As Nepal marks its 13th Republic Day, the anniversary of the overthrow of the nearly 250-year-old institution of monarchy, the country’s patchy progress as a republic is worth noting. The country has made some gains. The ultimate state power has been transferred from hereditary monarchs to people’s chosen representatives. For the first time in the country’s history, Nepalis are fully sovereign. The state is more inclusive, too, with more representation of women and traditionally marginalized ethnicities.
There is a new constitution, and the country is being remodeled accordingly. The desired devolution of power from Kathmandu has begun. But as we have seen, transfer of power from monarchs to elected leaders is not enough. People’s representatives who replaced the monarchs are feeling entitled. They have little to show for the great resources they are extracting from the state. Corruption is pervasive, as is nepotism. Nor has the kind of dirty politicking seen back in the 1990s stopped, as the ruling and opposition parties continue to be consumed with sorting out internal power rivalries rather than in thinking about the country’s pressing problems.
The Covid-19 crisis is about the perfect illustration of the ills that beset the new Nepali state: poverty, mismanagement, confusion about responsibility, lack of accountability, and continuity of old discriminations. The major political parties act more like forces that dispense favors to interest groups rather than those who work for the people. We often get to hear that little has changed. A single ruler has been replaced by a multitude of rulers, whose mindsets are still attuned to ‘ruling’ than ‘governing’. That is being too cynical. The country has made actual progress too in this time. But much-much more could have been done, for instance, in strengthening the public health and education sectors, in adequately empowering backward regions and minorities, in reducing corruption and instituting rule of law, and in ensuring equitable economic growth.
Republicanism is a work in progress and a dozen years is nearly not enough to judge a political system’s worth. Yet that is no excuse for the incompetence and status quoist mindset our political leadership have displayed, thwarting the country’s socio-economic progress every step of the way. If the state cannot address the concerns of its people, it does not make much difference whether it is a feudal monarchy or a democratic republic, does it?