The crucial years of social movements beyond 1950s places the ruling elites on the frontline of grabbing credits for political changes. History attributed the success of 1950 anti-Rana movement to the then monarch, king Tribhuvan, systematically overshadowing the leading political actors (Nepali Congress for instance) and the general people. The king, who was at the receiving end after having self-exiled to India, reappeared on the political front to rewrite himself with epithets of gallantry and guardianship with claims to have fathered the country’s first democracy and political freedom (See the 1958 Constitution, for example).The succeeding monarch, king Mahendra, tried his best to rewrite and thereby inherit the father-of-democracy image having pushed the actual democratic actors to the receiving end. This is best illustrated in the fact that Mahendra, only a few days before snatching political power (in 1960), pontificated to B. P. Koirala (as the latter recalls) that “My father gave you democracy. I can give you republic” (“बीपी जी, तपाईँ नठान्नुहोस्, म सिंहासनमा जुकाजस्तै टाँसिरहन चाहन्छु । मेरो बुबाले देशलाई प्रजातन्त्र दिईबक्सियो, म यसलाई गणतन्त्र दिनसक्छु ।”)
For a long time ahead, the credit did not shift to a different actor. History only partially credited the political parties, especially Nepali Congress and the Leftist front, with the success of the 1990 movement. Though it was apparently a political victory over the monarch-led Panchayat regime, the monarch was portrayed as a giver/benefactor; he was applauded for having agreed to forfeit his privileges in the name of people’s desire for democracy. The fact that he had lost to a colossal mass uprising gradually lost mention in the ensuing years.
The years to come are marked by gradual loss of credibility in the political forefront. In the mid-nineties the precursors of democracy, the major parliamentary parties, mired themselves in petty political feuds thereby signaling the re-aggrandizement of monarchy. However, the 2001 royal massacre began a phase of crisis in royal credibility because majority of Nepalis were unprepared to accept the unnatural ascent of a new royal lineage led by King Gyanendra. The country thereafter fell to less credible hands of the monarch and politicians. The period of three years and six months from 22 May 2002 (when the king dissolved the elected parliament at PM Deuba’s recommendation), through 4 October 2002 (when King dismissed Deuba in the charge of incompetence and takes the power to himself), and 1 February 2005 (when King assumed absolute power after dismantling the multiparty system), to 22 November 2005 (when Seven Party Alliance and Maoists signed the Twelve Point pledge to jointly fight the king’s autocratic regime) marks an era of total anxiety for the loss of national pride — both because of the less credible yet absolute rule, and emaciated political will to fight for democracy amid intensified Maoist insurgency.
The period between November 2005 and March 2006 marks the restoration of political will and therefore political ethos. If not the salvage of the parliamentary parties’ image, or a new faith in the insurgent Maoists, the country anticipated the emergence of a force of a sort. If not the hybrid/merger of the non-violent and relatively more violent tactics of the TPA’s signatories, the force would have to ensure convergence of those who firmly believed in the urgency for change and prosperity.
Let us get back to the contest of credit-taking, proved so native to Nepal, in the new political context of the post-TPA days. The period saw the major political actors (re)gaining or trying to (re)gain credibility. I would like to imagine an interesting dramatic scenario with them assuming diversity of sometimes converging and mostly conflicting roles. In the Narayanhiti, and out in the safest circle of sycophants, roamed the monarch appearing resolute to give his version of democratic and electoral system to Nepali people. The monarch intensified his self-felicitation campaign through the country, “met” people and “heard” their woes thereby appearing to be seriously involved in citizens’ care. He pledged to start his free and fair election drive with municipal elections in February 2006. He tried to rationalize to the international community the usurpation of power as a phase of nation-building since the political parties could not be trusted anymore in this pious task. He proposed to be a (regional/international/global) partner to quelling terrorism by mobilizing the armed forces against the Maoists. The monarch therefore feigned a dual image – that of a kind, loving, caring Hindu King moving through processions, with pleasant smiles and nods; of a ferocious militant resolute to eliminate both the agitating parliamentary parties and the Maoists.
The parliamentary parties were in the streets struggling to gain faith from people when the Maoists had promised partnership in a peaceful movement. They were vociferous yet intermittent and ineffective in size and sight earlier and needed solid popular support. The TPA attributed them with a strong political will and power to compromise for a national cause interpreted as their acumen to have been able to form a common agenda with the armed force. It created a new possibility that Maoist cadres would momentarily dump their arms and heat the streets. The size of the movement would be more visible then. This would give people hope for a new dawn and would decide to join the movement gradually.
The movement did occur amid a number of parallel occurrences. The fact is a huge mass of unidentified youths — who would never demand any credit later, and majority of whom went back to subsistence earnings in the hinterlands either within Nepal or abroad — rose and penetrated the security cordons of Kathmandu thereby forcing the Monarch to declare their victory. This was the actual force behind the success of April Movement. The same force toppled the Panchayat. The same will have to rise if another uprising is required. But we have always tried to find a handful, carved their statues and composed best of panegyrics to create their histories.
The actual heroes wait to see their bloods and sweats discredited for a long time, and yet lend appearance when a real crisis looms.
[This is an update from the parts of my PhD-related scribblings.]