The decision by Nepalís King Gyanendra to dismiss the prime minister, Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba, and his government has accentuated the ongoing political crisis in the country. While there may not be many who will mourn the departure of Mr Deuba, it is vital to ensure that Nepal does not, in the long term, stray from its commitment to multi-party democracy. The most immediate cause for the crisis was Mr Deubaís advice to the monarch to postpone the general election by one year. Mr Deubaís advice was based on the assessment that it will be difficult to conduct free and fair polls given the heightened violence in the country because of the Maoist insurgency and because the Maoists control significant parts of Nepalís territory. Instead of accepting the prime ministerís recommendation, however, King Gyanendra sacked the government and has postponed the elections indefinitely. Although the monarch has promised to form a government within the next few days, all this does not augur well for democracy in Nepal. Even Mr Deubaís political foes have condemned the decision. This includes both the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (unified Marxist Leninist). Even the Maoists have criticized the monarchís decision. Only the leadership of the Rashtriya Prajatantra party, the third largest party, has supported it; a move that has attracted widespread criticism within the cadre.
It is clear that Nepal is facing probably the most difficult period in its recent history. There are no signs that the Maoist rebellion can be crushed with force, despite the carte blanche given to the Royal Nepal Army. It is also evident that the Maoists command the support of significant sections of the people, especially in the more underdeveloped areas of the country. In addition, Nepalís economy is in deep trouble. The tourism industry, which was one of the most important sources of revenue, has virtually collapsed, and Nepal ranks lowest in the region in terms of most quality-of-life indicators. There are now serious concerns that the palace may use the crisis to centralize power, thereby eroding multi-party democracy in the country. India has a deep interest in ensuring stability in the country. Although any activism by India often fuels suspicions, New Delhi, given the stakes, cannot afford to be passive. It is time that the government of India communicated to the palace its deep concern with the developments, and the necessity of restoring democracy as early as possible. The need to begin sustained negotiations with the Maoists should be stressed as well. An unstable Nepal, it must be recognized, will have an impact far beyond the boundaries of the state.