Friday, January 20, 2006

Secret Disservice

"Nepal monarchy's secret plan to undermine opposition." The Indo-Asian News Service headline grabbed Maila Baje's attention.
The lead was a disappointment. One expected to read about the palace's latest Machiavellian ruse to marginalize the mainstream parties. Instead, the storyline was how the palace under King Birendra – that constitutional monarch par excellence until the other day -- plotted to regain absolute powers in the early 1990s.
"The royal family, forced to hand over power to a democratic government after a mass movement for people's rights in 1990, has been pursuing a secret plan to snuff out the opposition parties and regain control."
The story, which the IANS' Kathmandu-based reporter picked up from a Nepali tabloid, was doubly disappointing. It quoted a "secret document, written in Nepali with some English expressions, drawn up in consultation with a former army official working in the palace, a top official of the National Sports Council and a former bureaucrat, who is no longer alive."
The succeeding paragraphs hardly conveyed anything that was not already known. Of course, the palace worked to regain its powers. After all, it considered the Jana Andolan a foreign-hatched usurpation. (Remember that royal conclave immediately after Queen Aishwarya's car was stoned at Pashupati?)
After offering some background, consisting of what has become a mandatory condemnation of King Mahendra's reign, the report stated how the palace rooted for Girija Prasad Koirala as prime minister.
Why? So that he could crack down on the fledgling communist parties of that time as the main enemy of the crown with their bent toward a king-less republic. (Maila Baje would hardly consider the commies fledgling.)
Of course, IANS forgot to mention that Koirala was the only contender for premier from the Nepali Congress, which won a majority in the 1991 election. Ganesh Man Singh did not contest and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai lost. (G.P. Koirala is described as having assumed the leadership of the Nepali Congress after his brother B.P. died of cancer. In fact, B.P. left the party to the troika, while Bhattarai was the acting president. Since the Nepali Congress is on its own path of revising history, it can hardly be expected to object to such glaring errors.)
According to IANS, the "secret" report identified several districts in Nepal's Tarai plains, neighboring India, as having been bitten by the "democracy bug." Anyone familiar with Rastriya Panchayat member Gajendra Narayan Singh's Sadbhavana Parishad fully comprehended the Tarai's combustible qualities. Of course, many of the fears turned out to be misplaced.
IANS credits the "secret" document with having correctly predicted a rebellious tendency in key districts in midwestern Nepal. Left-wing radicals who would go on to form the core of today's Maoists were already active in local Panchayat politics in Rolpa and Pyuthan.
Then comes this gem: "The master plan also advocated making use of religious organizations since they were likely to support active monarchy as the king is revered as the supreme ruler in Hinduism and Buddhism." How instructive!
With key inaccuracies having eroded the credibility of the story, Maila Baje pinned great hope in the reporter's commitment to balance. "There was no immediate official reaction to the report," the last sentence read. Come on, an unofficial one was only a phone call away.