NEPAL: The aftermath of the coup: Nepal may lose its middle class

The February 1 coup in Nepal has brought the country under the control of the military, with no law controlling its actions. The number of persons under arrest–those under house arrest as well as those held in military camps–is increasing. The fear of arrest has led large numbers of democrats, human rights workers and those who are involved in other social movements, such as students, to go underground.

Although many of these persons wish to leave the country for security reasons, heavy controls are imposed on travel. Lists are maintained at international and domestic airports, and several cases have been reported of persons either not being allowed to board planes or being removed from planes after boarding.

Despite strong positions and actions taken by several countries, such as India, the United States, as well as the European Union and others, the establishment of total military control in Nepal is continuing through the suppression of all those who oppose the destruction of democracy within the country. While international pressure has been able to restrain the military and other forces to a certain extent, it is unlikely that such restraint will last long. The coup was designed to eliminate all democratic opposition obstructing the king’s ambition for absolute power; democratic parties and their support base are now the basic targets of the military.

Under these circumstances, the Nepali middle class and professionals are under threat. While many will try to flee the country, others may be subjected to arrest, imprisonment and even killed. If Nepal is likely to face the same fate as that of other countries in Asia and outside in similar situations, it seems inevitable that within a very short period of time Nepal’s middle class will largely disappear. In fact, as far as the coup is concerned, it is this middle class that poses an obstacle to the absolute power of the king. At the same time, the Maoists will also consider these democratic elements as a threat to their political ambitions. Nepal’s middle class and professional groups therefore face a great threat and cannot be a part of Nepali society under the present conditions.

This threat to the middle class and professional groups will affect all sectors of society, including the commercial and trade sector. It will be very difficult for the Nepali banking sector for instance, to survive with professionals so seriously threatened. The skills and resources required for the functioning of an organized society will soon only be available through the military and its supporters. Corruption will become the singular resultant principle around which society will function. Nepal’s track record for corruption, already deplorable, will become much worse.

All these factors will make it impossible for the king–as the absolute monarch–to bring about any form of stability within the country. Furthermore, under his present strategy, the king has no legitimacy to lead the fight against the Maoists, which is what the coup claimed to be for. Rather, the absence of legitimacy will be fertile ground for manipulation by the Maoists, and the actual victims of the coup will be those opposing all forms of tyranny.

With the displacement of Nepal’s constitution and concomitant constitutional monarchy–which recognized the separation of the executive and legislature as well as the independence of the judiciary–Nepal is now governed through direct and secret orders from the king. What these orders are is known only to those who receive them. The Nepali people learn of these orders only when their rights are being violated, allegedly on the basis of these orders. In actual fact, the military is given free reign to improvise orders and act in any way they wish when dealing with ‘the enemies of the king’.

The legitimacy of the courts was already disregarded by the military prior to the coup. Now, the courts are completely powerless as even habeas corpus actions cannot be pursued with any efficiency. It is clear that the prevailing lawlessness cannot be addressed by the courts. As a result, there is nowhere for people to turn from the repression of the military and those acting with its approval.

The National Human Rights Commission of Nepal is also without power with the commissioners themselves living in fear of their lives. The dismissal of the existing commission and the appointment of a king’s commission is openly being discussed. In great probability, a new commission may be appointed soon, whose primary task will be to deny the occurrence of human rights violations throughout the country.

Many human rights groups have pointed to Nepal’s crisis in the past; the prevailing situation is far worse. There is yet time to change this situation however, if serious intervention is made by the international community. The initial steps taken by several governments should be transformed into a collective effort at developing a comprehensive strategy, which must then be implemented urgently. If the status quo is allowed to continue, circumstances may deteriorate to an extent defying rational solution, as has happened in many places in the recent past.

The involvement of the international community should not be left to the governments. World democratic movements must make serious attempts to understand the situation in Nepal and exercise pressure on their governments and communities to work out a comprehensive diplomacy. Nepal must become a priority in the discourse of democratic and civil rights movements. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges all democratically minded people and organisations to play an active role in the coming days and weeks, exerting pressure for a deeper diplomatic engagement by the international community and led by the United Nations. Once again, the AHRC warns that time is short before the present critical situation in Nepal turns into a disaster of greater magnitude.  

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-21-2005
Countries : Nepal,
Issues : State of emergency & martial law,