Nepal is in the news again. This time it is due to the resurgence of a movement to restore the monarchical system that was abolished in 2008. Monarchy was abolished to contain a violent Maoist movement that had claimed 17,000 lives between 1996 and 2006.

But monarchy’s going did not bring meaningful democracy or governance marked by political stability, freedom from corruption and economic progress for the down-trodden.

The veteran Nepalese journalist Yubaraj Ghimire put it pithily. “Nepal has had a change of Prime Ministers every 11 months. The only thing transparent in governance has been corruption. The only thing that has been decentralised in the federal structure is corruption. Internationally-backed NGOs that are meant to serve the poor have only enriched the elite.”

Adding to the deep concern caused by these factors is the “massive” conversion to Christianity by internationally funded NGOs. Unchecked proselytization has given rise to a Hindu revivalist sentiment presently highlighted by the pro-monarchy movement.

Many Nepalese are harking back to the monarchy which was explicitly based on Hinduism. At one time, Nepal prided itself on being the “only Hindu country in the world.”

The anti-conversion sentiment gets mixed with Nepalese nationalism because the Western powers, headed by the US and the EU, insist that Nepal must not only adopt secularism but explicitly allow religious conversion under the fundamental principle of Freedom of Religion and Worship.

The pro-monarchy movement that one sees today has been around for quite some years, coming out now and then whenever there is a national crisis and disillusionment with the existing system.

On Thursday, the police baton-charged, tear-gassed and used water cannons to scatter thousands of protesters demanding the restoration of the monarchy. The “Citizens' Campaign" protesters said that governments in place since the monarchy was scrapped, had failed to live up to their commitment to develop Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries. On Friday, scores of supporters of the monarchist campaign were arrested from Tinkune for staging a protest at a public place without taking permission from the administration

Durga Prasai, coordinator of the monarchist “Rastra, Rastriyata, Dharma-Sanskriti and Nagarik Bachau Andolan” (Citizen’s movement for the protection of nation, nationalism, religion and culture) said: "We want the republican system abolished and the monarchy to be restored," vowing to continue agitating for that objective. He had called for a general strike in Kathmandu on Friday November 24.

The monarchist campaign is opposed by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) led by former Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and the ex-Maoists led by the current Prime Minister Pushpakamal Dahal alias Prachanda. The last king of Nepal, Gyanendra Shah is now living in retirement but earlier, he had indicated that monarchy should be brought back to check the ills of the existing system.

Though the call to bring the monarchy back is made in rallies every year on the birth anniversary of the first king Prithvi Narayan Shah, the movement this year appears to be more serious.

“The monarchy needs to return to Nepal. We are seeking a ceremonial king. We are fine with an executive prime minister but need a ceremonial king,” Ram Prasad Upreti, a retired medical doctor, told Associated Press.

Some months ago, former king Gyanendra had said: “We never wanted to be a republic which will send more than 10 million Nepali youth to the Gulf countries to shed their blood and sweat.”

He was referring to the pathetic state of the Nepalese economy which was forcing millions to leave the country in search of employment. Gyanendra has also been demanding that loans taken by farmers from cooperative banks and microfinance companies be waived as their plight was forcing them to commit suicide.

In 2021 there was a call for the restoration of the monarchy because the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was imploding due to the selfish power struggles of its leaders.

The then Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli had zero tolerance for dissent. He had subverted democratic institutions and ruled like a despot in a highly whimsical manner. The opposition Nepali Congress (NC) was also in disarray, afflicted by factionalism.

Politicians at large were losing popular support and credibility. The Nepali Congress President, Sher Bahadur Deuba, was widely suspected by his colleagues of having a secret pact with Oli. That affected his credibility.

Even the country’s President, Bidya Devi Bhandari, was facing stringent criticism for kowtowing to Prime Minister Oli and doing his bidding. The police, the bureaucracy and the judiciary were subverted by self-serving politicians, thus severely affecting their credibility.

All this has given a fillip to monarchists and the Hindutva lobby, wanting Nepal’s status as a Hindu country restored. The pro-monarchist and Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) has become active.

An important factor that is playing a behind-the-scenes role in the Nepalese pro-monarchist movement is the geopolitical clash between India and the US on the one hand and China on the other.

Although the Congress government in India had backed the pro-democracy movement in Nepal, the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is in favour of a Hinduist constitution of Nepal. It is said that India had informally told Nepalese leaders that if Nepal could not be declared a Hindu State, it should at least avoid identifying itself as a “secular” State.

When Prime Minister Prachanda came to India the last time, he was pressed to attend some functions at a Hindu shrine to give the impression to the world that he was a Hindu and a “24-carat Brahmin” to boot.

For Delhi, Prachanda had been a tough nut to crack as he was a Maoist fighter for years and had been pro-China too. He had once publicly told a semi-official forum in New Delhi during one of his earlier visits, that Indians should keep in mind that Nepal is a sovereign country. He meant that India should not expect Nepal to be a vassal of India.

Both India and the United States are worried about Nepal’s lurch towards China, especially when Communists like Oli and Prachanda are in power. But Nepalese leaders, including the kings, have dallied with China for developmental aid as well to have a bulwark against India’s bid to dominate Nepal.

On its part, China has been working hard to woo Nepalese leaders. One Chinese Ambassador had even done shuttle diplomacy to bring about a rapprochement between Oli and Prachanda when they were at loggerheads.

Nepal joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) against Indian and US opposition. But to balance its relations with the two power blocs, Nepal signed up for the American Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funding project and accepted Indian aid.

Changing over to a monarchy is not easy as it would need a constitutional amendment in a highly fractious Nepalese polity. And past experience with a constitutional monarchy, with Gyanendra as a constitutional monarch, had not been happy. Will it be any different this time? And will Gyanendra fill the bill as king? He is already well into his seventies.