ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 34
Columns - Issue of the week

In Nepal, democracy a la Shangri-la

By Ameen Izzadeen

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God. In the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal where the king was until recently considered god-incarnate, the wind of peace is blowing in such a manner that everything seems to be falling in place, like a Shangri-la fairytale. With the king more or less deposed, politicians have been propelled to office by the people power revolution that defied curfews and bullets. Democracy in Nepal is different from democracy elsewhere and in fact democracy that had existed in Nepal earlier with the monarch holding the strings.

Maoist rebel leader Prachanda arrives at the Parliament house in Katmandu on Monday. Former rebels in Nepal joined the country's interim Parliament on Monday in the Maoist communists' first step toward entering mainstream politics after agreeing to end their decade-long insurgency, officials said. AP

In many democracies, politicians come to power by promising the sun and the moon to the gullible masses. But once firmly in office, politicians forget the promises and betray the trust the people placed on them. We saw in the United States where every public institution is democratised, how democracy was misused by the President to take his country to war - war with a sovereign nation that posed no threat to the United States. In Britain, which is regarded as mother of all parliamentary democracies, we saw a prime minister justifying the war on Iraq although a majority of the people opposed it. In India, the largest democracy on earth, the situation is no different. Media reports often talk of politicians being involved in corrupt deals and thuggery after being democratically elected to public bodies ranging from grassroots panchayat to the august Lok Sabha. In Pakistan, democracy is a means by which military strongmen legitimise their hold on power which they seize in illegitimate coups.

In Afghanistan where a US-imposed democracy is in force, it is the war lords and drug barons who have benefited most from democracy while in Iraq, another US experiment with democracy, we see parliament being used to promote sectarian interests and the interest of the US oil lobby.

But Nepal is different-at least for now, because, it is a new born democracy. Like the new-born baby, it is innocent and is being cared for by the people who shed blood as democracy was being delivered on the streets of Nepal in April last year.

In the uncorrupt milieu of democracy, rebellion has no place. Even the Maoists who led a ten-year insurrection against the monarchy at the cost of 12,000 lives, have reposed their trust on democracy - a government by the people and for the people.

The manner in which the Maoists were brought to the mainstream democratic process should open the eyes of people who are dreaming of peace in other troubled spots of the world. In Nepal, there was no direct third party involvement. It was all a Nepal-Nepal affair with the United Nations playing only a limited refereeing role. Norway tried to play a peace facilitator role but the Nepalis politely and wisely sidelined it. India played a midwifery role when Nepal was going through the pangs of democracy delivery. It advised King Gyanendra to step down and gave a de facto recognition to the Maoists as a force to be reckoned with in Nepal's politics.

The Maoists, a deadly guerrilla group, saw hope in the infant democracy and signed a historic peace deal with the provisional government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in November last year.

This week, they began handing over their arms to UN observers. The government in a confidence-boosting measure matched the gesture by locking up a similar number of weapons. This week also saw more than 70 Maoist members taking their seats in parliament. Prime Minister Koirala said a new government including the Maoists would be formed after the process of arms management is completed. On Thursday, the Maoists dissolved their "people's government", which had controlled large areas in rural Nepal. Their action underscores their trust in democracy and their determination to become a partner in Nepal's nation-building process.

But the process is not without its teething problems.

On Monday, Maoist leader Prachanda was seated in the parliament gallery when 73 former guerrillas took the oath of allegiance to the republic - yes Nepal is now a republic not a monarchy. He declared that all this change was possible because of their 10-year war. Though his words irked other politicians, especially those of the Nepali Congress, they remained unprovoked - a sacrifice of sort for democracy's sake.

Earlier, the Maoists protested the appointment of ambassadors to important countries, saying that they also should have been consulted in terms of the peace process. The provisional government said mea culpa and won over the Maoists. There are also reports that the Maoists were obstructing the functioning of other political parties in the villages. The negatives apart, Maoists have filled one third of their seats in parliament with women and most of its MPs represent the oppressed untouchables or the Dalits as opposed to the high caste Brahmin members of the Nepali Congress.

The new government and the new assembly will rule Nepal for eight years and then hold proper elections. By then the infant democracy would have come of age and the malady that afflicts democracy elsewhere would also have come to Nepal. Instead of nation building, politicians would be more concerned about building their own careers and fortunes. Hope Nepal would not go the way many Third World democracies have gone.

In what is happening in Nepal, there is a lesson for Sri Lanka. Nepal teaches us how to deal with a rebel group, how to tolerate its misdemeanors, how to take confidence-building measures and how to work out a system that makes everybody happy

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.