Nepal’s King Reinstates Parliament
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IAN WILLIAMS: Victory day is how Nepal’s political leaders described it. But in the town of Kantipur, feelings were more mixed. Their voices had counted, but would they continue to do so?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not fully happy. The people of Kantipur, they are having a rally and that is not the rally of winning, victory, but a pressure rally. We want to keep the pressure to our leaders.
IAN WILLIAMS: And as they set off for Katmandu’s Ring Road, led today by the women, they chanted slogans against the king, but also warnings to their own political leaders not to let them down, as they have so often in the past.
Today, those leaders moved swiftly to appoint a new prime minister, veteran Nepali congress leader G.P. Koirala (ph). They say that when parliament is reinstated Friday, their priority will be elections for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, examining the future role of the king. And they want talks with the Maoists, with whom they have a loose alliance.
With tens of thousands parading around Katmandu’s Ring Road, they also announced an end to protests and to the general strike. But in a statement, the Maoists said the agitation should continue until the constituent assembly is established. Their influence in the capital has grown since the protests began.
The crowds cheered as they passed the office of Kantipur newspapers, who have been brave and outspoken in their coverage.
Over the past few days, you could be forgiven for thinking nobody in Katmandu has a good word for the king. That wouldn’t be entirely right. Major General Bharat Simha (ph) is honoree aide-de-camp to the king.
He regards the protest as a conspiracy by the Maoists and India — his views reflecting the deep contempt with which the palace holds Nepal’s political elite.
MAJOR GENERAL BHARAT SIMHA (ph): Unfortunately, multiparty system, because of the corrupt leaders, it is not going to be good here for Nepal.
IAN WILLIAMS: By late afternoon, crowds were marching and chanting in the city center. There was a more threatening edge to the protests.
The authorities are taking no chances, especially here — less than half a mile from the royal palace. This line of riot police is backed up by several more down the street.
Now the politicians might have declared victory, but here on the streets, there is still a great deal of anger and passion.
Political leaders say the protests are over for now. But if the politicians fail to deliver, the people will almost certainly be back on the streets.
GWEN IFILL: Margaret Warner takes the story from there.
MARGARET WARNER: And for more, we talk to Samrat Upadhyay, a Nepalese writer who is now an English professor at Indiana University. His prize-winning collection of short stories, “Arresting God in Katmandu,” has been published around the world. His latest collection is titled, “The Royal Ghosts.”
And, professor, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
SAMRAT UPADHYAY, Professor, Writer: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Help viewers who don’t follow Nepal much understand. Explain why we’ve seen this political upheaval in the last few weeks. What’s going on?
SAMRAT UPADHYAY: Well, if we look at the more recent history, we go back one year in 2005, February, when King Gyanendra sacked the prime minister and basically took over the country and diverted the country back to absolute monarchy.
And since then, there have been a lot of detentions, tortures of journalists, and people imprisoned — people disappeared. So that is the short history of it.
But if you go back even longer, I think we have to look at this present uprising in terms of what happened in 1990 when Nepalese revolted against long years of repressive one-party (inaudible) system, close to 30 years of it.
And I think what King Gyanendra did was that he instilled a lot of fear in the people that we have somehow gone back to those years. And the scale of this uprising had just been astounding even to someone like me who is watching from afar, because it’s greater than what has happened before.
So I think it adequately displays, you know, what the people are thinking and their aspirations.
MARGARET WARNER: And so who are the people that we’re seeing in the streets and who is leading them?
SAMRAT UPADHYAY: Well, one of the interesting things about this political uprising was that, you know, it seemed like for the longest time there were no leaders. So it was fairly spontaneous, as the 1990 uprising was. And there were even complaints by these protesters that the leaders were not actually taking part in the protests.
So that’s why, you know, this became truly a second, you know, a second Jama Angolan (ph) which, in Nepalese, means basically people’s movement.
Now there were some allegations that the Maoists were, you know, sort of inciting the crowd and so on. And there might have been some cases of that. But I don’t think it’s possible that, you know, it’s purely a Maoist ploy to do this.
I think people, for the longest time, have felt that, you know, their rights have been violated, and especially they have intensified in the past one year.
So it’s a very natural progression of it.
MARGARET WARNER: So do you think, from people you’ve talked to back there, that the concessions that the king made last night are enough to meet the demands of most of those people in the street and that it will calm the protests?
SAMRAT UPADHYAY: Well, the protests have calmed down a little bit. But as your reporter showed, I think what he talked about and what some of the people said, you know, I was reading another report that said, you know, there were victory rallies which were at the same time protest rallies.
And so I think that is the kind of scenario we have right now, where people — on the one hand, they’re happy that the parliament has been restored, but on the other hand, they’re not happy that — you know, they want to push the king even further and they feel betrayed that this hasn’t happened.
It’s a mixed bag.
I think a lot of the protesters were satisfied, but then there were a lot of protesters who were actually hoping that something momentous would happen in terms of the monarchy.
And one of the cries that, you know, I kept reading about and you keep hearing about is “ganitor destor” (ph), which means “thief Gyanendra, leave the country.”
So people were angry enough to utter that and a lot of people were actually, I think, hoping for a republic.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, even though the king didn’t agree to leave power or to go, could the process he set in motion or agreed to have set in motion with the new parliament, and then they can elect members to a constituent assembly, maybe a new constitution, could that ultimately lead to him having to leave?
SAMRAT UPADHYAY: That’s a possibility. That’s a distinct possibility.
It all depends upon how the party leaders and the new prime minister, GP Koriala (ph), which your reporter mentioned, you know, how he handles this whole affair.
One of the ways in which this can move toward a constitution assembly is by the, I think, swiftness of it. And I think that’s why some of the protesters you heard, they wanted more of an action immediately.
So that is distinctively a possibility. Although, whether the king would actually leave the country or or not is another question entirely.
But there is no doubt that the king has been defeated. I think you can see it on his face and in the announcement that he made. The first announcement that he made, which was on Friday, was that he just told the parties, OK, go ahead and, you know, appoint a prime minister.
And then on Saturday what happened was that 300,000 people took to the streets. I mean, they were — you know, they were not fooled by this. You know, they wanted more. And then the king had to come back on Sunday again and say, OK, I am, you know, reinstating the parliament.
So the king definitely has been defeated. I think the king didn’t have as much of an idea that it would go to this scale, because he was vacationing in — you could say hiding out in Pokra (pH), which is another resort town, and hoping that maybe just a few bullets here and there would take care of the protesters. But that surely didn’t happen.
MARGARET WARNER: Before we have to leave, let me just ask you about Nepal’s two giant neighbors, India and China. India tried to help negotiate a deal here. China welcomed it.
What stake do they, the United States, the rest of the world have in what happens in this tiny kingdom?
SAMRAT UPADHYAY: Well, I think you don’t want a Maoist dictatorship, you know, because I think that would destabilize the entire region. There’s no doubt about it. Because, you know, then that could be a breeding ground for a lot of terrorist activities.
For India, India already has a communist movement called the Naxalites (ph), you know, and so Indians don’t want, you know, that network to be strengthened further with the Nepalese Maoists.
For the United States, you know, I would like to make the appeal that I think for America the question of democracy should be the most important apart from the geopolitical importance, because, you know, America — if America can go to a country like Iraq and invade it and talk about democracy there, what is happening in Nepal is that there’s a spontaneous outburst of people, you know, who are fighting for democracy in their own land. There are no foreign powers involved in here. So it’s…
MARGARET WARNER: Professor Upadhyay, I’m sorry. I hate to interrupt you, but we’re at the end of the program and we have to leave it there.
Thank you so much.
SAMRAT UPADHYAY: OK. Thank you.