Political Leadership in Nepal: Image, Environment and Composition

By Hachhethu, Krishna | Contributions to Nepalese Studies, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Political Leadership in Nepal: Image, Environment and Composition


Hachhethu, Krishna, Contributions to Nepalese Studies


Stage: Final contest of Gaon Khane Katha (a riddle competition) 2061 (2004).

Actors: Madan Krishna Shrestha and Haft Bansha Acharya (two famous comedians) with Narendra Kansakar (as umpire).

In the opening scene of the play, the two riddle contestants, Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya, are very enthusiastic. Then they make pretensions to walk out after they hear the announcement of the prize: a neta (leader). 'Ganaune (stinky) neta!' is their immediate reaction. However, they change their minds and become all excited when the umpire (Narendra Kansakar) makes it clear that the prize is 'swacha chabi ko (clean image) neta'. They remark that in the absence of swacha chabi ko neta, the country is heading from one bad situation to a worse one, so that it will end up in the masan (the cremation ground). They express their hopes in the song lyric sung by Narayan Gopal: Euta manche ko maya-le kati pharak pardacha jindagi ma (one person's love makes a difference in life). Similarly, a (clean) leader can make a significant difference in the country's present sad predicament.

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This comedy scene is, I believe, reflective of the feelings of the common people relating to three fundamental questions of party leadership in Nepal. First, the figure of political leadership in the imagination of Nepali people; second, the frustrations of the people with the party leadership; and third, the people's desire for an effective leader capable of resolving the crisis in the country.

This crisis has further deepened in a most intractable way as a consequence of the revival of the royal regime. Though reestablished only in 1990, democracy was forced to collapse, after its second experiment of under fifteen years, by King Gyanendra's assumption of executive power for monarchy in October 2002. This culminated with his seizing absolute power in a coup d'etat on 1 February 2005. This is reminiscent of the short-lived first experiment with democracy in the 1950s that was similarly dismantled in December 1960 by the late King Mahendra, father of present King Gyanendra. After 30 years of monarchical rule, a system of multiparty democracy was reinstated in 1990 through a successful mass movement, popularly known as jan andolan. Before the democratic process attained maturity, the multiparty system faced the serious challenge of an armed insurgency by the Communist Party of Nepal or CPN (Maoist). Whether or not the CPN (Maoist) will succeed in their goal, their struggle has been used by the palace as an excuse for replacing democracy with the royal regime.

The present political and constitutional impasse contributing to this catastrophic situation can be seen as the outcome of a combination of three factors. First, failure of the parties and leadership on multiple fronts including governance; second, the ongoing armed insurgency by the CPN (Maoist) since February 1996; and third, the seizing of power by King Gyanendra in October 2002 and again in February 2005. One may argue that King Gyanendra's act of taking power back was a reaction to the failure of political parties to tackle the Maoist insurgency. It is, I firmly believe, rather mainly a product of the King's own ambition. Weak parties and leadership just contributed to the King's ambition and the palace's ploy to return to the centre of power. The monarchy and the Maoists are beyond the scope of this paper. To glance at the current state of affairs is, however, relevant since the leadership factor is one of the important parts of the political developments in the post-1990 period.

This paper analyses three key questions concerning the political leadership of Nepal. The first part describes the massive changes in the image of party political leaders from great men to moral degenerates. The second part of the paper explains the post-1990 political environment as a potential source of constraint to the leadership of the Prime Minister (PM). …

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