The enduring spirit of Nepal
“Never! That’s never going to happen!” businessman Budhiman Gurung, from Pokhara, Nepal, exclaimed emphatically when asked if Nepal could see the resurrection of the monarchy. Mr Gurung has real estate interests in Nepal and is the promoter of a gas-bottling company, among other businesses. He has contested local elections as a candidate of the Nepali Congress, for many years the main political party opposed to the monarchy in Nepal.
Nepal was a monarchy till 2008, when the reigning king from the Shah dynasty, King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, was constitutionally deposed and Nepal became a secular, democratic republic. Between then and now, public nostalgia for royalty has surfaced time and again. The royal family has shown it is capable of rising to the plate. In February this year, Gyanendra attended a big function at Kakarbhitta, in Jhapa, eastern Nepal. The function was organised by Durga Prasai, now expelled member of the Communist Party of Nepal-unified Marxist Leninist, led by former prime minister K P Oli. Mr Prasai is a businessman formerly from a communist party, and is facing legal action for borrowing money from government-owned Nepalese banks and defaulting on repayment. He is a man of many parts and, possibly to shore up his flagging political career, he roped in the former king in a “let’s save dharma, nation, nationalism, culture and citizens mega campaign”, as he described it. Gyanendra attended with family and while he did not make a speech, Mr Prasai observed at the meeting that was attended by many: “We never wanted and will never be a republic that sends more than 10 million Nepali youth to the Gulf countries.”
In May, Gyanendra attended a function hosted by Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the second this year. The Gorakhnath Peeth, which Adityanath heads, has had historical ties with Nepal’s monarchy. Adityanath met Gyanendra many times after he became chief minister. The Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (National Democratic Party, or RPP), considered the party of royalists, has had “restoration of Hindu state and monarchy” as its main political agenda since 2013. In Nepal no one sees a contradiction between a “democratic” party and its aim of restoration of monarchy.
The current RPP chief, Rajendra Lingden, is considered a balanced leader. He says there is popular spontaneous support for the restoration of a society based on “dharmic values” — a yearning for restoration of “moral” values, stability, and order.
Stability is the operative word. Nepal’s Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, set tongues wagging when, at a rally in Nepal’s Biratnagar a few week ago, he asserted that he would remain in office for a full five years: His party has just 32 members in the 275-member House of Representatives, with the Nepali Congress, the biggest in the House, and a few other smaller parties supporting him in a complicated arrangement where Nepali Congress chief Sher Bahadur Deuba expects to share two and a half years of the five-year prime ministerial term. Unsure of their continuance in government, ministers are working overtime to ensure they have enough funds to finance the next election. This has led to the rash of scams the likes of which Nepal has never seen before: Gold smuggling from China; human trafficking of Nepalese passed off as Bhutanese refugees with the connivance of bureaucrats and ministers in a bid to get them “asylum” in the US; and an overall sense of frustration and defeat.
After taking over as Prime Minister, Mr Dahal visited India in June this year and told accompanying journalists that concrete investment from India was his priority, not reassurances that Nepal was ready to become a Hindu rashtra. India got the contract for the development of the 679 Mw lower Arun and 480 Mw Phukot
Karnali hydropower projects. But Chinesebuilt Pokhara and Bhairahawa airports are yet to get legitimacy as international airports as the 2009 aviation bilateral agreement between India and Nepal needs to be reworked for Indian flights to land. The spanking new facility at Pokhara, built with borrowed Chinese money, gets no international flights. Since the airport was opened earlier this year, a total of four international flights from China have landed there: Two tourist chartered flights and two carrying earthquake relief materials. The stage when the runway will be used to tether goats has not come yet. Nepal is paying billions as interest every month, with no prospects of revenue.
Despite all the adversities Nepal faces — the Jajarkot earthquake, after which the populace continues to shiver, exposed to the elements; inaccessible educational and medical facilities in many parts of rural Nepal; and a daily struggle to survive — the indomitable spirit of the people endures. The country broke into a roar of protest when the government recently banned Tiktok, citing threats to social harmony. Internet traffic in the country actually went up as people turned to VPN to circumvent the ban and continue use of the communication medium that has helped in talent discovery in the country and launched many celebrities. About 2.2 million people are thought to use Tiktok in Nepal, 80 per cent between 18 and 35.
It is the country’s population in this age group that is angry and restless. This is the catchment area for many political parties — including those that are royalist.