Looking back to look forward

  • The restoration of democracy came at a cost. Let’s not forget that

Apr 25, 2019-

The 2006 People’s Movement demanded a return of democracy in Nepal. People came out on the streets in droves as a sign of protest against the military coup staged by King Gyanendra. Just as the lyrics from Shyam Tamot’s song Gaun Gaun Bata Utha suggested, people came out of their villages, out of their homes, to demand more political and economic inclusion for the historically marginalised in Nepali society. This inclusivity was, of course, to be supplemented by the establishment of lasting peace.

Wednesday marked the 13th anniversary of the reestablishment of democracy. Over the years, the country had been plagued by persistent political corruption, a ten-year Maoist insurgency and the royal coup. The movement was successful in toppling the king’s direct rule, eventually leading to the end of the 240-year-old monarchy. A 12-point comprehensive peace accord was signed, which paved the way for the Maoists to enter mainstream politics. State restructuring has turned Nepal now into a democratic federal republic—with governments at the local, provincial and federal level. While the citizens have helped bring many changes in the country, some things remain the same.

The very political parties that came together to disrupt the status quo then now seem to act to preserve it. A system of quotas and proportional representation has ensured more participation of the marginalised people, like women and ethnic communities. But oftentimes, these provisions are used as mere tokenism. Granted, structural changes take time to come to fruition, but the reluctance of the political class—that is overwhelmingly dominated by a certain gender and class—to actualise changes may delay the process even longer.

What’s more, the government has made attaining ‘prosperity’ its mantra. But, so far, it seems the much-touted prosperity can be felt only by those connected to the apron strings of the government. PM Oli continues doing what he does best, that is grandstanding. Increasing attacks on the freedom of speech, censorship and blatant disregard for the rule of law has not done much to strengthen democracy.

In democratic societies, citizens have two things at their disposal—the ballot box and the soapbox. While the ballot box allows citizens to choose their representatives, the soapbox allows them to engage in collective deliberation to the extent that they succeed at ousting those representatives who end up showing disregard for democratic values. Various people’s movements over time are a testament to this; the leaders that benefitted from democratic possibilities must remember.

Published: 25-04-2019 10:46

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