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Abstract

The demise of the Constitutional monarchy in Nepal might have provided solace to the Maoists, but that brought an end to a tradition that Nepal survived on. Peace and tranquility might return to the landlocked Himalayan newly formed Republic, but that might also disillusion the forthcoming young generation.
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1302938
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THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SHAHS OF NEPAL
Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharjee
& Rakesh Kumar Meena
*
The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal perched between the two large neighbours of
India and China, boasts about its geostrategic location, the source of multiple
rivers and untapped natural resources, its world famed historical traditions,
conventions and culture, local handicrafts, and a society having the presence of
a myriad ethnic groups living together in harmony. For some analysts, Nepal, due
to its landlocked feature seems to be isolated from the rest of the immediate and
extended neighbourhood.
Nepal’s history can be traced from the history of the Kirat dynasty (800 BC – 300
AD), the Lichhavi and the Thakuri period (300 AD 1200 AD), the Malla period
(1200 AD 1769 AD) with the beginning of the Shah dynasty. Prithvi Narayan
Shah, who founded the Shah dynasty, started a new phase for Nepal, which
brought forth one of the most dynamic histories of politically active monarchies,
amongst the few that still exists today.
Weak successors and internal family feuds brought the Rana family into the folds
of political authority where incidents like the Kot massacre and the Basnyat
conspiracy stabilised the Ranas into more power than that of the Royal family
from the 1850s. The Muluki Ain (a collection of administrative procedures and
legal frameworks for interpreting civil and criminal matters, revenue collection,
landlord and peasant relations, inter-caste disputes, and marriage and family
law) of 1854 became the corner stone of the Rana rule which remains to be the
basic pillar of judiciary of modern Nepal. As Kanak Mani Dixit has pointed out
Nepal became a shogunate under the Ranas, who ruled absolutely for 104 years,
until King Tribhuvan overthrew the oligarchy.
*
Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharjee, Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Siliguri College, Darjeeling West Bengal and
Rakesh Kumar Meena, Lecturer, Department of Political Science, NCERT, New Delhi
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1302938
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With the beginning of the First World War, political changes started taking place
throughout the world, and Nepal was no exception. As Lord Acton to a letter to
Bishop Mandell Creighton mentioned that “Power corrupts, and absolute power
corrupts absolutely”, and for the case of the Ranas too, this saying was
applicable. King Tribhuvan, who brought back glory to the Crown from the
Ranas, had to literally wrest administrative and political power with the
assistance of the Indian government. He became the King of the nation at the
age of five, and due to political rivalry, was literally kept under house arrest and
close surveillance till the end of the Second World War. He however managed to
gain support of the Nepali Congress Party, as well as the Royal Nepalese Army
and started playing a major role as popular discontent rose against the Rana
regime. The decisive moment for Nepal arrived when King Tribhuvan fled the
palace with his family and took refuge in the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu in
1950. The then Nepali Prime Minister Mohan Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana
instated Tribhuvan’s grandson Gyanendra, then three years old to the throne.
However, due to international pressure and political manipulation by the Indian
leadership, Tribhuvan was reinstated as the constitutional monarch of Nepal, and
the Rana prime minister resigned on February 18, 1951, bringing an end to the
Rana rule and the second innings of the Shah dynasty. With the death of
Tribhuvan in 1955, Mahendra succeeded the throne, and started ruling the nation
according to what he felt would strengthen the political character of the nation as
well as would strengthen the monarchy. He had no faith in the parliamentary
democratic system of governance and introduced a tailored Constitution in 1962.
King Mahendra conducted a royal takeover in 1960, usurping the elected
government and jailing his democrat opponents. As Dixit had pointed out,
Mahendra devised the Panchayat system, a kind of guided democracy which
provided a multi-tiered system of representation but was commanded in all
essential aspects by the King himself. Mahendra pushed Nepal into the modern
era through a process of infrastructure building, social and economic
development, and the creation of a nationalist ideology. The process of
Panchayat Democracy found sustenance in the hands of Mahendra’s son
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Birendra, who took over the reigns of the kingdom in 1971. Birendra, who
followed the footsteps of his father, made a futile attempt to modernise
education, which further made the entire administration fully responsible on the
bureaucracy, and foreign policy was allowed to stagnate. Dixit has noted that,
when the people reacted against the authoritarian nature of the system in 1979–
80, King Birendra called a plebiscite, asking the people whether they wanted a
multiparty democracy or an ‘improved’ (amended or corrected to the demands of
the people) Panchayat system. The latter won with a small margin, and Birendra
got to rule as an absolute monarch for another decade; at which point, as a
democratic wave engulfed Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, political
agitation returned. The People’s Movement of spring 1990 was not a revolution,
but an uprising of the urban middle classes. To his credit and the pressure
created by the Indian government, King Birendra did not wait for the bloodshed to
escalate, and called for a multiparty democracy and a new Constitution.
ROLE OF THE MONARCH IN THE 90’S
The 1990 Constitution proclaimed Nepal to be a Constitutional Monarchy and set
the parliamentary democratic setup of governance as the chosen method which
would successfully voice the demands and necessities of a multi-lingual and
multi-ethnic community like that of Nepal. The King willfully took the back seat
and handed over political powers in the hands of the democratic leadership. The
King turned into a religious and ceremonial head. But the immature and unstable
democratic leadership failed to steer the nation out of the political dilemma that
was put forth in the form of Maoists, who demanded the drastic change of the
governing pattern of the state. The failure of the political parties to strengthen
democratic roots immediately reinforced popular support and sympathy for the
King, who till that point of time had taken no political action.
The insurgency that was initiated by the Maoists at different portions of the
country was more than what the civilian police could tackle and the government
immediately sought for the Royal Nepalese Army which functioned directly under
the command of the King, who was then the ‘Supreme Commander-in-Chief’ of
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the Armed forces. King Birendra did not accept the suggestion of initiating the
Royal Nepalese Army in quelling the insurgent operations of the Maoists as he
continuously harped on constitutional and democratic methods of resolving or at
least pacifying the fighting rebels. Birendra though had been an absolute
monarch before the 1990s, but after the first Jan Andolan, he was a monarch
with a different mindset, who was not eager to break any sort of constitutional
norms or rules, which in some ways strengthened the roots of the monarchy.
He was not eager to directly command the Nepalese Army in curbing the
Maoists, but the upper echelon of the army was not ready to take command from
civilian leaderships. In this situation, there was a sense of rift between the King
and the civilian leadership, but it was always underlined with a sense of respect
and admiration for the monarch, which rather strengthened a positive public
opinion towards Birendra.
However, the sudden demise or assassination of the King and his entire family in
a strange circumstance changed the entire political situation, within the
Narayanhiti Palace as well as the entire country. As informed by government
spokesperson, Dwipendra, Birendra’s eldest son, in a fit of rage, killed his entire
family along with numerous others and later shot and killed himself. Gyanendra,
the third in succession, was the sole survivor along with his wife and son, and
was immediately ushered in as the next monarch on the 239 year old Snake
Throne.
THE NEW KING
Taking the position of the King was not new for the new incumbent as he had
already been in that position before, in the 50s. But filling up the vacuum, which
was created after Birendra’s death was not an easy task. He took over the state
during one of the most tumultuous period of the nation, when the entire
democratic political leadership was in shambles and the country was torn and
wracked by the worst kind of insurgency any of the South Asian nations had ever
experienced. The Maoists in some parts of the nation had successfully
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established a parallel government with a full legal and financial administrative
structure in place.
Gyanendra, a poet and an environmentalist, believed deeply in the absolute rule
of the monarch as cited by Justin Huggler in an article in The Independent. As he
has pointed out “Gyanendra was born into royalty, but he was born into a royal
dynasty in trouble, and at the age of four he played his part in restoring its power.
It was to become a common thread through his life.
From the very beginning, Gyanendra did not muster as much popular support
that was enjoyed by the late King Birendra, which strengthened the monarchy
and secured it even after the Maoists placed their principal demand of abolishing
the monarchical system. But the decisions taken by Gyanendra rather hastened
the process of ending the centuries old monarchical system. Starting from the
shuffling and dissolution of governments, selection of Prime Ministers, clamping
emergencies, using the Royal Nepalese Army to contain political demonstrators
and frequent arbitrary arrests of prominent political leaderships, harsh and violent
method of suppressing the insurgency and taking over complete political control
from February 2005, dissociated the people from the palace and created a
common referendum to abolish ‘God’ himself (as the King of Nepal was
considered to be the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu).
THE END OF MONARCHY
In his last message to the nation on April 2006, when Gyanendra sensed the
forthcoming changes he mentioned that, “While facing the challenges confronting
the nation, democracy also emphasises acceptance of the preeminence of the
collective wisdom in charting a future course.” It might be out of tune, but if
Huggler is cited once more, then it is possible to infer the change that has
brought in the monarch. Huggler has cited that “Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime
minister of a newly independent India, was to make an official visit to Darjeeling,
and one of the stops on his itinerary was at the school. Gyanendra and the other
young Nepali princes were told they would have the honour of presenting the
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visiting dignitary with a flower. But Gyanendra refused. ‘I won't do it,’ the
precocious prince is said to have told the headmaster. ‘I am higher than he.’
Today, Nepal witnesses a changed man, who wears a temporary crown on his
head, on the verge of being a normal citizen, a commoner.”
Blaming a democratic leadership, looking forward for transparency, is unsound,
but to curse a nurtured, tutored and historical monarch remains to be flawed. If a
comparative study of the monarchies are made, that still survives till date in a
globalised world, then it will be seen, that constitutional monarchs moves with the
wave than creating one. They remain to be environmentalists, human rights
activist than politicians. Rather than protecting the monarchy, Gyanendra actively
took direct political actions and decisions to save the nation from impending
crises; decisions which were both flawed and erring, hastening the end of the
most traditional institution. Unlike the late King, Gyanendra moulded or violated
the 1990 Constitution at will.
The biggest blow to the governmental setup was the February 2005 emergency,
which was lifted on May 2005, even though retaining the ban on political parties
and the press. It violated Article 27(3) as well as 115(1) of the 1990 Constitution,
exhibiting the vulnerable nature of the Nepali polity in the hands of the monarch.
The demands of the removal of the monarchical system by the Maoists started
echoing amidst other political avenues finding its vibrations amidst the students,
youth, various governmental and non governmental as well as the masses. It led
to the 2006 Democracy Movement or the Loktantra Andolan or the Second Jan
Andolan, under the leadership of a seven party alliance having a clear
understanding with the Maoists. The Andolan or Movement ended on April 24,
2006, when Gyanendra reinstated political power in the hands of the seven
political parties’ alliance, giving them the responsibility to ensure peace and
multiparty parliamentary democracy in Nepal. The Maoists later demanded for
the formation of a new Constituent Assembly, which would bring forth a new
Republican Constitution for the nation.
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In the same month, under the leadership of Girija Prasad Koirala, Gyanendra
was stripped of all active political powers and was turned into a mere ceremonial
head, and the nation was turned secular, even undermining the religious role that
the King played in the nation. On the last days of 2007, the National Assembly
unanimously passed a bill conforming to the removal of all references to
monarchy and the monarch in the new constitution. Out of the 321 MPs, 270
voted for the abolition of monarchy and only three voted against, the remaining
either abstaining or being absent.
It was later agreed that Gyanendra have to
leave the palace within the May 28th 2008, or else he would be forced out to a
less formidable residence.
Presently, the intolerance towards the monarch is visible in various levels. Some
are proposing Gyanendra’s role as the President of the forthcoming republic,
some are suggesting that he must abdicate every form of governmental position
and royal privilege and live like a normal citizen, or turn himself into a
businessman, creating job opportunities for the youth, and some are even going
to the extreme of advocating that Gyanendra must be banished from the nation
for good.
Till the time, Nepal does not bloom to its new political nature fully, it remains
difficult to foresee Gyanendra’s end as a prominent and influential citizen in the
nation. However one can surmise that with the ushering of republicanism the
Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal saw the end of one of its historical political
institutions.
RAKESH KUMAR MEENA
Lecturer
Department of Political Science
National Council of Educational Research and Training
New Delhi
&
DHRUBAJYOTI BHATTACHARJEE
Lecturer
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Department of Political Science
Siliguri College
Siliguri Darjeeling
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