Battles of the New Republic a Contemporary History of Nepal, by Prashant Jha, explained the fall of the monarch, the rise of violence, and the growth of political instability in Nepal which provides context for understanding how prepared and willing Nepal is to engage in global climate change negotiations and adaptive measures today. The following issues further complicate governing in Nepal by leaving an astounding majority of people struggling to survive: 71% of citizens live below the poverty line; 60% of citizens are illiterate; 90% of citizens live in rural areas (Jha 20). Considering the high rate of poverty and high rate of rural living combined with widespread illiteracy, how do the differing perspectives between the government, the Maoists, and the rest of the Nepali citizens create debilitating divisions in understandings of issues as urgent as poverty and climate change? Does lack of education, knowledge, or resources motivate good politics or enable poor politics?
With little prior knowledge of Nepal’s history before reading this book, I expected it to reaffirm my understanding that instability meant being under constant stress and stuck in recovery mode, with basically no chance for maintenance or improvement. Nepal’s political instability has prohibited progress by driving ongoing suspicion and distrust which has caused corruption and damaged public image for the Maoists and the government. What I did not realize is how recently these tumultuous events occurred, and more importantly how this increases Nepal’s vulnerability to the uncontrollable forces of conflict and destruction such as natural disasters and resource depletion. Understanding how political instability impacts other areas of development reveals how crucial Nepal’s history remains to the rise of the new republic. Without the promise of stable government, the citizens of Nepal cannot expect their government to take care of them when crisis breaks out. I expect to observe issues of prioritization and lack thereof in the government due to the overwhelming depth of Nepal’s problems concerning everything from brutal civil war to clean drinking water.
Knowing the contemporary political and historical context of Nepal reveals some of the tensions in policy debates especially when dealing with multifaceted issues such as climate change. Tensions such as regional versus national interests and short-term versus long-term approaches during policy making complicate the process by blurring the lines between right and wrong. For instance, many viewed Nepal’s relationship with India as exploitative because India received the benefits of most business deals while burdening Nepal with costs including loss of land, compensation, and resources (Jha 39). A mixture of state brutality and nationalism aided the Maoists in recruitment messaging during the rebellion, especially among those who were exposed early on. Students, like Krishna, who attended school in Katmandu and personally experienced state brutality became increasingly critical of India’s exploitative relationship with Nepal and participated in the students’ union (Jha 40). To what extent will India’s control over Nepali policy continue to hurt the nation’s ability to protect its own citizens in future crises?
The birth of the Maoist rebellion and the uncertain relationship between Nepali Maoists and the government will help me understand politicians’ and civilians’ viewpoints when we interact with them in Katmandu. Since Nepal’s absolute monarchy in 1960, motivation has been on the rise for Maoists in Nepal to challenge the system: Hindu Kingdom. Justifications for the revolution echoed the purpose of changing power dynamics, in favor of the worker– “tenancy rights were insecure,” “wages were low,” “absentee landlordism was rampant” … (Jha 22). During the years leading up to the second Janandolan (mass upsurge for democracy) in 2006, Maoist fighters engaged in armed battles with the Royal Nepali Army (RNA) in 2001 and 2003, overriding 2 ceasefire arrangements between the government and the Maoists. Disorder in power structure ensued because the king sought greater power, increased RNA brutality, and ultimately failed his duties to maintain the trust of his subjects and preserve the dynasty. I expect that we will interact with locals and political experts to gain a sense of the current political climate (with no monarchy) as well as reflections of the transition in establishing a new republic. Knowing that the Maoists have repeatedly denied the monarchy and government their loyalty, I am interested to find out where Nepali citizens’ loyalty lies now and what their expectations are for democracy moving forward. Understanding people’s opinions of the monarchy’s historic performance compared to people’s expectations for the new republic may reveal how the country’s ambitions have developed and why.
Jha, Prashant. Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal. Hurst, 2014