By Arabinda Ghose
Apart from gradually widening their areas of influence through terrorist activities, the Maoists of Nepal have been demanding the setting up of a constituent assembly for the specific purpose of drafting a new Republican Constitution for Nepal by abolishing the monarchy.
Nepal, as we know today, became a country under a central authority only during the seventh decade of the eighteenth century. The word ´Nepal? normally used to mean only the Kathmandu Valley and even in the 1960s, people were living only about 15 to 30 kilometres away from the capital, saying they were going to Nepal when actually they were heading for Kathmandu. The rest of the country as we know today was divided into small mountain principalities which used to be described as the Baishe and Chaubise, meaning the 22 principalities east of Kathmandu and the 24, west of the Valley.
The Mallas were ruling Nepal for several centuries and these people, who speak Newari, are responsible for all the architecturally beautiful temples and even domestic dwellings peculiar to the Valley. Because of the harsh climate and mountainous terrain, besides the diverse linguistic and ethnic factors, no attempts were apparently made during the period coinciding with the Mughal rule in India to unify the country. However, Nepal or even the Valley, had never come under Mughal rule. Mahendra Malla, one king, however, did establish contact with the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. One principality?most of the rulers of these principalities, incidentally were Rajputs?Gorkha, west of Kathmandu, was under the Shahs. There were several illustrious kings of this dynasty, founded by probably Dravya Shah, one of whose descendants was Ram Shah, who was such a just monarch that even in the Valley people used to say if one sought justice, one should go to Ram Shah. The road in Kathmandu, which was earlier known as the Putali Sadak, has been renamed after Ram Shah.
One of his descendants was Prithvi Narayan Shah, who used to dream about conquering ´Nepal? (that is Kathmandu) and then bring the entire hilly areas under one central rule. After several failures, he did conquer Kathmandu in September 1769 and had set about unifying the country. After his death, his brother Bahadur Shah had carried on this work although the monarch was the son of Prithvi Narayan. Monarchical rule continued till 1846 when a soldier of fortune, Ram Kanwar, captured virtual power through a nightlong massacre of prominent people. He took the name of Jang Bahadur Rana and established his hold on the monarchy, without abolishing it, and set up the institution of Rana rule with a horizontal line of succession, from the eldest brother to the next one and so on.
Monarchy and the monarchs were confined to the palace only. One of the lasts of the Ranas, Padma Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana (JBR) did try his hand in 1948, after India had become independent and the British had withdrawn?politically?from Nepal to frame a constitution. Shri Shriprakash, the well-known statesman of India, had gone to Nepal to advise the Rana Prime Minister on drawing up of a constitution. This effort came to naught when the next Prime Minister, Mohun Shamsher JBR, called off the exercise and started dealing with the largely India-educated Nepalese agitating for democracy rather harshly. An armed insurrection from November 1950 from onwards saw the end of the Rana rule on February 18, 1951 when a popular (but still including Ranas) ministry was constituted and an interim constitution promulgated by the king, Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah Dev.
The democratic system did not work for long and Crown Prince Mahendra, who took over after the death of his father, King Tribhuvan, in March 1955, was not particularly enamoured of democracy. The political parties, mainly the Nepali Congress, started agitation for establishment of a Constituent Assembly for drafting a constitution for Nepal. However, the King stumped all of them by announcing on February 2, 1958 that elections would be held for a parliament and not a constituent assembly and a constitution drafting committee would be set up. Nepali Congress and other parties, however, meekly accepted this offer giving up the claim for a constituent assembly.
A drafting committee assisted by Sir Ivor Jennings of England prepared the draft and just seven days before the first general elections under adult franchise began on February 19, 1959, the King ´gave? to the country the 1959 constitution, in a proclamation from the Palace, on February 12. The elections saw, to the amazement of the King, massive victory of the Nepali Congress. For various reasons, this government was dismissed and the constitution abrogated on December 15, 1960. The King then gave to the country what is called the ´Panchayat Constitution? on December 16, 1962. Nepal was ruled under this constitution till April 8, 1990 when a popular movement spearheaded by the Nepali Congress sounded a virtual death-knell to the Panchayat Constitution.
A new constitution drafting committee was set up even as a new government took office and this cons-titution too was ´given? to the people on November 10, 1990. Nepal is now being ruled under this constitution. A special feature of this constitution is that it transferred the sovereignty of the country from the palace to the people and in the preamble described Nepal as a multi-party parliamentary democracy with constitutional monarchy. There are other features closely resembling the Indian and the British constitutions (unwritten in case of the latter). However, the traumatic event of June 1, 2001 in which the royal family was almost wiped out saw King Birendra'sbrother Gyanendra crowned as the king.
The Maoists rebels have gained ground during the last 10 years and the violence involved in their agitations has already taken the lives of 10,000 people. The Constitution too has taken a beating with all powers virtually returning to the palace under one particular provision in the new constitution?Article 127, which empowers the monarch to take steps for ´removing obstacles? in the path of implementation of the provisions of the constitution. The Maoist demand basically constitutes abolition of the monarchy while even today, a large section of the people of the country, although losing all faith in the governmental setup, still considers the institution of Monarchy as the stabilising factors in Nepal.