Nepal goes from Hindu kingdom to secular democracy

The king of Nepal is no more.

No. He’s not dead. He has been retired.

After the Maoists’ party won the overwhelming majority in Nepal’s Constituent Assembly elections this April, the country’s left and secular forces joined together on May 28 to vote to end the 240-year-old monarchy. They gave the king 15 days to vacate the palace. He is moving to an older palace — a hunting lodge — outside the capital, Katmandu. His stepmother and his stepgrandmother, in their 80s and 90s respectively, have refused to leave and have been allowed to stay on, in small houses in the palace grounds.

Millions of Nepali people live in abject poverty but the deposed king is widely believed to have a fortune invested in tea, tobacco and casinos. That, plus the fact that he seized absolute power and imposed an autocratic, military rule, means most Nepalis are glad he’s gone.

It’s a far fall for the monarch, who by tradition is the earthly form of a Hindu god. So ends the era of a nation ruled as a Hindu state. The next steps for the “new Nepal” are full of struggles and the unknown.

At present, a seven-party coalition is running the country, including the Maoists. But the Maoists may not stay in the present government. A number of disagreements exist between the major political parties: the Maoists (Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist), the Nepali Congress Party and the UML (Communist Party of Nepal — United Marxist Leninist). These disagreements include differences over the stepping down of the current prime minister, who will become Nepal’s first president, and over the disarming of the Maoist militias and their integration into the Nepalese Army.

The CPN-Maoists and the UML both oppose the attempt by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, a leader of the Congress Party, to become the president. But the two parties disagree on other points, including the Maoists’ use of their militia to attack the UML and other political opponents.

Meanwhile, the Nepali Congress Party has accused India, one of Nepal’s neighbors and a Hindu-majority country of more than 1.1 billion people, of interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs. Left parties in India criticized the apparent power grab by Koirala, a leader of the Nepali Congress Party, but they rejected accusations that they sought to interfere in Nepal.

Indian left leader Sitaram Yechury, from the Communist Party India (Marxist), who played a major role in bringing Nepali Maoists into the democratic mainstream, said “We reiterate our complete solidarity with the people of Nepal to consolidate the process of the democratic republic in the country. We wish the Nepali people and political parties all success in this endeavour.”

However, India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, which seeks to change the Constitution and make India a Hindu state, slammed the electoral victory by Nepal’s Maoists and the dissolution of the Hindu monarchy as a “negative development for India.”