Third people’s movement is inevitable. It is only a matter of when

Narayan Manandhar

  • Read Time 5 min.

PM Oli has torn and trampled the constitution to an indistinguishable shape. This provides a reason for another round of people’s movement in Nepal.   

Earlier in January, I wrote elsewhere whether we are poised for another round of Jana Andolan. This was based on identification of similar conditions that prevailed during Jana Andolan I (1990) and Jana Andolan II (2006/7). At the time of writing, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli had dissolved parliament and his decision was challenged in the Supreme Court. In February, the Court overturned the PM’s decision and reinstated parliament. Due to pandemic situations and political manoeuvrings, Jana Andolan III got stalled for a while.

But given the situation in or of the country, the indispensability of Jana Andolan III is even starker now than ever before.  

PM Oli has torn and trampled the constitution to an indistinguishable shape; having a new and fresh political settlement is the only way out. This provides a raison d’être for another round of people’s movement.

With the second time dissolution of parliament in less than six months, the political drama is rapidly unfolding. Once again, the PM’s decision is challenged in the Court. Earlier, the court took two months to deliver its verdict. As time is freely available in Nepal and we are addicted to making decisions at the Eleventh Hour, no one is sure when the verdict gets delivered. By the way, the court has not yet issued a full version of the earlier verdict. What we have is a three-page summary. However, one good news is that, this time, the court is speeding up the process. By the first week of July, we will probably have the verdict.  

A couple of forces may delay or stall Jana Andolan III:  The pending court verdict and pandemic lockdowns. But it will be impossible for the local administration to lock down the city population for a prolonged period of time.

Definitely, the court is treading on a treacherous path extending between “justice delayed is justice denied” at one end and “justice hurried is justice buried” at the other. As the mid-term polls are already slated for November, with monsoon rain, followed by a long festive period, time is going to be a critical factor. The Covid monster is already out there hiding behind the bush.

Two outcomes

Irrespective of the speed of court deliberations, there are two possible outcomes—the court may or may not reinstate parliament. If the court reinstates parliament, the duo—President Bidya Bhandari and PM Oli—will have to go. They will have lost moral and legal authority to hold onto power. It will also be naïve to assume a safe landing. Whoever gets into power, elections have to be held within two years. No elections mean we are into another round of political chaos and confusion. This implies Jana Andolan III in making.

Photo: RSS

What happens if the court ratifies the PM’s decision? The alliance of five political parties—Nepali Congress, Maoist Center, Madhav Nepal faction of CPN-UML, Yadav-Bhattarai faction of JSPN and Rastriya Jana Morcha—are in opposition and have joined hands to launch battles on legal and political fronts. This time they are much more determined to restore parliament than ever before. Loss of legal battle means intensification of street battles. This again means Jana Andolan III in making.

The people’s movement is inevitable. It is only the question of when. There are already some tell-tale signs of Jana Andolan III. For example, Nepali Congress is taking the lead. The alliance has projected Sher Bahadur Deuba as the next PM. This signals unanimous leadership. Second, similar to holding joint meetings at Late Ganesh Man Singh’s residence, Chaksebari during Jana Andolan I, Deuba’s residence at Budhanilkantha has become opponents’ rendezvous. Third, reminiscence of Jana Andolan days, the alliance has issued a statement, warning state institutions to refrain from heeding unconstitutional orders from a caretaker PM. Fourth and more importantly, a rapid political polarization is taking place into Oli vs anti-Oli camps.

If the court reinstates parliament, Bidya Bhandari and K P Oli will have to go. They will have lost moral and legal authority to hold onto power.

One can see Oli camp being supported by pro-Hindu, pro-monarchical forces, some smaller radical communist parties and Thakur-Mahato faction of JSP, largely perceived to be at the behest of India.

A couple of forces may delay or stall Jana Andolan III.  Obviously, the first one is the pending court verdict. Delays in court verdict is not a solution, it will only backfire. Second one is pandemic lockdowns. It may prevent the demonstrators from coming out in the streets. But this can only be a short term measure. It will be impossible for the local administration to lock down the city population for a prolonged period of time. The hunger, joblessness, pandemic situation and political chicanery are building a massive frustration amongst the population which can erupt like a volcano any time.

Southern wind    

Third, the parties—both in opposition and in power—are waiting for a “green signal” from India. Either by design or default, India has been a decisive factor in Nepal’s political changes. Currently, politicians at both sides are busy wooing India. The citizenship ordinance, relaxation in the export of mines and boulders (to India), allocation of  a number of ministerial berths to Thakur-Mahato faction of JSPN are all designed to keep India happy. But India is in a trilemma: siding either with Oli or anti-Oli camps or deterring Chinese influence. So far, it is pretending that Nepal’s political developments are “internal matters”. This will soon turn into an insidious matter to handle. 

Photo: Getty Images

In the end, the availability of vaccines, that too, from India, will be the decisive factor for triggering Jana Andolan III. If India agrees to supply vaccines, PM Oli can breathe a sigh of relief. Mass movement may be contained for a while. Scheduled elections can go ahead. The opposition will have no options other than to participate in the elections. Delays in holding elections may lead to inevitability of Jana Andolan III. Nepal needs to vaccinate at least 20 million people. Currently, only two percent of the population is being served. The recent vaccine-begging spree is very much understandable. As a show of gesture, friendly countries like China, the US and some European countries may support the drive for securing vaccines. In the end, it will be the vaccines from India that will play a decisive role in controlling not just coronavirus but also (p)olitical virus that is badly infesting the country and the economy.

Once again, we are back to square one—India dependent.