South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights


In a deed that Ramraja Prasad Singh would later describe as “fanciful dash to score immortality at the martyrdom,” Durganand Jha threw a bomb in 1961 at the vehicle of King Mahendra in Janakpur. Even back then, the Nepal Police was no more or less efficient than it is now. Jha could have remained in self-exile or chosen an underground identity like many of his seniors in Nepali Congress and the Nepal Communist Party.

He bravely submitted himself to justice and was given death penalty by the trial court on Bhadra 19. When it was found that Brahmins were exempted from capital punishment according to provisions of over a century old Muluki Ain, the civil code was hastily amended. The term came into currency later, but Martyr Durganand was one of the first of many victims of ‘judicial killing’ during three decades of royal Panchayat rule.

The situation is purely hypothetical, but let us assume that Durganand has not been killed by a vengeful regime and is languishing in jail. Charges have not been trumped up but are based on someone’s version of reality. The great patriot is proud of his deeds. A grateful nation waits with bated breath to welcome the freedom fighter. The government is ready to honor the national hero. But the prime minister wrings his hands in distress.

There is that little matter of impunity. The government is helpless. Political parties are flummoxed. Good thing that the loyal judges of royal regime did what they did and conferred immortality upon martyrs. Had they been alive, there would have been nothing more than humiliation for them in a milieu dominated by human rights defenders. Nepali poet Bhupi Sherchan wails in a heartrending stanza, “Oh, you who have embraced death/ Should have tried to survive/ Experienced the agonies of living/”.

When the state is a violator instead of being protector of human rights, it stands to reason that impunity cannot be tolerated. The state exercises monopolistic rights over violence and taxation on the assumption that it would be held accountable for smallest transgression of laws. The non-state actors, on the other hand, often break the law only when other recourses of grievance redress are either not available or have been exhausted.

The difficulty arises in ascertaining the gravity of situation that may have prompted certain groups to pick up arms to fight the state. The idea of Truth and Reconciliation Commission is relatively new. Somewhat older is the principle of Victor’s Justice, the time-honored practice that legitimizes whatever the winning side decides to do with losers. The difficulty in Nepal is that nobody knows who won in an armed insurgency that claimed thousands of lives, made hundreds forcibly ‘disappear’, and created conditions for the involuntary displacement many others.


Had he survived, Durganand would have found that the Nepali Congress is no longer the revolutionary party that inspired him to heroic deeds. Its leaders haven’t yet stopped talking about democracy, but wouldn’t be caught dead pronouncing the ‘S’ word that once made them one of the most illustrious members of the Socialist International. The ‘nationality’—an imagined community bound together by shared aspirations—idea that founders of the political party had conceptualized has degenerated into jingoistic nationalism of “one people, one language, and one dress” formula. No wonder, Kashi Devi, the widow of the Martyr Durganand, finds herself in Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Dal, probably because the grand-old party of democratic struggles has no place for people like her.

eepening democracy or empowering the people hardly figures on the agenda of NC anymore. Borrowing their terminology from the phrasebooks of bilateral donors and multilateral lenders, NC propagandists talk about growth, development and prosperity. Ironically, few of them seem to remember that NC was declared ‘anti-national element’ precisely on the charge that the party hampered Panchayat’s quest for prosperity. A young party supporter rues reproachfully, “Our leaders these days look and sound exactly like RPP stalwarts of post-1990 phase and want to stop the change, if not actually put the clock back to glorious times of the past.”
Supremacy of laws is an idea that everyone finds convenient to accept in principle. Even Ranas honored the law. When laws differed with their wishes, the offending provision would simply be covered with opaque Harital paste. Mahendra merely followed the time-honored tradition when he had to set an example for future enemies of the regime by bringing Brahmins under the ambit of capital punishment. However, it’s the rule by laws that irks the disadvantaged most. The interim constitution of the country calls Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic but has no provision for federal units. Now, what do those do who struggled for federalism? It is in the law but not there at the same time.
The blame, if it can be called that, of pushing Madhesbadi parties into the arms of Maoists lie squarely on the shoulders of NC bigwigs. Opposing Madhesis has always been the raison d´être of Nepali Naxalites that forms the core of UML; hence they cannot be faulted for not being what they never claimed of being anyway. It was due to the presence of NC that Madhesbadis agreed to join out-and-out anti-Madhesi coalition of Madhav Kumar Nepal and risked being marginalized in their constituencies. But Mahanth Thakur, Bijay Gachchhedar and Jayprakash Prasad Gupta found to their chagrin that they could never be anything more than doorbells, doormen, and doormats in a party that only wanted to use them.
OK, so Madhesbadi parties are corrupt, opportunistic and unreliable. The UML smells of roses that grow inside Singh Durbar and NC never took bath in the Rudramati Stream of state excesses. Maoists may be everything that they are alleged to be, but at the very least, they treat leaders of Madhesi parties as equals despite everything they did in the past. After the Constituent Assembly elections, Madhesbadis and Maoists should have been natural allies.
Uncomfortable as it may seem in the present context, Maoists and Madhesbadis need to work with each other to establish practicable unity between two distrustful communities that makeup Nepal. Fear and foreboding would stalk the land if the two cannot accommodate aspirations of each other in an amicable manner.
Political entrepreneurs at the Maoist politburo can probably be charged of being guilty of crimes against humanity. The principle that superiors are responsible for the crimes committed by their subordinates is established in the international law. It applies not only in cases where they issued direct orders, but also in cases where they knew or had reasons to know that their subordinates were committing these crimes or were about to do so and they had done nothing either to prevent these crimes or restrain them. This principle, if applied in good faith, would bring everyone from Chairman Gyanendra down to the field commanders of the then Royal Nepal Army into the scope of investigation. The NC (D) and UML coalition that went after Maoists with a “naked Khukuri” would probably have a lot to answer for too. Perhaps what the front organizations of UML in the NGO-industry mean by impunity is that the state should treat Maoists and Madhesis with Victor’s Justice. The boot, however, is on the other foot. And that infuriates them even further.
Democracy is mere expediency for different formations of former Panchas. The UML is a quintessential bureaucratic party that seeks to perpetuate its hold on permanent government by fanning fears of alien takeover. They cannot be culpable for not being change-oriented or progressive. Widespread erosion of revolutionary values in NC, however, raises fears for the future of democracy.
It seems there are only two kinds of people left in NC. Those ‘born-to’ the old families spend their time in lamenting for the loss of their base in Tarai-Madhes, which they did almost nothing to retain. The ‘been-to’ elite that have seen the world cannot seem to say anything more than what they are told to parrot to rhyme with the ‘globalization, privatization and liberalization’ mantra. All of them are determined to retain unitary ‘Banalistan’ safe for ‘born-to’ and ‘been-to’ citizens and resist federalization by hawking the fears of Bantustans of the people.
“The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free.” That’s not a quote from Marx, Lenin or Mao but from Henry David Thoreau. It would be necessary to uphold the supremacy of laws. But the Maoist-Madhesbadi Alliance need to first learn to hold together and then write those laws in the spirit of accommodation. The rest can wait. Freedom fighters better be freed under the dignity of a new supreme law than a suspicious-sounding pact howsoever sincere in its intent.