When the architects of republic assembled in the hall of first Constituent Assembly on Jeth 15, 2065 (May 28, 2008), they were up for making a bold statement in Nepal’s history. And they did. When the 601 members of the first Constituent Assembly almost unanimously declared Nepal republican state, lawmakers responded to the declaration with applause. Outside of the CA hall in Baneshwar, people celebrated by burning candles and waving the national flag. May 28, 2008 was no ordinary day in Nepal’s history. For one, it officially bade farewell to 240 years old monarchy which had put Nepal under the clutch of dynastic rule. Most important of all, this day opened the opportunity for an ordinary Nepali to become the head of Nepali state. Seat of power shifted from Narayanhiti Palace to Constituent Assembly, the sovereign constitution making body elected by the sovereign people of Nepal. The CA then elected Ram Baran Yadav, a son of a peasant from Tarai, the first president of Nepal. It felt like people had become truly sovereign for the first time in history.
As we celebrate 12th Republic Day today, people do not seem as enthusiastic about the hard-earned victory they had achieved through sacrifice. Abolishing monarchy was no small feat. It took months of street protests and deaths of over dozen Nepali citizens. And those people and political parties who put their lives at risk were doing so for a sacred cause. We were told that abolition of monarchy will herald the new beginning in Nepal’s socio-economic transformation and development. People were told that the republic will deliver what monarchy had failed to and that new era of good governance, development, equality, social justice and prosperity was within our reach and no power could take it away from people. Twelve years later, those great expectations are turning into despair, slowly and gradually. Not that Nepal did not achieve anything meaningful after that momentous change. Yes, the first Constituent Assembly could not accomplish the task of writing the constitution and it got dissolved but the country rose up again for second CA elections in 2013. With years of deliberations and discussions, the country found the new constitution and we are implementing the federal democratic republic system as per the provisions laid down in the constitution.
But today, these great changes do not seem very promising for obvious reasons. For one, our republican leaders have failed to live up to the spirit and ideals of republic. At least, the lifestyles of our leaders do not reflect it. Their greed for comfort, luxury and amenities the former monarchs enjoyed have made people feel that these leaders are no different from former rulers. General feeling is ‘what if we bade farewell to one king, several new kings have emerged’. Question is being raised about the conduct of office of the president itself largely because president’s office of young republic has not been able to take a significant shift in its conduct. Compared to Ram Baran Yadav, who served as the president until 2015, President Bidya Devi Bhandari has become the subject of criticism in public sphere. The president has been accused of showing the same inclination for luxury the royals used to enjoy. This perception (or misperception) can be cleared only when the president becomes symbol of people’s hopes and aspirations. Same goes for the leaders of ruling and opposition parties. Certain section of political parties in Nepal has been demanding reinstatement of monarchy stepping on failures of the current leaders to deliver as per republican aspirations. Leaders of republic should become committed, both in words and actions, to addressing people’s pressing needs. Their failure should not become the cause of public resentment against the republic, for which Nepali people fought with blood.