Handling Anti-systemic Forces

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Eight years after the promulgation of new constitution that transformed Nepal into republican system, pro-monarchical and anti-federalist forces are raising their heads. This implies the eroding functionality and credibility of the current political dispensation. This calls for broader democratic reforms in line with the new constitution that reflects accommodative character and stresses dialogue and compromise with the dissenting forces. If their emergence are seen merely as law and order problem, this will further pose a threat to the existing political order.   

On last Thursday, a political campaign of royalists, led by medical entrepreneur Durga Prasai, and a pro-republican rally organised by CPN-UML’s youth wing, National Youth Federation (NYF), were at daggers drawn. Prasai and NYF leader Mahesh Basnet has been involved in mudslinging campaign against each other for the last couple of weeks. The day saw the apogee of exchange of brickbats between them. Both have earned notoriety for descending to the level of personal insults that are indigestible to the civilised society. The local administration allotted separate locations to two groups to organise their gatherings to avoid potential clash. However, the message of these two separate protest rallies does not bode well for the country. 

Melange of supporters 

Prasai, who has been dismissed as a defaulter, has launched ‘Save the nation, nationality, religion, culture and citizens campaign’ to restore monarchy and Hindu state. His campaign is backed by a melange of supporters – the microfinance and bank debtors, victims of cooperatives, and pro-Hindus and pro-monarchists. A large number of people, who attended his Thursday rallies and mass meeting, were those who have been heavily indebted and wanted to get either the interest of their loans or both waived. Also a significant number of supporters form staunch supporters of kingship and Hindu state, which were formally abolished by the Constituent Assembly elected in 2008.

However, Prasai’s claim to bring around two million people to Kathmandu has fallen flat. So was the claim of Basnet, who had said to amass 50,000 people at Tinkune of Kathmandu. This shows people will not participate in the rallies just at the beck and call of the parties. Nonetheless, the presence of followers in Prasai-led gathering was sizable given that he did not have the nation-wide organisational network. This is indeed a rude awakening to the mainstream parties that fought together to overthrow monarchy in the country. Prasai is cashing in on the public frustration arising from economic downturns, unemployment, corruption, inflation, exodus of youths to foreign nations and poor delivery of public goods and service.

Prasai has invoked the elements of nationalism, religion and culture to bolster his campaign that has become a headache for the mainstream parties. His appeal to Hinduism has found considerable number of followers in the Hindu-majority country. This segment of populace is unsatisfied with the country’s secular status. Prasai’s rise to political scene has been facilitated by none other than the major parties such as CPN-Maoist Centre and UML. He was first involved in the then CPN-Maoist and joined its decade-long insurgency. He claimed he had given a shelter and food to Maoist combatants during the raging conflict.  

When UML and Maoist Centre got unified to become Communist Party of Nepal (NCP), Prasai cultivated relationship with its two chairs – KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. He wanted to win their favour to secure affiliation to his Jhapa-based B&C Medical College. Although the Ministry of Education had granted the letter of intent to the college in 2014, it could not receive affiliation to run MBBS classes owing to the protest from some civil society members, including Dr. Govinda KC. Following the split of the NCP, Prasai remained with Oli, who nominated him as party central committee member, sidelining many old and veteran faces.  He became close confidante of Oli, whom he still calls ‘hajurba’ (grandfather). He also distanced himself from Oli and became latter’s vitriolic critic after the last year’s general election, spilling the beans about UML leader’s secret doings. 

He became frustrated with the current system as his college was denied the affiliation, and he started activities for the revival of monarchy. He ‘instigated’ the microfinance victims against the government, citing that they could not pay high interest rates due to the economic slump. As the major media houses and news portals have denounced him as a ‘medical mafia’ and given  his activities little space in their outlets, Prasai utililised social media to boost his campaign and increase his support base. Recent ban on TikTok also aimed to discourage his campaign. Critics have said that the government and main opposition overestimated Prasai only to increase his importance in the national politics.

Controversial image  

Once the ‘darling of Oli’, Prasai has now found the former’s men as his number one enemy. The UML’s youth wing took to the streets to thwart Prasai’s crusade but its showdown was not effective, putting the opposition on the defensive. Many are raising question as to why the UML is mobilising its strength against a single person with ‘controversial image’. By launching a protest against Prasai, the UML has seemingly proved that it is a defender of republican and secular order in view of rising polarisation between royalists and republicans.

Democracy requires reasoned debates, critical discourse and culture of listening to the public grievances. The muscle-flexing tactic can hardly help protect the constitution and new political system. The political parties must focus on addressing economic plight of the citizens while promoting the inner-party democracy to direct the grassroots voices into the national policy and legislation. If the emerging dissenting voices are not handled within the constitutional framework, this will only give rise to the radical and populist forces hell-bent on destabilising the society.


(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)

 
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