It is a blissful moment for all of us to celebrate the Republic Day today (Jestha 15 in Nepali calendar). It was the same day one and a half decades ago when the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly took a historic move to declare Nepal a republic, abolishing the 240-year-old Shah dynasty. Under the republican setup, people elect their governments that remain dedicated to the former’s wellbeing and prosperity rather than the benefit of a ruler or monarch. Such governments are supposed to serve interests of all citizens regardless of their caste, race, gender, ethnicity, language and culture. Citizens are all in all in the republican system and they enjoy a host of civil rights and freedoms as granted by the constitution.
Though elections used to be held even during the Panchayat era, it was a kind of direct rule of the king. The then king Mahendra had introduced the despotic Panchayat rule by nipping the hard-earned multiparty democracy in the bud. Under the leadership of the Nepali Congress and the communist forces, Nepali people continued to revolt against the dictatorial Panchayat rule in one way or the other for years. Many people sacrificed their lives for the sake of democracy while numerous others had to languish in jails for years. However, the anti-Panchayat movement gathered steam gradually and the people were successful in overthrowing the oppressive regime in 1990.
There is no denying the fact that Nepali people have always been quite tolerant and considerate. Following the success of that popular movement, a new constitution was promulgated with constitutional monarchy being one of its key features. The political parties and the people might have intensified their protests against the monarchy itself. But they did not go to that extent because king Birendra was much more liberal than his father. Birendra is still remembered for making some reforms even in the system of governance.
But the people started getting fed up with the monarchy immediately after Gyanendra, who is the late king Birendra’s younger brother, started abusing power following the infamous ‘royal massacre’ in 2001. Like his father, Gyanendra attempted to work as an absolute monarch, violating the constitution and suppressing the people. He and his coterie resorted to undermining democracy and abusing the authority, leading the nation to a messy situation. Consequently, his unpopular steps led to a decisive people’s uprising that brought about an important political change in the country. Thus, his growing greed for power came out to be the main reason for the collapse of the monarchy itself from the country once and for all.
Despite this, Gyanendra and his supporters have been effortful in restoring the discarded monarchy. But they have failed to garner much public support. The group seems to have been trying to cash in on the growing frustrations among people due to various political anomalies seen in the country after the establishment of the federal democratic republican system of governance. The people had expected much from the political parties that the latter would work towards establishing political stability in the country and lead the nation to the path of economic development and prosperity. They, however, seem to have failed to act as per the wishes and aspirations of the people. Even after the establishment of the federal republican system of governance, the country has been reeling from political instability. A desired rate of economic development and growth is hardly possible in an unstable political situation.
The national economy has been in the doldrums. The rate of joblessness appears to have increased alarmingly within the country with more and more youths being forced to go abroad in search of jobs and better prospects of life. The nation’s economy is mostly based on remittances. Besides, the country’s trade deficit has also been widening because of lack of production of export-oriented goods and services and increased imports.
What is more exasperating is that the nation has witnessed rampant corrupt practices and other irregularities. Some of the major latest scandals the country has recorded include the Tax Settlement Commission (TSC) scam, Lalita Niwas land scam, wide-body aircraft scam, 33-kg gold smuggling case, OMNI scam, Pashupatinath jalhari scam and fake Bhutanese refugee scam. It is sad to mention that no thorough investigations into most of these crimes have so far been conducted. This means that most perpetrators have not been indicted. Another irony is that corruption appears to have been growing even at the local level. This tendency does not augur well when it comes to the consolidation of the federal republican system. There is also no proper coordination and cooperation among the centre, provinces and local levels.
Despite all this, the nation has made a great stride in infrastructure development over the past 15 years. Many roads and highways have been built while various others are under construction. With this, most parts of the country have now been connected to the district and province headquarters. The Kathmandu-Terai Fast Track (Expressway) is also being built. However, this vital development project is facing time and cost overruns due to varied challenges and problems.
About 94 per cent of the people have now access to electricity. This is certainly a major achievement. Irrigation facilities have also been expanded. However, a lot of arable land in many parts of the country remains barren owing to lack of workforce. Two more international airports—Gautam Buddha International Airport and Pokhara International Airport-- have been in operation. Once these facilities are operated in their full capacities, they are expected to contribute significantly to the country’s socio-economic development, especially promotion of tourism. The country has also made headway in terms of opening hospitals, schools, colleges, universities.
The nation is sure to achieve the goals of political stability, economic development and prosperity with the institutionalisation of the federal republican system. This will be possible only when the citizens and the political parties work together to institutionalise it and establish good governance.
(The author is a deputy executive editor of this daily.)