Democracy’s dark day or an era of Nepali transformation: Looking back at the Royal takeover

By Dil Kumar Ale Magar

Nepalese political parties established by the democratic movement mark today ‘Poush 1’ as a Black Day. They recall the 1960 takeover a Coup d’etat when King Mahendra Shah overthrew the democratically elected government and paved way for an absolute rule under the Panchayat System. The administration of Nepal changed overnight.

On Dec 15, 1960, Ex-king Mahendra, using the sovereign and prerogative powers provisioned by the Consitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1959, suspended the elected parliament and imposed a direct rule citing the Nepali Congress government led by Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala had fostered corruption, promoted party above national interest and failed to maintain law and order.

He instructed the arrest of the then Prime Minister Koirala, the then Speaker Krishna Prasad Bhattrai, prominent political leaders like Ganeshman Singh, Surya Prasad Upadhyay, Diwan Singh Rai, Ram Narayan Mishra, and Yogendra Man Sherchan and put them behind bars inside a walled residence of an army man in Sundarijal. Army officers Samar Raj Kunwar and Surendra Bahadur Shah arrested Koirala and other leaders when they were attending a conference organized by Congress wing Nepal Tarun Dal in Thapathali.

Mahendra then promulgated a new constitution, ‘Constitution of Nepal’, on the second anniversary of the coup and outlawed all the political parties to introduce the party-less guided democracy –which would prevail in the country for the next three decades, until the 1990 Royal decree which dissolved the National Panchayat and declaration of function of political parties.

During the Panchayat era, Mahendra introduced a number of land reform programs and other development efforts such as Back to the Village National Campaign, the first amendment to the 1962 Panchayat Constitution, land settlement programs being the significant ones.

However, due to the restriction on political parties and on the background of national crisis following India’s refusal to renew the trade and treaties, the Nepali Congress and the United Left Front launched a national campaign for party system and mass protest across the nation forcing the monarchy to kneel and restore the party system.

Historian Pusushottam Basnet said former King Shah was unhappy with the election of Koirala as the prime minister.

“The palace used to, directly and indirectly, intervene in the then government duties, which soured the relationship between the king and the prime minister,” recalled Basnet.

“Many conspiracies were planned to fail the elected government. One of them is the 1960 coup,” he said.

“After the overthrowing of the people elected government, the country went opposite of rapid development and democratic rule. The works of social reformation were an obstruction and foreign aids were affected,” he said.

Koirala was released from prison with help from the then Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa in 1968 and remained in exile in Banaras until 1977.

Political parties of Nepal including the Nepali Congress, Nepal Tarun Dal, and the Nepal Communist Party observe this day Poush 1 as a black year. They look back where democratic rights were trampled on and authoritative power was single-handedly taken over by one institution.

However, during the era, Nepal also witnessed a rapid transformation in the field of infrastructure development. Transportation was developed and many highways were built. A wave of nationalism spread across the country and Nepal witnessed leaps in industry and agriculture after the Panchayat takeover. While evaluating a question still remains was the day democracy’s darkest hour or an era of Nepal’s transformation.