Freedom of peaceful assembly is an inalienable democratic right. The logic for this is self-evident—or it should be. When people are denied their right to protect peacefully, often, they don’t meekly back down. They rather take up more violent means of protest. Suppression of peaceful assembly, however odious the personal and political beliefs of its participants, also tends to backfire. For instance, by preventing the royalists and Hindu state proponents from protesting peacefully, the federal government is, arguably, adding to their popularity.
The logic on offer for the suppression of these protests is credible enough. It is unsafe for hundreds of people to assemble, often without adopting any safety measures, in the middle of a raging pandemic that has already claimed over 1,500 Nepalis. But by the same token the mass gatherings of other political parties should also have been banned. Yet opposition parties like Nepali Congress and JSPN have been holding similar political gatherings unhindered. Even Prime Minister KP Oli has been photographed in recent times addressing mass gatherings around the country. Singling out the monarchists, who are every bit Nepalis as most dedicated Congressis or communists, is thus hypocrisy.
If the Nepal Communist Party-led government wants to regulate such pandemic-time mass gatherings, the ruling party should begin with its own gatherings. The better strategy is to ensure proper Covid safety measures are being followed in these protests, not to ban them outright. There have also been reports in credible media outlets that while a section of the NCP is for allowing the pro-monarchy protests, another faction wants to crack down on them. In other words, the government handling of these protests is based as much on internal NCP political calculations as it is on public interest.
Monarchy and Hindu state are historical relicts out of tune with the changing times. It is best not to give them any room for revival. Make no mistake. Millions of Nepalis are frustrated, even angry, with the Oli government’s wasted two and half years in power. As the main opposition parties have also failed to hold the government to account, public discontent is on the rise. It is only natural for many disappointed and disillusioned Nepalis to seek alternatives. The federal government’s recent display of insecurity will make them question their past electoral judgements even more.