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Kot legacy and lessons

OCT 01 - The Kot Parva or Kot Massacre left a political legacy and lessons that are relevant to this day. On September 14, 1846, Jung Bahadur Rana, with the help of his brothers, killed his political rivals — thirty-four noblemen including Prime Minister Fateh Jung Shah — at the courtyard of Hanuman Dhoka Palace. This event, famously known as Kot Parva, assured Jung Bahadur’s rise to the post of prime minister and commander-in-chief of the Nepal Army.

A hundred and sixty-five years after this fateful day, Nepali society is significantly different: Modernisation has taken a rapid pace and the form of polity has changed. Yet the fight for power, mistrust and suspicion among political leadership characterises Nepal’s political space today as it did in 1846.

The Kot Parva was not the first of its kind. But it was perhaps the most brutal outcome of power mongering in Nepal which became rampant after the death of Prithvi Narayan Shah — when conspiracies, plots and treachery became the norm among political rivals, and bloodshed to gain power was not uncommon. But the intensity and consequences of the Kot Parva was so large that it firmly established a view that any means applied to achieve power is justifiable. It also suggested that conspiracies, treachery and plots could be the stairway to power.

The Kot Parva forced upon us the autocratic Rana regime for over a century which alienated Nepal from the rest of the world, stalled the country’s development and prevented the advancement of a just and merit-based society. The regime turned into a family battleground for the Ranas so much so that power mongering and factionalism became deeply embedded in Nepali politics. The regime fell in 1951. But an inefficient and corrupt administration, the culture of favouritism and sycophancy that did not value merit and strong work ethics, and a political psychology characterised by mistrust and lust for power — all of which bred under the regime —  did not fade away. We inherited these.

“Compared with political rivalries and factional strife as sources of unrest, basic ideological differences or clashes of principle are mostly of secondary importance in Nepali politics”, noted Professor Werner Levi in Political Rivalries in Nepal (Far Eastern Survey, 1954). In Politics of Nepal, he wrote that Nepal’s political parties “unite and split with great frequency, forming alliances when they are out of office and fighting each other when they are in,” (Far Eastern Survey, 1956). Though written in the early years of Nepal’s democracy in the 1950s, these statements strikingly reflect Nepal’s current (or any period’s) political state. Today, the three major parties, United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [UCPN (M)], Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) are all struggling to manage internal disputes. And people seem to have lost count of the number of times the Madhesi parties have split.

National interests and priorities have suffered as a result of factional politics. Often, they have not received as much attention as they ought to, or at times have become secondary as the parties focus on resolving factional disputes, consolidating power and interests of their factions. In the 1950s, political ambitions of BP Koirala and Matrika Prasad Koirala clashed over party and government leadership, negatively affecting the stability and functioning of the government during the crucial first years of democracy. Were they united, a stable government would have been ensured in the first years of Nepal’s democracy. A stable government would probably have ensured the election of a Constituent Assembly in 1952 as per the tripartite agreement between the Nepali Congress, Ranas and King Tribhuvan in Delhi in 1950. After the restoration of democracy in 1990, the rivalry between the three factions led by Girija Prasad Koirala, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Ganesh Man Singh widened and turned so bitter that it became a major source of Nepal’s political instability. Inter-party squabbles between the major parties NC and CPN (UML) made the situation worse. The way politicians and the government handled the country and its daily affairs aroused people’s dissatisfaction towards them. Among others, the dissatisfaction took the form of a Maoist insurgency which affected the country for a decade.

Be it the diminution of Shah Kings’ status to namesake after the Kot Parva, the introduction of Panchayat System in 1960 after dismissing the first democratically elected government by King Mahendra, or the direct rule by King Gyanendra in 2002, all these ‘unfortunate’ political events have shown that too much mistrust and disunity among political parties (read actors) consequently become disastrous to their own existence and detrimental to national interests. Perhaps this is the most important message that our political history, especially the Kot Parva has for our political leaders.

The future political course that Nepal will take depends much upon whether this message is internalised and acted upon by political actors.  Once we break away from the political psychology and culture inherited from our history, then factionalism, mistrust and power-mongering will no longer remain the defining basis of Nepal’s political parties and politics. This paves a way for the promotion of intra-party democracy which is essential for founding a stable and vibrant democratic polity. Perhaps Nepal’s current political transition also offers the best opportunity to our leaders for this transformation.

Gautam has a Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Social Science from Jacobs University, Germany

Posted on: 2011-10-02 08:47

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