Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Monarchy Makeover?

PRIME Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s cabinet amends the royal succession laws to, in effect, allow women to ascend the throne. The Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the second ranking partner in the coalition government, wants the interim constitution to include a provision for a referendum on the monarchy. The Maoists want the interim charter to abolish the monarchy.
It’s not pleasant having to see all those cart tracks before the horse dung, especially when most of us were led to believe that the constituent assembly would determine the future of the monarchy. Moreover, wouldn’t such behavior impede those who want to go into the process of writing a new constitution on a platform of a constructive monarchy? (Audacious as it might sound now, it still could happen, but first things first.)
Placing the first-born of the monarch in the line of succession would do much to modernize the institution. It’s the traditional side of the crown that’s more of a concern. The Japanese, far ahead of us in espousing modernity as well as in adhering to tradition, are still debating the wisdom of putting a female on the throne when many royal functions appear exclusively male-driven. Our democrats have decided to gender-neutralize the crown by decree.
The Koirala cabinet seems to have looked past the complications because, well, they are complicated. Can a queen caught in a biologically unpropitious phase of the month enter Hanuman Dhoka to welcome the advent of spring and still maintain the sanctity of the event?
And the Dasain tika? Surely, a ceremonial monarch need not abandon the practice of blessing commoners on one of the most important festivals of the calendar. Even if all the other elements of sacredness were met, what of the full implications of a queenly touch on a succession of male foreheads? What about the wider effects? Wouldn’t the Kumari feel less encumbered to claim life tenure as the Living Goddess? Where will all this stop?
Clearly, it’s all politics, for now. Koirala seem wedded to a campaign to retain a ceremonial monarchy. By stripping the monarch of everything except his clothes, the government will sooner or later create enough sympathy to remake the crown. The longer the charade enacted in the name of democratic politics continues, the brighter King Gyanendra’s 15-month direct rule may shine as a model of constitutionalism.
Evidently, the UML thinks it can checkmate Koirala with the referendum call. The demand comes at a sensitive time for the party. Onetime allies of general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal are now trying to oust him as leader. Could this be the beginning of another split that might see the more hard-line UML faction merge with the Maoists?
Let’s delve deeper. Is the UML’s referendum call really aimed at the palace or the Maoists? After all, forerunners of today UML’s are credited with ensuring the victory of the Panchayat system in the 1980 referendum. Many still believe the comrades’ call for an active boycott of that plebiscite transformed into votes against a multiparty system dominated by that rabid anti-communist, B.P. Koirala.
A UML-driven vote in favor of a monarchy would be far more significant than Koirala’s public support, without the obvious political costs. No wonder the Maoists want the monarchy abolished right away.
But isn’t that also a nice way of demanding a place in an interim government without having to disarm? Technically speaking, the Nepali Congress and the Jhapali comrades haven’t accounted for the weapons they wielded in pursuit of their political objectives.
Could there be more to the Maoists’ stepped-up anti-monarchy offensive, like, say, a desire to precipitate a palace intervention on behalf of armed rebels joining a government of national reconciliation? All political roads still seem to lead to palace, don’t they?