Monday, November 20, 2006

The Anxiety Behind The Exultation

Behind their exultation in the Rayamajhi Commission’s indictment of King Gyanendra for “suppressing” the democracy protests in April, you can feel a deepening disquiet among the monarch's opponents over his seeming indifference to the successive pounding his image has taken.
For all his bluster at the New Delhi leadership conference and in media interviews on the sidelines, Maoist chairman Prachanda still believes the monarch is capable of preventing things from going the rebels’ way.
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said more about the state of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA)-Maoist consensus than about the palace’s plight in rejecting demands for a referendum on the monarchy. A referendum, the prime minister said, would allow King Gyanendra to demonstrate his standing and thereby demand some “space”. Even the nation’s preeminent ceremonial monarchist doesn’t seem to believe in the soundness of his own platform.
The wily UML comrades, for their part, are quietly keeping their options open. In the emerging realignment, the mainstream Reds know they hold the strongest royalist card fortified by an innate advantage of plausible deniability.
How does King Gyanendra feel about all this? Amused, might be the appropriate word. He is being asked to take responsibility for the deaths of 22 protesters (hadn’t the toll reached 24 at one point?), while the man responsible for 13,000 deaths gets to rub shoulders with former prime ministers in the world’s largest democracy where his organization is still considered a terrorist group. (Who knows when Prachanda will disclose how and where he met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi? When neither is able or unwilling to respond, perhaps.)
Forget the 13,000 lives claimed by a decade of violence the Maoists started. Take the Madi bus bombing in June 2005 that killed 36 people. What kind of responsibility are Prachanda and his people going to take? The rebel chief once said he would offer compensation to victims’ family, but then demurred after discovering how that gesture might prompt an enquiry into Maoist finances.
At least the 22 (24?) dead protesters and their families knew there was a curfew in place and that the state had vowed to enforce it with the full force of the law. The Madi bus passengers couldn’t have known there were soldiers on board even if they had been aware of the “crime” in sharing a trip.
King Gyanendra knew he was gambling his throne when he took over direct control. From February to November of last year, the hectic haggling of his external critics in exchange for their support was audible. Only when China backed its arrival as an observer at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation with arms supplies to the Royal Nepalese Army did the SPA-Maoist alliance gain any traction. (If the African summit in Beijing and China’s reiteration of its claim on India’s Arunachal Pradesh on the eve of President Hu Jintao’s arrival in New Delhi is anything to go by, Nepal can hardly consider to have attained geopolitical equilibrium.)
If that 12-point accord – and the staid string of successors – had even half of the robustness the signatories flaunted, Nepalis would have by now voted in a constituent assembly elections without the monarchy being in the picture. The Maoists, forget the SPA, wouldn’t have called off the movement if they had really owned the message or momentum.
It was clear when Prachanda reinstated Dr. Baburam Bhattarai to his party positions without having resolved the original dispute that he was acting under some pressure. When Prachanda went a step further and dispatched Dr. Bhattarai to hold talks first with Indian mediators and then SPA leaders summoned to Delhi, he had to either outdo his deputy’s India-friendliness or perish.
With allies like Comrades Gaurav and Kiran in detention in India, Prachanda knew what his priority had to be. Whipping up the bogey of Pakistan’s ISI and making all the sounds his audience would love to hear, Prachanda tried his best in New Delhi over the weekend to burnish his credentials.
How could King Gyanendra not feel the heat from the first official report in the history of Nepal indicting the monarch? For a man who ascended to the throne amid allegations of having committed regicide, fratricide and everything else imaginable, nothing could be painful. Moreover, the monarch knew that whatever he said wouldn’t have stopped the Rayamajhi Commission from blaming him anyway.
As for the notion of a god-king having fallen from his pedestal, well, the palace is most familiar with the pitfalls. The Ranas used the divinity argument to keep successive kings out of public sight and any role.
King Gyanendra, for his part, clearly told that interviewer from Time magazine that he didn’t consider himself to be divine in any way. If the western media love the news peg, then they’re free to use it.
After all, Vishnu’s halo didn’t prevent King Birendra’s entire family from those wicked calumnies nobody could either prove or have the courage to retract. When it came time for the parties to deliver, they had to change course and project him as a model constitutional monarch. Of course, it was only after King Gyanendra’s takeover that party leaders began explaining how the slain king was not the exemplar they had so assiduously made him out to be.
As for the future of the crown amid all of today’s turbulence, a monarch who never planned his official coronation throughout the three and a half years he was in total control, King Gyanendra must have thoughts of his own.