When an institution loses its substance, the fall of its edifice is usually a matter of time. Nepal’s monarchy had long become an anachronism in this age of mass politics. Given the rising public sentiment against it, even its ceremonial existence, like that of the British monarchy, is now politically and morally untenable. Events since last year’s pro-democracy movement have made the people’s will abundantly clear. The interim government of Girija Prasad Koirala has now reflected the spirit of the age by agreeing to abolish the institution after next year’s elections to the constituent assembly. It would be wrong, though, to see it as a victory for the Maoists. The former rebels may have articulated the anti-monarchy sentiment more strongly than the country’s other political forces. But the decision is only a logical sequence to the hiatus between the king and the country that has been evident over the past two years. Ironically, King Gyanendra himself stymied the future of the monarchy with his persistent resistance to the people’s democratic hopes. Specious arguments had been offered in order to try and save the constitutional monarchy. Doubts still linger over the Maoists’ motives and long-term strategies. But none of these could be a good enough reason to save the monarchy and imperil the democratic experiment.
However, the abolition of the monarchy is only the first step in a long road ahead. The government’s other decision to rebuild Nepal as a “federal democratic republic” is the real challenge. A new constituent assembly and a new constitution will help strengthen the democratic institutions. But the experiment with federalism could be a harder issue to tackle. Yet, neither the democratic parties nor the Maoists can afford to ignore it. The violent upheavals among the ethnic people in the Terai region could be a major source of future trouble if the issue is not addressed seriously. The demand for a higher representation for ethnic people in parliament has its merits. It need not necessarily be a threat to Nepal’s territorial integrity. Even if some ethnic groups show fissiparous tendencies, the only remedy will be a truly inclusive democracy. Having cleared the doubts about the monarchy’s future, Mr Koirala should waste no more time in announcing the poll schedule. Only a return to democracy can save Nepal from falling completely into the Maoist trap.