Most contemporary theories on democratization claim that immediate aftermath of a civil war presents an unfavorable environment for democratization and it is distinct from political transition in non-civil war conditions. Our argument runs as follows: first, it is hard to expect that those who have been killing each other would readily come together to form a common government, notwithstanding their faith in democracy; second, a post-civil war society would be lacking the conditions for democratization as outlined in the existing literature on the topic, namely certain level of economic development, diffusion of wealth, and emergence of the bourgeoisie and working class; and thirdly, the democratic contention itself might be inviting instability after the civil strife. In view of the experiences of various countries, however, it seems that if there is some degree of credible commitment, a negotiated settlement is more likely to ensure the warring factions an opportunity to compete peacefully in order to sustain democracy than if the civil war ends with a military victory, whether won by the government or the rebels.
Our setting is Nepal; it has travelled a long way in political and social terms in the last sixty years; it had three waves of democracy in 1951, 1990 and 2006, and despite significant advances, its transition toward becoming a viable democratic polity remains frail. Much of what we know about Nepal is that its democratization actually began after a mass upsurge that toppled the absolute monarchy in the spring of 1990 and a new constitution transformed its political system from no-party polity to a multiparty parliamentary democracy with competitive elections. In a country where the monarchy had wielded absolute power for over two centuries, this provided an ideal ground to changes that stand apart from the conventional paradigm. But the phase of democratization was impeded by the Maoists’ armed revolt and the country seemed more in need of peace and security than democracy.
True to its name, the incarnation of Maoism in Nepal that began in 1996 took the synthesis of the Cultural Revolution under Mao, who had championed the struggle of the working classes over the ruling elite, and started its experiment at a time of comparative democratization and economic development, when a sort of democratic political system was already there. We wonder whether Nepal represents the resounding failure of Fukuyama’s ‘end-of-history’; perhaps the case shows that Western values like individual dignity and liberty are not feasible in any form of Marxism or neo-Marxism. There have been competing and radically incommensurable ideals of democracy in Nepal and a clash of visions that led to many deaths and annoying turmoil that wracked the country till 2006. Perhaps the group which opted for the People’s War route has also seen the tragic loss of life and brutalization of a generation with anguish.
The present phase of democratization is considerably different in comparison to the earlier periods in the sense that in April 2006 along with the Maoist insurgents the democratic forces obliged the monarchy to quit power and hand it over to the multiparty forces. Now is the first time that the question of fundamentally restructuring Nepali society has actually been raised. Indeed, a liberal constitutional framework as a form of direct political communication between the political power/s and the public to make the country more vibrant and dynamic and to impel the government to govern less and serve diverse interests of the people is called for. Politically, the revolution for republic in 2006 ended the combat phase of the Maoists’ conflict, bringing them into the mainstream. But, here we find serious deficiencies in terms of restructuring the state, i.e. the formation of a liberal-democratic, republican, multi-structured, secular, and federal state in the absence of meaningful social and political negotiations. With political parties still bickering over a new constitution, the Nepali state is seriously threatened by violence from below and helplessness at the top; the same politicians seem to be the sole beneficiaries of such change. Yet, none but the leaders need be held liable for their abject failure in various domains resulting in growing lawlessness, mismanagement, corruption, insecurity, messy struggles among rival factions and so on which not only tempt foreign interferences and dictates but have dragged the country to the brink of a failed state.
Of course, a constitution is an incomplete contract that leaves quite a scope for abuse of power. In modern times, a communist insurgency is not expected to succeed because the ideology has lost its ability to mesmerize people. However, the post-conflict elections in Nepal resulted in unexpected gains by the Maoists, and the fear is that while restrictions on political freedom negate the democratic character of the state, the same freedom can be manipulated to challenge the political order. Maoists are not likely to collapse because of their internal disputes. Yet, Nepal is feared to be dogged with porous democracy, largely because of limping proletariat driven by the expired versions of Marxism, Leninism and Maoism and non-retiring pompous democrats using their network to serve their interests rather than making radical changes to enable the marginalized people to participate in governance. This is closely intertwined, even if not visible, with the temptation of resorting to violence for political ends, which remains ever present despite the US certifying the Maoists. It has always been the claim of Nepalese politicians that the peace agreement that ended Nepal’s insurgency was a profound transformation instrument toward democracy and so, the country had set in a democratic state. It remains unclear whether Nepal’s democratization process will be on the right track anytime soon. Nepal might be described in multiple ways like ‘manipulated, opaque, quota-driven democracy’ imbued with a traditional dichotomy between institutional and non-institutional contention of power gauzed through the institutional dimensions of democracy, viz representation, participation, deliberation and inclusion. Yet, a more basic problem is that Nepal neither possesses the resources nor the capabilities to control large scale eruption of violence. This leads to worrisome problem of democratic (un)governability found at institutional level till Nepal faces no less baffling alternative, undemocratic governance.
Talking of Maoists, the international community and scholars love to harbor suspicion that they may have some hidden agenda of turning Nepal into a radical state or creating ‘monolithic regime,’ albeit their aim was never hidden. Observers are led to believe that Maoists are ordained to ultimately create a classless society, although Maoists themselves keep repeating that it will be attained stage by stage by stage in never-ending revolution, something that cannot be envisioned. For now, their strategy is to encourage foreign-direct-investment-assisted-capitalist development as a precursor to socialism. Yet what motivated the people of different communities to ardently support them despite their criminal ideology; why and how it dawned upon the insurgents to agree to settle their armed rebellion in exchange for future expectations of democracy and why was the monarchy abolished, a topic that has so far evaded scholarly attention. At the same time, how the radical right would emerge from the monarchical authoritarian regime should also be understood although, it may be argued, it now has less space available. And it cannot be perceived as irrelevant in the long run, even if monarchical abolition has been smooth and stable so far.
It is inaccurate that democracy as the sole force in terms of capable of being bringing together society as a whole and to act as vanguard of democratization reforms and giving people a monopoly on participation in elections to contribute to democratic consolidation. The communist party of the Maoists in Nepal is living proof that an insurgent party does not fear any democratic process as it did not crumple after the royal coup d’état in February 2005 that had plunged Nepal into archetypal feudalism, undermining democracy. Yet again, whereas democracy plays a substantial role in peaceful transitions, it has also been suggested that democratizing states are very much prone to civil war, chaos and authoritarianism. Moreover, democratization and consolidation of the system face a range of complex challenges, for which effective leadership is pivotal. The transfer of power from monarchy to republic avoided violence and abrupt exercise of authority; a number of actors continued to participate in the residual ‘gray area’ and create tension. More importantly, progress in constitution writing was often interrupted and then altogether disrupted because the relevant political actors were reluctant to resolve the fundamental issues except on their own rigid terms. The careless dissolution of CA without letting it adopt an adequate provision itself testifies the unethical character of all concerned politicians, CA members and brain-stormers and irresponsible behavior of India-directed Maoist-led inept government.
The problem of Nepali democracy seems to stand at the center of political debate not only in terms of preferred political system – federal, inter-governmental, or mixed – but also the state’s priority of the state over ethno-national interests or vice-versa. The current crisis is the result not so much of economic constraints than of managerial common sense for failing to set up core institutions. Nepal need not fear massive threat from either within the confines of its borders or from beyond its perimeters. But when identity politics in pursuit of interests for specific ethnic, religious, regional, political or social groups is a driving force behind politics, it severely damages democratic principles such as the respect for pluralism, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As far as we can see, no ethnic, social or regional minority group wishes to separate from Nepal and establish a new independent nation, but identity politics are often single issue-oriented and one-dimensional and soars far above realities. If identity politic results in situation where every group ends worse off than before because of the ignorance of such a key factor, it only leads ultimately to a rogue state.
The question is: Can a country remain democratic if its internal politics is incorrigibly weird? Perhaps the agenda for reforming the state, which is the most important issue, has been poorly timed. Despite having made great strides by establishing the country as a republic, Nepal suffers from democratic deficit due to the failure of the new leaders to institutionalize democracy by promoting inclusion, representation, and responsiveness. Within a few years, however, the people have become deeply disillusioned. As a result, majority of masses does not carry substantive meaning since it merely acts as a vote-bank of the largely self-serving ruling elite. The situation is grave, may turn tragic; nonetheless, that is political reality. There is little ray of light on the gloom that envelops the country, which perhaps reflects a growing sense of insecurity and uncertainty about the future. It seems that monarchy has gone for good, but has, unfortunately, been replaced by cronyism.