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Pro-royalists are having their moment. Should major parties worry?

Prasai’s rally in Kathmandu has bolstered and galvanized the groups that wish to bring back monarchy and Hindu statehood

Pro-royalists are having their moment. Should major parties worry?

The first ever elected Constituent Assembly of Nepal officially abolished the 240-old monarchy in 2008, but the pro-royalist forces, no matter how nebulous and insignificant, never disappeared. 

The Rastriya Prajatantra Party, a right-wing, pro-Hindu political force led by Kamal Thapa, continued to advocate for restoration of monarchy and Hindu state. What the RPP was demanding at the time was nothing more than a mere whimper of protest. 

With just a handful of seats in parliament, it had no chance of bringing back monarchy. The three major political parties—Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center)—thought as much. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Same goes for many political pundits, columnists and commentators. 

Today pro-royalist groups are no longer vestiges of the past. Initially subdued, their voices for restoration of monarchy and Hindu state have grown louder in recent years.

While former king Gyanendra Shah has not publicly supported the ongoing movement, he has been known to offer patronage to royalist parties and pro-Hindu groups. He leans towards royalist sentiments, but he hasn’t aligned with any specific party. It seems the royalist forces need Shah more than he needs them.

A close associate of Shah acknowledges the impracticality of restoring monarchy without major party consensus. “He sympathizes with those raising the issue, but he is also aware that they lack the political strength and mass appeal.”

In the latest pro-royalist rally led by medical businessman Durga Prasai, thousands flooded the streets of Kathmandu, advocating for monarchy and a Hindu state. Prasai enticed supporters with promises of loan forgiveness. Yet, his true motives seemed detached from the cause. He had nothing to do with monarchy and Hindu state. 

Prasai used individuals burdened by micro-finances as pawns to join the rally. He made restoration of monarchy and Hindu state part of his key demands to garner strength from some pro-royalist and Hindu groups. But his divisive rhetoric provided a pretext for the authorities to quell the movement. 

No matter the motive behind the rally spearheaded by Prasai, it has unmistakably bolstered and galvanized the groups that wish to bring back monarchy and Hindu statehood.    

Just days after Prasai held a mass rally in the streets of Kathmandu, former king Shah made a public appearance in Jhapa to unveil the statue of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who is credited for unifying various principalities to create modern Nepal. The former king was greeted by thousands of enthusiastic supporters, a scene reminiscent of when he visited Bhaktapur in September. 

The events concerning Prasai’s rally in Kathmandu and Shah’s visit to Jhapa should not be taken lightly. Observers say they underscore the growing public frustration with major political parties and the current government's perceived failures. If major political parties and the government fail to mend their ways, individuals like Prasai could exploit the disenchanted masses to further discredit the current political system. 

Upbeat by the size of the crowd at Prasai’s rally, RPP Chairman Rajendra Lingden said: “The foundation of the republic has been shaken. It will soon topple.”

Former king Shah, who had met Prasai a few months back, has remained silent on the recent rally in Kathmandu, fueling speculation about his involvement. Major parties suspect he may have played a role in backing the rally. 

Nepali Congress General Secretary Gagan Kumar Thapa has urged Shah to enter politics openly instead of operating behind the scenes.

“You are free to register a political party, contest the election and secure the two-thirds majority needed to overturn the current system,” Thapa challenged Shah at a recent event.

As the number of protesters increases, questions arise: Is the discontent aimed at the political system or a frustration with corrupt and ineffective leaders? Lawmaker Amresh Singh argues it's the latter, emphasizing the need for better governance.

“The weaknesses of the current crop of leaders from major political parties are the reason why regressive forces are targeting the republican system,” he says. “But one must make the distinction that this is the manifestation of frustration against the political parties, not against the current political system.”

Now royalist parties too are planning to hold mass rallies demanding the reinstatement of monarchy and Hindu state. Some observers suggest that external forces, such as India's Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, may be supporting the movement, urging major parties to remain vigilant while also making sincere efforts to correct their ways.  

Congress, UML and Maoist Center already face challenges from newly formed political forces, particularly the Rastriya Swatantra Party which pulled off a major victory at their electoral bastions in the 2022 general elections. 

Before that the three parties were stunned during the local election in which independent candidates, such as Balendra Shah and Harka Sampang, won the mayoral seats in Kathmandu and Dharan. Pro-royalist forces like the RPP, under the leadership of Lingden, are also enjoying a moment of resurgence right now.  

All these developments do not bode well for the three major parties who have been dominating the national politics and governance since 2008, with little to show for. 

Ever since the country adopted a federal republic set-up, the Congress, UML and Maoist have all led the government, but they have little to show for it. Unemployment, corruption, poor governance and political instability have thrived under their rule.     

The delayed response from major political parties and the government to address genuine issues, such as financial exploitation by micro-finances and rampant corruption, exacerbates people's frustrations. It's crucial for parties to address these root causes seriously.

Youth leaders within major parties acknowledge internal problems but lack the capacity to bring change. 

“If the current leadership continues to carry on with its current attitude and working style, we are sure to face a difficult time in the next election,” says Nainsingh Mahar, a Nepali Congress Central Working Committee member.