Rethinking Democracy: Reflections on the Current Political Crisis in Nepal

Kritish Rajbhandari

Blaming India for the current crisis in Nepal is like blaming the neighbor for the mess in your house. The Nepali government should have heeded the Madhesi and Tharu protests long before India got involved. One may say good or bad things about the part India has been playing in Nepal’s current political situation, but one cannot deny that the present crisis is a result of grave political blunders on the part of Nepal’s government and the ruling parties.

One argument made against the Madhesi and Tharu protests, in which they have rejected the new constitution, is that the constitution was passed by a majority of the democratically elected constitutional assembly. Members of this assembly included many Madhesi and Tharu lawmakers, most of whom were directly voted by the people. But, two things must be kept in mind.

First, numbers aren’t everything. A major weakness of democracy is that it relies too much on numbers: the majority rules the minority. But that doesn’t mean that majority cannot sometimes be wrong, or that the grievances of the minority are not suppressed and ignored. The brutality with which the state has reacted against the protests in the Madhes goes directly against the spirit of democracy.

Second, the constitutional assembly is dominated by three parties, out of which the two holding the highest number of seats are the same ones that have dominated mainstream politics since the end of the Panchayat. Thus, the status quo has not really changed in the last 25 years when it comes to the governing and lawmaking body. Weren’t the 2006 revolution and the 2008 CA elections supposed to be the dawn of a new era? ‘New Nepal’: the words now covered in layers of dust. Where are the new leaders? Why do we see the same old faces?

The 2008 election brought some historic changes. We saw the Maoist party leading with a majority, and Madhesi Parties gaining significant number of seats. At the same time, the parties that had dominated the parliament throughout Nepal’s short democratic exercise (1990-2002) lost significantly more seats.

The CA lasted from 2008 until 2012, when it was dismantled after it failed to draft a new constitution.  New CA elections saw a resurgence of the old parties into power. People did not know that they were reinstating the status quo.

Democracy is strange in ways. In Nepal, people don’t vote for someone they like, they vote against someone they dislike. You opt for the less worse option. This is not the way a democratic system is supposed to work. No wonder the current government has turned tyrant against the same group of people that had elected it.

The fear that if the government gives in to the Madhesi demands, and then the Tharu demands, slowly to other protesting minorities and eventually the country will be divided along ethnic lines is unreasonable and anti-democratic in itself. Democracy is not the rule of the majority, but an equal participation in political decision-making.

People have suffered tremendously in the past few months. Schools in Terai have been suspended since September. Hospitals across the country are running out of supplies. Shortage of fuel and gas has driven the country towards a humanitarian crisis. Even people in Kathmandu, the capital city, are using firewood in their kitchens, so one can only imagine the conditions in the villages, where many already resorted to using firewoods.

Yet, the government does not seem to be concerned about finding a political solution. It has blamed India for its blockade and sought to redefine its ties with China, while sidetracking the internal issues of Madhesi protests and the demands of the minorities.

It is time for the whole country  to pressurize the government to listen to the Madhesi demands and to stop its tyranny. It is urgent for everyone to take this step, not just for the sake of getting life back to its normalcy, or for the sake of Madhesi brothers and sisters who are being brutalized by the state, but for bringing democracy in the true sense in Nepal.

Kritish Rajbhandari is currently pursuing graduate studies at Northwestern University in the US. Kritish received his B.A. in English from Reed College in Portland Oregon.