Photo by Nirmal Dulal/Wikimedia Commons

Democracy in Nepal through a Peaceful Movement

Author: Shobhakar Budhathoki

        Nepal has gone through rapid political changes and social transformation in the last few decades. The April 2006 democratic movement, popularly known as “People’s Movement,” can be considered as one of the crucial steps that helped the country to end violent conflict and an autocratic monarchical regime. People’s power was the central element of the movement in which ordinary people marched peacefully throughout the country and created tremendous pressure on king Gyanendra to surrender and restore parliament, which he had unconstitutionally and undemocratically dissolved in February 2005. The establishment of democracy played a landmark role in peaceful settlement of conflict through political negotiation.

Photo by: Peretz Partensky/Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Peretz Partensky/Wikimedia Commons

        In 2006, Nepal was going through political turmoil and had entered an endless cycle of violence launched by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-Maoists) According to Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), a Kathmandu based human rights organization, over 13,000 people were killed, and more than 1600 people still remain missing as disappeared persons during  the period as a result of the of 10-year-long (1996-2006)  years of violent conflict. However, the data on the deaths and missing persons vary among different agencies, including the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the government data. The conflict disrupted public life and thousands of people were internally displaced as violence escalated. People were denied their fundamental human rights including freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of movement. There was political stalemate as the conflict spread throughout the country. Security forces were confined to towns, and the Maoists rebels had taken control of almost all rural areas in the country. It was a turbulent time for Nepal’s peace, security, and justice.

        In addition to the Maoist insurgency, people’s freedom and political rights were curtailed due to the imposition of an autocratic regime by the king. Democratic space had shrunk as insecurity and violence became part of people’s daily lives. Common people were sandwiched between the state and non-state actors’ aggression.

Photo by Chandra Shekhar Karki/Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Chandra Shekhar Karki/Wikimedia Commons

United by circumstances

        While the country was going through an intense period of armed conflict, the king’s autocratic move to dissolve an elected parliament pushed the parties to confront the monarchy. The king’s move helped the Seven Political Party Alliance (SPA) and the CPN-Maoists rebels come together and build an alliance for establishing peace and democracy through peaceful means. As a result, the SPA and CPN-Maoists rebels signed a 12-point Understanding in November 2005 which emphasized the establishment of democracy through the People’s Movement known as the Jana Andolan II and the settlement of conflict through political negotiation.

        By then it had become clear that state mechanisms had failed to cope with the situation of insecurity from rebels. Similarly, there was  little hope  of finding an amicable solution for  the Maoist insurgency through military means despite imposing national emergency and garnering international support, particularly from the United States, United Kingdom and India in the name of fighting against terrorism. In reality, the conflict escalated after military mobilization, and the country fell into a deeper crisis of insecurity and violence. As a result of the state’s failed offensive actions and the Maoists’ continuing rebellion, Nepal was moving to chaos and anarchism and becoming a failed state’. Under these circumstances, the SPA and Maoists rebels took up the challenge to work together for peace and democracy despite international criticism, particularly from the United States. The United States government had labelled the CPN-Maoist as a terrorist organization, and provided military assistance to the Nepal government in the name of ‘fight against terrorism’.

        Numerous dialogues were held between the SPA and CPN-Maoists to develop consensus and understanding regarding the establishment of democracy and settlement of conflict. Leadership of these parties struggled to develop consensus within their organizations because of their long-standing perceptions of insurgency and counter-insurgency, as well as the use of violence, and the consequences of conflict. Despite reservations, it was necessary and essential for political parties to form a coalition against an autocratic regime for the establishment of democracy and to find a peaceful solution for violent conflict. Therefore, both parties forged a minimum understanding for the sake of peace and democracy.

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The Jana Andolan II

        As a result of the 12-point understanding and its subsequent political dealings, the SPA and the CPN-Maoists announced a joint peaceful movement known as the Jana Andolan II in April 2006. Due to their political legitimacy in national and international arena, SPA leaders and cadres took to the forefront in peaceful marches, strikes and civil disobedience against the king’s autocratic regime. Thousands of people marched throughout the country in peaceful protests led by the SPA.  The Maoists rebels also joined in the movement under the SPA flagship and helped the SPA mobilize their cadres in urban areas by bringing their supporters from rural parts of the country. The protests were peaceful, and no form of violent activities were undertaken by protestors even though the state undertook oppressive actions.

        Despite rumors spread by the state, the agitators were disciplined and calm following instructions from their leadership to remain peaceful. The security forces, however, used force indiscriminately, and opened fire at random that killed 24 people during the 19-day period of the movement. Hundreds of civilians and security forces were seriously injured throughout the protest too. Security forces were injured mainly due to street confrontations with protesters who hurled bricks and stones at them. During the movement, the CPN-Maoists rebels followed the norms of peaceful protests as per the agreement with the SPA. They did not take any form of offensive action that could instigate violence. The agitating political parties understood the power of peaceful movement for the establishment of peace and democracy.

        With the establishment of democracy as a result of the movement, the restored parliament declared Nepal a secular state and abolished a 240-year old monarchy in May 2006. The newly formed SPA-led government formally initiated political negotiations with the CPN-Maoists declaring a ceasefire, which resulted in the official signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in November 2006 between the government and the CPN-Maoist rebels. It ended the 10-year-long violent conflict and paved the path for state restructuring and political transformation.

        As a human rights monitor and an active participant of democratic movements, I believe that the 2006 Jana Andolan II should be recognized as a peaceful and nonviolent movement, which changed the dynamics of political regimes and social transformation in Nepal. It paved the path for peace and justice for victims of the conflict. The joint peaceful movement promoted the values of democracy to end violent conflict and create a space for a secure society. The collaboration of the SPA and Maoists helped to promote values of democracy and opened an avenue for peace and justice while settling the conflict. Moreover, the joint movement created an opportunity to introduce accountability mechanisms against perpetrators of conflict and culprits of autocratic regimes.  

The graphics, views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Centre for Social Change.

Shobhakar Budhathoki

Human rights, peacebuilding, and public security specialist Budhathoki was actively involved in the 2006 democratic movement as human rights monitor. He also participated in the democratic movement representing civil society, and coordinated with the national and international human rights community to increase support for the establishment of democracy and finding a peaceful solution of conflict. He holds a Master’s Degree in Peace and Justice Studies from the University of San Diego, USA.

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