Friday, April 14, 2006

Young Nepalese Lead Their Nation's Push for Democracy


Published: April 14, 2006

KATMANDU, Nepal, April 13 — The Nepalese New Year dawns on Friday, with Nepal's young lashing furiously at the past.

Tomas van Houtryve for The New York Times
Protesters gathered on the outskirts of Katmandu, Nepal, to rally against King Gyanendra's absolute rule, which began in 2005.
Tomas van Houtryve for The New York Times
A vast majority of those demonstrating for democracy in cities all over Nepal are adults who came of age after 1990, when democratic rule was first introduced there.
"We will not ask the king to leave the throne — we will go and take the throne and put it on display," Gagan Thapa, 29, the political symbol of young Nepal, told a crowd of thousands on the outskirts of this capital on Thursday. The vast majority, dressed in baseball caps and jeans and looking well below the age of 30, roared in approval.
A brassy antimonarchy call-and-response echoed through the warren of terraced lanes.
"We will burn the crown," Mr. Thapa shouted.
"Burn the crown, burn the crown," the crowd hollered back.
The irrepressible protests that have gripped Nepal in the last several days, demanding the end of palace rule and the reinstatement of Parliament, are a function of demography and its discontent.
Young Nepal has been at the forefront of this week's rambunctious, often violent pro-democracy protests, which have left four people dead. Whether Nepal descends into further tumult or sees the dawning of a new political age in the Nepalese calendar year of 2063 will depend on whether the protesters can be appeased.
With his country's crisis mounting by the day, King Gyanendra seemed to make the slightest of nods in that direction. In a brief statement read on state-owned television shortly before midnight, he called for general elections "with the active participation of all political parties committed to peace and democracy."
But the king said nothing about when elections would be held or, more important, whether he would concede to elections to review the Constitution, something the country's coalition of political parties and the Maoist rebels insist on.
Whether the gesture restores peace in the Himalayan kingdom will depend on the reaction on Friday from the uncompromising throngs of young people who today represent his most formidable foe.
Nearly 60 percent of Nepal's 23 million citizens are under 24. They came of age after democracy came to Nepal in April 1990, and they have tasted the fruits and failures of electoral politics. They have seen a Maoist rebellion put much of the countryside through the wringer.
In February 2005, they saw their king suspend Parliament and install prime ministers of his own choosing in a bid, as he said, to defeat a bruising Maoist insurgency. For 14 months, they have lived under the king's direct rule.
Last week, he banned protests here in the capital and for six days imposed a daytime curfew.
That order has not stopped young people from defiantly pouring out into the streets. They have been taking the lion's share of police beatings. On just one day this week, of the 59 people admitted to Katmandu's main teaching hospital for treatment of their injuries, only 13 were over the age of 30.
Consider the verdict of Shashi Sigdel, a 22-year-old medical student on the shift in attitudes toward the king.
"My grandfather used to think he is a god," Mr. Sigdel said. "My parents used to think he stands between God and the devil. Me, I think he's the devil. That's the generation gap."
On Thursday, the government restored cellphone service, suspended for nearly a week, and lifted the curfew in the capital. The ban on protests in Katmandu and several other cities continued — as did the protests.
The Royal Nepalese Army has been dispatched to some of the demonstrations. But so far, it has largely refrained from open confrontation with the demonstrators. Of the four people killed in the demonstrations, at least two died by army fire.
A protest by the Nepal Bar Association on Thursday morning ended with the police beating of dozens of demonstrators; nearly 50 landed in the hospital, including two whose heads had been grazed by rubber bullets.
In a statement on Thursday, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights hinted that the use of excessive force by police officers could jeopardize Nepal's participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions, a good source of income for the country.
"One would expect them to be respectful of United Nations standards in their conduct at home," Ian Martin, the High Commissioner's representative in Nepal, said in an interview Thursday night.
The New York Times


Democracy at the Top of the World
Published: April 14, 2006

The remote mountain kingdom of Nepal has become convulsed by violent confrontations between police and protesters. The crisis does not involve strategic resources or Islamic terrorists. But there are good reasons why the outside world should pay attention.First, there is a potential for friction between the two giants bordering on Nepal, India and China, if they feel the little country shifting one way or the other. Then there is the fact that the world does not need another failed state, especially one with a powerful Maoist militia and a terrain that would ideally suit warlords and terrorists. Finally, the Nepalese are fighting for democracy, and it would be good for developed democracies to show a willingness to help even if there is no immediate or tangible gain.In 1996, radical leftists began a brutal insurgency, in which more than 12,000 people were killed. In 2001, the heir to the throne went berserk and killed himself and most of his family. The crown passed to his uncle, Gyanendra, who used the Maoist insurgency as a pretext to assume absolute powers. Last month opposition parties called for a series of strikes in support of demands for a restoration of democracy, and they have swelled into a wave of public protests.The Maoist insurgency is clearly a serious blight. But King Gyanendra has brought this on himself. The United States and Europe should urge him to step back into a constitutional role, and promise to help a democratic Nepal emerge from the crushing poverty that sustains the insurgents.

Times of India National Daily

Published: April 14, 2006

Gyanendra, Nepal's monarch who imposed absolute rule on his country 14 months ago, is getting isolated both domestically and internationally, and his options are fast running out.
An opposition strike shut down Kathmandu for four days, and casualties from police firing on protestors are mounting. Gyanendra tried to reverse historical processes by rolling back the constitutional monarchy that came about after the success of the pro-democracy movement in 1990.
But people, having tasted democratic rights, don't give up on them so easily, and even Gyanendra had to dress his assumption of all powers in the garb of restoring democracy in three years.
The problem is he made no credible steps towards this, while repression of political parties and civil society groups mounted. Now businessmen, lawyers and professionals too have joined the movement against him.
By subverting the compact between crown and people Gyanendra may have endangered the monarchy itself. Gyanendra's fate has been sealed by the understanding arrived at between the seven-party alliance - which has inherited the mantle of the democracy movement - and the Maoists, and a Nepali republic looks conceivable now.
It is just as well, therefore, that New Delhi has dropped its "twin pillars" approach towards Nepal, whereby both the monarchy and political parties were thought to be necessary for Nepal's stability.
The rationale for supporting Gyanendra was that without his steadying hand Nepal might fall to the Maoists; but New Delhi is beginning to recognise that Gyanendra himself may be pushing people into the arms of Maoists, and therefore a factor for instability.
Another rationale may have been to prevent Beijing or Islamabad from filling the vacuum in Nepal if New Delhi pulled out. But Beijing recognises a loser when it sees one, and Islamabad, which has its own insurgencies to deal with, would merely embarrass itself if it stepped in to shore up Gyanendra.
New Delhi has done the right thing by condemning repressive measures resorted to by Nepal's government. It has acted in concert with Washington, which said Gyanendra's takeover "has failed in every regard".
Luckily, the Left too is aboard on this one. New Delhi could follow up its initiative, and gain credit for itself in the region, if it stood four-square behind the democratic movement in Nepal and peaceful negotiations regarding the country's future.
Maoists too should be welcome to participate in negotiations, as long as they play by the rules of the democratic game.

Happy New Year

I would like to wish a very Happy New year 20063 to all my readers and my friends.