Failure by Nepal's government to govern effectively is increasing nostalgia for the restoration of the monarchy.
Kathmandu – On December 5, 2020, around 10,000 motorcyclists of the Bir Gorkhali movement, mostly wearing t-shirts with the imprint of the last king and queen, defied lockdown and stormed into the empty streets of Chitwan. The group chanted the slogan: "Raja Aau, Desh Bachau" (Come King, save the nation).
The police couldn't intervene, and the group also amassed support from other political parties, royalist parties, and groups.
"Our group is apolitical, and we aim to restore the monarchy and commit to rescinding the unfortunate achievements of the 2006 Nepalese revolution," Bhandari said.
The apolitical pressure group formed three years ago, which has around 18,000 members on Facebook, was led by Saurav Bhandari, a former Maoist child rebel and ex-member of right-wing Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP).
Bhandari had spearheaded the demonstrations from October 2020 in different major cities of Nepal. The group's plan was clear – to call for the restoration of the monarchy and scrapping federalism.
Bhandari's involvement in the group wasn't accidental.
From Maoist to Monarchist
In 2003, 94 kilometres east from the capital, Saurav Bhandari returned home from a musical performance when the Nepal Army arrested their group for having Maoist links - the Communist Party of Nepal that was dissolved in 2018. He was let go for being a minor.
Born in a family steeped in Maoism, Bhandari was forced to support the Maoists and was spoon-fed the idea that the monarchy was evil.
His understanding changed as he moved to the capital and immersed himself in extensive studies. Bhandari was convinced that the last king, Gyanendra Shah, wouldn't have given up his throne so quickly if he had the ambition and drive to rule.
Three years ago, a 28-year-old Saurav Bhandari formed a pressure group named 'Bir Gorkhali' with the dream that the monarchy would be restored in Nepal one day.
The valour of the Gorkhas influenced the name 'Bir Gorkhali,' which loosely translates to 'strong Gorkhali.' It soon became a movement for Nepali youths as the group held demonstrations in Nepal's various cities, and the participation numbers skyrocketed in thousands.
The Nepalese monarchy was abolished in Nepal on May 28, 2008, by the first Constituent Assembly.
Amid the pandemic, the Nepali Communist Party's (NCP) failure to handle the issue had also prompted right-wing groups and pro-monarchy Nepalis to support demonstrations and demand the country be reinstated as a Hindu state. The youth, in particular, have become disillusioned with democracy and political parties.
Nepal's ruling party has been unpopular as of late as it's embroiled in inter-party fighting, corruption, and a failure to control the pandemic.
The solution to instability is monarchy?
Similarly, Nepal's right-wing political party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), royalists groups, and pro-monarchy Nepalis have held demonstrations in various Nepali cities, calling for the restoration of the monarchy and a Hindu state since last year.
Rajendra Lingden, a pro-monarchy RPP lawmaker, said that the restoration of the monarchy in Nepal is inevitable as the general public is frustrated with the politicians who've failed to uplift the spirit of democracy.
"The solution to Nepal's political instability is monarchy restoration because we have already seen that a party that enjoyed a two-thirds majority couldn't even last because of a power-sharing tussle. This is the failure of the 2015 constitution. A new agreement is needed, whether it comes from referendum or mass movement," said Lingden.
RPP held pro-monarchy demonstrations in Hetauda and Jhapa on December 4 (major cities in southern Nepal) and Kathamndu on December 5.
Despite abolishing the monarchy, a section of Nepal's population still supports the monarchy's restoration, and royalist groups are upping the ante.
On December 2, Nepal's Home Ministry sent a directive to 77 districts of 7 provinces to suppress pro-monarchy demonstrations and use force if needed. However, police forces were more lenient.
Sporadic pro-monarchy protests were a minor event during the previous twelve years. This year has seen an increase in Nepalis supporting the monarch. Royal supporters rallied in the capital on January 11 to celebrate the 299th birthday of Nepal's founder, King Prithivi Narayan Shah. A clash ensued between demonstrators and the police. Among them was a high-profile celebrity.
Manisha Koirala, a Bollywood actress lending weight to the movement, said that unity among all Nepalis was imperative when the nation is facing another crisis. Although not expressing her political views directly, Koirala has become actively involved in supporting the royals and the monarchy.
Koirala expressed dismay after police intervention on January 11 and the royal demonstrators' arrest and questioned if the government belonged to Nepalis.
"I'm not in a position to express any political views. I only want Nepal to stand tall, and for that, every element needs to be strengthened. All the pillars must work in coherence with each other giving strength to our nation," she said.
Can a democratic monarchy exist?
Some analysts, however, are more skeptical about the monarchy's restoration and what it would mean for the country.
Dr Surya Raj Acharya, an independent political analyst in Nepal, said that those who're trumpeting the monarchy's restoration expect it to solve corruption and other political wrongdoings.
"This is not possible by a ceremonial monarchy, and an executive monarchy is a tall order in the present context," Surya says.
"Hoping the restoration of the monarchy is a solution to the supposedly failed institution of the presidency is not a logical step at all. There is no guarantee that the monarchy itself and people working for the monarchy would be immune from the anomalies that are currently seen in our politicians."
Professor S D Muni, an expert in Nepalese affairs, said he doesn't think the monarchy restoration movement will succeed as a constitutional amendment is needed and for that elections need to happen. On top of that, the 2015 constitution risks being annulled if the monarchy is restored.
"Monarchy in Nepal did not have a gracious history, except King Prithivi Narayan Shah who must be credited for founding Nepal, but his successors completely lost control and only king Mahendra succeeded but over democracy. Many Nepalis from remote and Terai areas joined the Maoist rebellion because they saw that under monarchial rule, no major developments occurred."
On India supporting the monarchy restoration movement, S D Muni said that in November 2005 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India told King Gyanendra to restore democracy. India would support the monarchy against the Maoists. So there was no question of India's intelligence wing uprooting the monarchy in Nepal.
However, Muni did acknowledge that there might be funding and support for some sections of the BJP towards the monarchy restoration movement.
"But those who might be funding the movement do not understand the Nepali system. Even in India, the BJP is struggling with RSS and Maoists in India. And India will always continue to support democracy in Nepal," he said.
But, constitutional experts like Bipin Adhikari believe Nepal's federal system can coexist with a constitutional monarchy but stresses a constitutional amendment.
"Restoration of the monarchy is a political issue. If there is support for it, it is possible to amend the constitution and create a provision. However, it isn't easy to do it right away. The ongoing movement for the restoration of the monarchy is not enough. It is not broad-based, and the major political parties have not been prepared to contest elections for the House of Representatives on this premise."
"A referendum might be allowed. But even if accepted by the referendum, by a majority vote, the Constitution's amendment is still a requirement. This means a two-thirds majority in the Parliament must support the government proposal," he said.