Nepal’s unfinished revolution

Bishal Thapa

Bishal Thapa

Nepal’s unfinished revolution

As government falters, the Prime Minister is not to blame. Instead, we blame, and lose faith in, government institutions

Are you disillusioned by the naked pursuit of political power in Nepal? Have you lost faith in our institutional bodies, like the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), or even the judicial system? Do you feel hopeless with the corruption in government systems and the brazen impunity with which it is conducted?

If you answered “Yes” to these questions, fear not, you are at the right juncture in Nepal’s history. You may not know it yet, but your disillusionment, loss of faith, and sense of hopelessness are the weapons that will help complete Nepal’s unfinished revolution.

This September, Nepal celebrated the fifth anniversary of its constitution. With its federal structure, devolution of power, and the embodiment of rights, the constitution offers a vision of an inclusive nation. But can it deliver on our aspirations?

Nepal’s constitution is young. Many laws are yet to be written. Sensitive issues, like citizenship, equal rights for women, and institutional discrimination against Madhesis, are still far from resolved—even the pathway to resolution remains unclear for now. But these are still early days. It is important, perhaps, to let the constitution run its course.

At the same time, efforts to consolidate democracy around Nepal’s young constitution is being undermined by the erosion of public trust in institutions, widespread disillusionment, and despair.

What erodes public trust?

Nepal’s transitional justice process underpinned both the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the civil war in 2006 as well as the constitution that followed. Despite the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Supreme Court judgements, Nepal’s transitional justice process is in shambles. The commission has investigated approximately 6,000 cases. But no charges have been filed. There is no sign of justice, no visible effort towards reconciliation.

Nepal’s constitution has been written in blood. Unless the wounds are healed, it is hard to imagine it can confer the legitimacy that Nepal needs to move forward.

Nepal’s constitution devolves authority from the center to the provinces and local governments. These early years, however, have helped centralize political authority. Constitutional bodies, and institutional authorities, like the Army, President, parliament, and judiciary, have failed to push back against an increasingly belligerent executive branch. The safeguards against the concentration of political power through opposition parties and civil society has failed to coalesce.

Governance failure is discrediting institutions, not individuals. As government falters, the Prime Minister is not to blame. He is still considered successful for having outwitted everyone else to retain power. Instead, we blame, and lose faith in, government institutions.

Over the past decade, Nepalis have been routinely bombarded with daily instances of failures in governance, corruption, and abuse of power. All of this has added to the feeling of disillusionment and hopelessness. In despair, we put our hands on our heads and say, “if only we had better leadership”.

That is exactly when the next phase of Nepal’s revolution begins.

To utopia

The disillusionment, despair and hopeless may not be accidental. They result from an orchestrated campaign to discredit existing institutions and undermine the constitution. The next phase of Nepal’s revolution will not be fought with guns and bullets. Our disillusionment and hopelessness will naturally draw us to leadership that can deliver, even if that means some rules must be amended and rights infringed.

That may sound absurd. But consider this. In the middle of the pandemic, top leaders of the ruling communist party descended into a long-drawn publicly visible tussle for power. This feud is imposing a huge national cost—distracting the government and undermining the effectiveness of its response to the crisis.

Even the most vulgar political opportunist would know that the pandemic would be a bad time for a publicly visible battle for political power. These leaders represent some of the sharpest political minds in the country. They have decades of political experience. Did they really engage in the fight only for political power at such a time?  

If like most Nepalis you believe they did, that leaders really squabbled for nothing more than political power while ignoring the national damage it was doing, then you have questioned the value of this constitution.

As we celebrate five years of the constitution, the challenge for us is on how to retain faith in our institutions and constitution even as we remain disillusioned with the political leadership it produces.

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