The party-less Panchayat regime had adopted a policy of attracting educated men and women into politics by reserving four seats in the Rastriya Panchayat for university graduates. In the 125-strong parliament, 90 would be elected from zonal panchayats and 15 from class-based organizations. The king used to nominate another 16. At least four more of the elected MPs would be bachelor’s
In its early days, the Panchayat system had four tiers of government: villages/towns, districts, zones, and the Rastriya Panchayat at the top. Holders of bachelor’s degree would contest direct first-past-the-post elections, whereas others fought indirect elections or were nominated for the post. For the graduate seats, not only the candidates but the voters were also required to have a bachelor’s degree from a university or similar
A total 105 members of the Rastriya Panchayat were indirectly elected, after going through the successive village/town, district, and zone levels. Only members of zonal panchayats qualified to be Rastriya Panchayat members. So elections for the Rastriya Panchayat was held among the limited members of zonal panchayats. This provision also applied to the class-based organizations.
But the bachelor’s degree-holders were allowed to contest direct elections. A month prior to the poll, an election officer was appointed, also a bachelor’s degree-holder. The officer would supervise, control, and direct the preparation of voters’ list. The officer would also designate a polling station. Salaried government employees did not qualify as candidates but they could cast a vote as government employees above the officer level were also university graduates.
The graduate provision was a unique experiment in the Panchayat system. The indirect elections for 105 seats didn’t ignite much excitement. Only the loyal Panchas were involved there. On the other hand, politically conscious enthusiasts entered the fray for university graduate seats. The contest gave a different vibe to national politics.
There used to be only limited voters in the zonal panchayats. The contestants were chosen on the orders of the zonal administrator who took orders from the palace. Votes had to be cast as ordered. For the graduate contestants, neither the palace nor the zonal administrator had much influence. While other contestants made rounds to the zonal administrators to curry their favor, the graduates toured the country accompanied by educated men and women. They visited different districts for a month looking for university graduates, meeting them, and handing out election
manifestos and pamphlets.
One sad thing about the provision was that the prospective candidates had to pledge ‘allegiance to the party-less system’ while filing their candidacy. After signing the candidacy paper, they were considered to have come into the party-less fold. Upon election, they had to take oath of ‘complete loyalty to the king and his successors’.
The graduate elections were held thrice—in March 1963, August 1967 (the April elections were postponed), and May 1971. The constitution was amended and the fourth elections did not happen. Panchayat supporters had by then concluded that the anti-Panchayat elements were misusing
The first graduate elections in 1963 were held to little fanfare. Nepali Congress members were not interested as the party was pursuing armed revolt at the time. However, Nagendra Prasad Singh, who was close to Nepali Congress, contested the election. Advocate Krishna Prasad Dhungana, who was close to the communist party, had also filed candidacy. There were only a few other contestants. The candidacy of Singh and Dhungana got some attention due to their political backgrounds. The first time, Kumar Das Shrestha and Ramji Prasad Sharma got elected besides Singh and
Next week’s ‘Vault of History’ will discuss emergence of some pro-democratic and pro-republic leaders through graduate constituencies