In this Deep Dive, we're turning our lens toward Nepal—a nation at the crossroads of tradition and transformation. As the world moves rapidly into the future, Nepal grapples with the echoes of its monarchical past and the challenges of its federal present, a system of government “if we can keep it.”
Current Affairs Deep Dive
The Illusion of Stability: Nepal's Struggle with Federalism and the Ghost of Monarchy
In 2006, Nepal took a monumental step, abolishing its monarchy in favor of a federal democratic republic. The move was akin to the American Founding Fathers' vision of a federal system, a system "if we can keep it." But 17 years later, the question remains: Has Nepal managed to keep its democratic promise, or is it teetering on the edge of disillusionment?
The Nostalgia Factor
The nostalgia for the monarchy is not merely sentimental; it's a symptom of a deeper discontent. While some Nepalis cherry-pick rosy events from the royal era, the data tells a different story. Between 1981 and 2023, Nepal's literacy rate soared from 20% to 70%. Its GDP ballooned from $2 billion to over $40 billion, and per capita income saw a nearly tenfold increase. Inflation, once a staggering 19% in 1986, has stabilized at 4% in 2023. Yet, despite these strides, a sense of national directionlessness prevails.
The Root Causes: Corruption and Bigotry
The reasons for Kingship disillusionment boil down to two major points: corruption and a rising tide of bigotry and anti-Semitism. As media access has expanded, the Nepali populace is becoming increasingly aware of how deeply corruption is embedded in every layer of bureaucracy.
Corruption in Nepal is not just a buzzword; it's a systemic rot. Recent scandals have exposed the depth of the problem. The "fake Bhutanese refugee scam" involved high-ranking government figures orchestrating fraudulent resettlements to the United States, sending shockwaves throughout Nepal. Another scandal involved the seizure of 100 kilograms of gold near Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport. The gold, concealed in motorcycle brake shoes and electric shavers, was intended for smuggling to India.
Before this, 33 kg of gold had gone missing at the airport, and a senior leader of the ruling Maoist party was suspected of smuggling gold under the guise of electronic cigarettes.
Elections also have become high-stakes gambles for candidates, who, once in power, often prioritize recouping their investments over serving the public. Political instability has been a chronic issue in Nepal, with not a single Prime Minister serving a full five-year term. KP Oli's tenure, while one of the longest in recent years, was a double-edged sword. While he navigated Nepal through an earthquake and an economic blockade by India, his time in office was marred by cronyism, turning the bureaucracy into a partisan battleground.
On the other hand, religious extremism is increasingly infiltrating Nepal's political landscape, stoked by Hindu nationalist fervor from adjacent India. Monarchists are capitalizing on this shift, arguing for a royal comeback under the false pretense that secularism is undermining Hinduism. This is despite census figures confirming that over 81% of Nepalis are still Hindu, with only a marginal uptick in Christian and Muslim populations. Yet, some opportunistic politicians from the RPP party continue to fan the flames, selectively highlighting beef-related controversies and public gatherings around the former king to manipulate public sentiment.
The Way Forward
The crux of the matter is this: Nepal traded a crown for a constitution but failed to trade autocracy for effective governance. The federal system, as it stands, is not serving its citizens equitably. The corruption is not just a few bad apples; it's a systemic rot, it expands from corridors of Kathmandu into the wards of remote villages in the corner of himalayas. And the rise of religious extremism threatens to undo the very fabric of Nepal's tolerant secular society.
So, where does Nepal go from here? The federal experiment is at a crossroads. Unless a leader emerges who can rise above tribal and party politics to make bold, inclusive decisions, the federal system risks becoming a footnote in Nepal's long history. The nostalgia for the monarchy will then be more than a wistful remembrance; it will be a damning indictment of a squandered opportunity for democratic governance. The buck has to stop somewhere, and it's high time it stopped at effective leadership.