Sunday, November 05, 2006

Relentless Sounds Of Royal Silence

Seven months after he was shoved to the sidelines, King Gyanendra is now tormenting his critics by his silence. Could this be the lull before a thunderous storm? Or is the hush symptomatic of a drawn-out obliteration of Nepal’s oldest institution?
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala may have articulated the ceremonial-monarchy agenda in keeping with his illustrious brother’s attitudes. B.P. Koirala, after all, accepted King Mahendra’s decision to grant the constitution the Delhi Compromise envisaged an elected constituent assembly would draft. Decades later, by accepting the 1980 referendum results in favor of the Panchayat system, B.P. almost single-handedly extended the partyless system’s life by a decade.
G.P. may have bested his bro. Avowed republicans like Nepali Congress general secretary Ram Chandra Poudel now argue that their party would contemplate kinglessness at its own convenience. The Narahari Acharyas can demand an official declaration of Nepali Congress policy on the monarchy all they want. They might get a better hearing in the anti-king lobby in the rival Nepali Congress (Democratic) under Bimalendra Nidhi.
For all their anti-king bluster, the Maoists and the CPN-UML seem to be competing to woo the palace. If the Seven Party Alliance (SPA)-Maoist accord were actually made of real stuff, Nepalis already would have voted in a republic. Filling all those blanks in the interim constitution draft would be as difficult as agreeing on the number of keys the locks to Maoist arms should have. Once that is decided, someone might want to ask whether the Maoist-palace accord Narayan Singh Pun facilitated in 2003 has actually been repudiated by either side.
The UML is in a worse mess. Government engineers may still be able to squeeze in the Maoists into an already crowded parliament chamber. The UML would have to cede some of its prime positions in the cabinet to make room for the Maoists. (Unless, of course, the donor community is ready to make a one-time exception and accede to the creation of more ministries in the name of peace.)
The UML’s referendum-on-the-king posture thus makes sense as an exercise in self-preservation. Yet the real motive may be to draw the palace into an electoral contest. (A taxpaying king, after all, is entitled to representation, isn’t he?)
Disgrace former home minister Kamal Thapa made a bold beginning by stepping down as president of his Rastriya Prajatanta Party faction. The more important news is that Rabindra Nath Sharma has taken over as party chief. Add Surya Bahadur Thapa to the Koirala-Sharma combine and you can see the clear contours of the pro-monarchy front to challenge the commies.
The days and weeks ahead are likely to get more interesting regardless of what transpires in the “summit” talks. With its traditional pillars having shed their prefix, can royal activism henceforth be really seen and heard from now on?
It sure can be felt. Having braved SPA arrows for months, the judiciary has hit back by reinstating Major General Pradeep Pratap Malla. It would be harder to equate a military coup with the palace’s quest for absolute power when the king is no longer supreme commander.
It is tempting to ridicule that right-wing outfit’s threat to launch an armed movement in support of the king. But look at the cost we’re still paying for having dismissed the Maoists the same way a decade ago?
US Ambassador James F. Moriarty and UN Representative Ian Martin have elaborated on Comrade Rohit’s contention that the key to our peace process lies in Delhi. Maoist leader Matrika Yadav has narrowed the custodian down to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
If so, protocol might prevent Deputy Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli from unlocking the problem during his current visit. Age and health allow Prime Minister Koirala to make another trip to Delhi to click everything open.
And consider one political change there. The Ministry of External Affairs is now headed by a traditional Congress member who as defence minister was the principal advocate of engagement with King Gyanendra’s regime. A mere shuffling of portfolios is unlikely to have altered Pranab Mukherjee’s basic position, especially concerning the preponderance of royal scions in the Congress party.
To those who wonder whether Singh or Mukherjee have the clout to influence Nepal policy with Sonia Gandhi calling the shots, here’s something to chew on: We don’t really know whether Rajiv Gandhi’s troubled relationship with King Birendra really extended to the current monarch, do we?
In the end, here’s what everything boils down to: Nepalis may believe they are capable of running the country without the king. The external stakeholders don’t seem to be so sure. Now, isn’t the royal silence getting real scary?