, restored democracy and brought the monarchy under the Constitution, promulgated several months later by King Birendra, Mahendra’s son. The benefits of democracy were now visible in an unprecedented freedom of the press, political activities, and opening of organizations and unions. However, complex hierarchies of ethnicity, language and religion still existed in the deep structures of the non-secular state.  Even as political parties embroiled in power games and corruption soon after, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), headed by Prachanda, began an armed insurgency with the objective, among other things, of promulgating a people’s constitution through a constituent assembly that had been shelved since 1951. Caught unaware, the Congress Government retaliated ruthlessly, leading to further escalation of violence and an eventual declaration of an emergency in 2001. Meanwhile, Gyanendra Shah, the accidental new king, undermined democracy by flirting with one prime minister after another and eventually usurping executive power in February 2005. Tired as they were fighting against the King in their different ways, the Maoists and the political parties, facilitated by Indian politicians and bureaucrats desperate to cut off ties between the Nepali Maoists and their Indian counterpart, signed a 12-point understanding that ...

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