Sunday, June 11, 2006

Ponderings Inside The Palace

By sending the reinstated House of Representatives (HoR) into suspended animation, the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) has moved halfway toward meeting the Maoists’ principal precondition to continuing the peace process.
Although Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala – newly emboldened by consultations in India -- has refused to walk the full walk and dissolve the HoR, the Maoists seem to be reasonably assured of the SPA’s good faith. Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula has held preliminary talks with Maoist supremo Prachanda and his deputy Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, among others, ostensibly in preparation for the full “summit” between the representatives of the two states.
Clearly, the SPA and the Maoists have achieved their minimum program: emasculation of the royal palace in the run-up to the constituent assembly polls. The substantial portion of the legislative proceedings was focused on trimming royal powers through last month’s “historic” Proclamation and last week’s HoR regulations. It was only when MPs ventured into such radical programs as outlawing untouchability and ensuring gender equality that the Maoists started becoming agitated.
What might the thinking be inside the Narayanhity perimeter? The overall silence maintained by all those who are in a position to know has encouraged Maila Baje to take another of his occasional dips into the royal mind.
Since the entire program of restructuring the Nepalese state is being envisaged without consultation with the head of state – much less the very institution that led the campaign to establish the nation -- King Gyanendra must feel he is already living in a republican Nepal.
There cannot be much ceremonial in a monarch who has to pay taxes, can be hauled into court, cannot be assured of his successor and cannot assent legislation, forget about vetoing it.
In such a scenario, the monarch must have been tempted to voluntarily announce his abdication and formally abolish the monarchy. Apart from the singular contribution such an action would make to history, it also makes operational sense.
In retrospect, King Gyanendra’s roadmap wasn’t devoid of substance. The monarch simply stood no chance of overcoming the “autocratic” tag Nepalese political parties and foreign organizations conferred on him for a variety of seemingly disparate reasons.
The monarch probably grasped the enormity of his undertaking by the direction of the media coverage. In the weeks after the February 1, 2005 royal takeover, publications and outlets that did their best to “prove” that Crown Prince Dipendra murdered his parents, siblings and other royals before turning the gun on himself revived an intriguing interest in how King Gyanendra happened to be out of town and how his wife and son escaped the wrath of his deranged nephew.
Conspiracy, by definition, cannot be conceived in isolation. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, officially in charge of royal palace affairs during the night of the massacre, was never held accountable for dereliction of duty. He’s too busy these days institutionalizing democracy.
Madhav Kumar Nepal, who admonished King Gyanendra to form an official inquiry commission and originally consented to sit on it before refusing, can talk about institutionalizing transparency in royal palace affairs.
Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who praised King Birendra and each of his predecessors for their deep nationalism and profound contributions the Nepalese people would glorify unto eternity, can hold King Gyanendra accountable for 238 years of pillage and plunder by the Shah Dynasty.
Dilendra Prasad Badu, the assistant sports minister who accompanied Crown Prince Dipendra and – we are told – Devyani Rana to the Sydney Olympics, is communications minister today. No journalist has thought of asking him whether he saw any signs of impending calamity.
From Dr. Bhattarai’s own exegesis, King Birendra paid the ultimate price for his refusal to allow Nepal to become, among other things, a launch pad for the containment of China. The last few months of King Birendra’s reign leaned very much toward the pro-Chinese tilt King Gyanendra espoused after seizing full executive control. If the mere apprehension of royal action could lead to such horrific consequences, King Gyanendra is too mortal not to count the costs of actually carrying it out.
The alacrity with which the HoR voted to transform Nepal from the world’s only Hindu Kingdom into a secular state forced Maila Baje to recall that doctor who had arrived in Kathmandu to treat protesters before being deported by the royal regime. Missionary zeal, at least in this sense, could be converted into heavenly merits several times over.
Would these few weeks of reflection be enough to encourage King Gyanendra toward boldness? The abolition of the monarchy would not mark the end of the Shahs’ political role. The core of the royal roadmap, enhancing security and stability in a tiny state sandwiched between the two Asian giants while deriving the benefits from the rapid economic modernization of both, remains relevant.
As a private citizen, the former monarch could create a new political force. Western-educated Shah and Rana youths whose commitment to and stake in an independent Nepal has brought them home could join hands with a plethora of like-minded people. The former monarch and former crown prince can use their vast international contacts to promote Nepal abroad.
Abdication, in this sense, would not be an admission of defeat; it would be the creation of an alternative route toward shaping the Nepalese state. Would a ruler who coveted absolute power until the other day have the valor to voluntarily abolish the monarchy? Maila Baje can’t rule it out.