Democratic thinking

Articles on democracy in the independent online media

December 02, 2005

The love of democracy in Nepal

The love of democracy is truly becoming infectious. In a speech on last February 14 that has been described as a new South Asia doctrine, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said: "India would like the whole of South Asia to emerge as a community of flourishing democracies." Speaking out against "short-term expediency", he argued that only democracy could guarantee peace and co-operation in the subcontinent.

Sharansky couldn't have said it better. We even appear to have put the doctrine into practice. Incensed by King Gyanendra's constitution-sanctioned take-over on February 1, India has cut off all arms supplies to the Himalayan kingdom. Britain has followed suit and the US in what was President Bush's first democracy test in his second term, has approved.

Policy wonks in Delhi say that this too-clever-by-half King has to be taught a lesson he wouldn't forget in a hurry. Meanwhile, Indian intelligence has boasted preliminary contacts with the Maoist insurgents who are said to control three-fourths of Nepal. South Block groupies are busy going around arguing that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) isn't really a revolutionary outfit; it just wants land reforms. In the land of Gandhi and Nehru, it pays to feign loftiness. We even outdo the Americans in this department. Our track record is nobleslavish endorsement of the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, generous support for every corrupt African dictator, nurturing the LTTE in Sri Lanka and cutting deals with the generals in Myanmar and Pakistan, and the communist apparatchiks in China. Yet, as Saran said in his speech, "Our sympathy will always be with democratic and secular forces."

It's great to have a slogan. In statecraft, however, it pays to pursue realism. The immediate conflict in Nepal is only peripherally between democracy and monarchy. If only it had been so simple. The war is between the Nepali state and Maoists. There may be lots hideously wrong with the present dispensation in Kathmandu.

The palace still runs along medieval lines, the Royal Nepalese Army lacks inspired leadership and the political parties are shortsighted, fractious and even corrupt. But let us not forget for a single moment that the Maoists began their insurgency in 1996 when in Nepal there was a civilian, elected government at the helm. The Maoists sing different tunes according to convenience.

Swapan Dasgupta


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