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29th Chief Justice of Nepal

When Nepal’s embattled Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and some of his communist colleagues performed the unusual duty of praying at the historic Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, they received no enlightenment as to how to resolve the political crisis, mainly of their own making. Perhaps, the deity was not impressed.

Now, the country’s Supreme Court has shown the way by annulling the Oli Government’s decision to dissolve the 275-member House of Representative and go for snap polls.

Whether this is bad for Nepal’s communist party and its movement, only time will tell, since it is the country’s most powerful political force. But it is certainly a huge setback to Oli who used his position and power to seek dissolution of the lower house to  defeat his colleagues who were only asking him to shfe power and respect a deal that had led to the unification of the Communist Party of Nepal and its emergence as an unbeatable parliamentary force.

In its historic judgement on February 23, the court reinstated the House of Representatives and directed the government to summon a session of the country’s Lower House of the Parliament within 13 days.

Headed by Chief Justice Cholendra Shamsher Jang Bahaur Rana, the five-judge Constitutional Bench has also decided to cancel all decisions that the incumbent Oli government took after December 20, the day when the House of Representatives was dissolved.

Oli has no escape, no alternative, but to return to the revived and reassembled house. He has time till March 8.

The court did not wait to hear as many as 13 petitions before it challenging the dissolution. The hearing on the case had started on January 17 and ended on February 19.This was expected to be a long-winding process.

Oli had talked of holding elections in April-May this year. Many had doubted the likely timetable, and that this would be a smooth affair. The revived house ends that uncertainty.

The court refused to dwell on Oli’s repeated pleas that a section of his communist colleagues were ‘obstructing’ the working of his government and were seeking to form “a parallel government.”

Nepal was plunged into one of its worst political crises when on recommendation of the Oli Government, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari dissolved the House on December 20 last year. Given her position under the constitution, she had no choice.

The intervening period  has been one of protests and turmoil that the Oli Government, now caretaker and planning elections and fending off pressures from different quarters. The grim situation was being worsened by the spreading Coronavirus and the economic woes, what with tourism, its mainstay, badly hurt by the pandemic.    

Oli was clearly holding on to power and fighting off fellow-communists, including former prime ministers Pushpa Dahal Kamal Prachanda and Madhav Nepal. He ignored their pleas to come to some understanding.

Awaiting the judgment, earlier in the day on Tuesday, he had convened the National Security Council. There is a constitutional provision for the National Security Council to be chaired by the Prime Minister to formulate policies related to the overall national interest, security, and defense, and to recommend to the government for the mobilisation or control of the Nepal Army.

Political analysts recall that the last round of gatherings was hung on December 21 a year ago, a day after Oli broke down the parliament calling for new elections, almost two years before its tenure. This uncertainty, too, has been ended by the court.

The political crisis and the likely elections had started the political race by various political parties and there was even talk of Oli co-opting forces that want the return of monarchy in the erstwhile kingdom. On the other hand, the crisis within the communist party had alarmed the Chinese and their envoy in Kathmandu had been meeting Oli, ostensibly to help resolve the tussle. Whatever the substance in the talk for and against the lady ambassador’s role, the threat to republic and to democracy was thus serious.

The reaction to the apex court’s ruling has been tremendous and positive. All parties have welcomed it. Oli’s communist rivals have called the judgment ‘historic’. Crowds gathered on the streets to celebrate it. Lamps and candles were lighted. The indication, overall, is that the Nepali people are yearning for peace and progress and less of political shenanigans.

Overall, by ordering revival of a democratically elected House, the court has staved off political instability and imposed the course correction on Nepal’s democracy that had become directionless.

Every crisis in Nepal inevitably has an India angle. Hence the larger neighbour has no choice but to watch it closely. This is even more so since the Nepalese communists view India with suspicion. Like Prachanda, Oli has swung between being an India-baiter to India’s friend. But he had gone well beyond what Prachanda did by seeking closer ties with China and openly baiting India. He encouraged the border crisis by claiming disputed areas ordering Uttar Pradesh and even issuing fresh maps to reinforce the claims. India was blamed for everything, including the spread of Covid-19 through visiting Indian tourists. But once the crisis at home worsened, he changed tack and had the maps withdrawn.

While there is little India can or should do to obviate such swings it can hope that with restoration of the lower house, Oli, or whoever leads the Nepalis, would seek and receive with grace whatever assistance India can extend to the landlocked neighbour.

Author

Mahendra Ved is a veteran journalist who has served with the Times of India, Hindustan Times and United News of India. The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

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