Sunday, January 22, 2006

Royal Resolve

To allies and adversaries alike, King Gyanendra has in the past few days reinforced his credentials as an iron-willed man. It takes extraordinary hardiness to act on your convictions in the midst of such adversity.
The defining feature of the monarch's televised address to the nation last February while seizing power from Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's multiparty government was the lumping together of the mainstream parties and Maoist rebels as the bane of the country. (Did that in any way inspire the 12-point accord between the two forces?)
The palace's intensification the anti-Maoist campaign, its refusal to recognize the rebels' truce as genuine and its determination to firmly deal with mainstream parties if they veered closer to the insurgents – all these suggested that King Gyanendra meant every word he said in that speech. And, yes, including those he used to reaffirm his commitment to multiparty democracy.
The Nepalese people are free to debate the meaning, content and implications of a term that has seen great malleability at home and abroad. For the Ranas, their system of hereditary rule was the best form of participatory politics in the best interest of the masses. The panchas saw partylessness as a route of ensuring all the benefits of democracy without its principal ills. The Maoists have demonstrated that their version of newness rests on the destruction of the old. All in the name of the people.
The people have been quite observant. The performance of Nepal's mainstream parties while in power was no different from that of their counterparts in other newly democratizing countries. The problem was that the hunger for power and the lust to retain it came with a dangerous dose of complacency.
The Nepali Congress and the UML saw in the restoration of multiparty democracy some kind of mandate to monopolize their hold on power. The monarchy, in each group's view, was useful only as a tactical tool in bolstering its position against the other.
King Gyanendra is castigated for blaming the mainstream parties and the rebels for wrecking Nepal while giving himself a free pass. Maila Baje doesn't believe the monarch thinks the palace's role has been above-board, either.
Relegated to the margins of politics in 1990, the palace was evidently busy nursing its wounds.The core of the constitution the palace hoped to promulgate was excised from what actually was announced. Constitutional monarchy did not envisage an indifferent or passive head of state.
We didn't need Maoist ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai to tell us that his organization had a working alliance with the palace. It was obvious that the active monarchists and Maoists were united in their opposition to the monopolization of power by the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninists.
King Birendra and his advisers seemed content to let public perceptions of royal empathy for the rebels to run wild. The perils of that policy have come to haunt the palace. More than four years after the supreme commander in chief ordered his soldiers to go after the rebels, much of the country still believes the palace is actually running the rebellion. (The Maoists, by their total abandonment of violence in eastern Nepal during the king's recent three-week tour, seem to acknowledge the relevance of the monarchy in their current scheme of things.)
Throughout the 1990s, King Birendra failed to demonstrate the resolve to reverse the rot in the mainstream in time. In the last year of his reign, the monarch seemed to have begun to grasp the impact of his inaction. Tragedy intervened before he could.
Although the new monarch was less popular than his predecessor, the succession rested on the resiliency of the institution. King Gyanendra recognized that fate had thrust upon him unexpected responsibilities. Once he wore the crown, he lost no time in zeroing on his mission. Among his first sustained expressions: "Don't expect me to stand idly by like my brother."
In retrospect, King Gyanendra appears to have drawn a dislike for the political leadership from the father he is compared with in so many other ways. King Mahendra had repeatedly characterized parties as corrupt and divisive and accused them of being pawns of foreign powers.
King Gyanendra's views were not shaped by genetics. During their second stint in power, the parties failed again to prove themselves as capable agents of change. The assertion from the political mainstream that King Gyanendra was against democracy per se reflected the narcissism that had gripped the parties.
As we continue debating whether Nepal really needs a monarchy, King Gyanendra seems to have made up his mind. He is going to sit on the throne the way he feels comfortable.