Sunday, February 18, 2007

Constitutionalism’s Comeback?

King Gyanendra’s Democracy Day message came loaded with a dose of political candor reminiscent of the era of active monarchy. The message, almost entirely unexpected, has sparked a predictable array of responses.
If a monarchy, for all practical purposes, in suspended animation has violated the interim constitution (in no better shape, one must add, considering the amendments being mulled), at least it wasn’t the side that started it. The government had overstepped its constitutional authority by forming a commission to probe the attack on King Gyanendra’s motorcade at Pashupati on Shivaratri.
Clearly, the interim constitution doesn’t recognize the monarchy. Nor have the arbiters of a new Nepal demonstrated the courage to confer on the king the rights and prerogatives of an ordinary citizen. They have allocated state funds to the royal family and tremble every time they discover that the disbursements remain untouched. Yet the government rushed to order an investigation into a physical attack that came nowhere close to the sustained calumny it has been heaping on the palace for the last 10 months.
King Gyanendra must have thought through his message. You can hardly quibble with the facts. With government-driven deaths during the Terai conflagration having outpaced the April Uprising toll, the context also becomes clear.
By delivering his defense of the February 1, 2005 takeover on Democracy Day, the monarch has brought to light other points. Let’s begin by considering the flip side of his profuse tributes to his grandfather. The return of King Tribhuvan from New Delhi dealt the final blow to King Gyanendra’s brief first reign. That maybe a worthless part of Nepali history to those ascendant today. It remains a significant element of the continuity of the monarchy Nepalis have hitherto experienced. Moreover, it puts the role of the current monarch in proper perspective.
Next comes the question of whether democracy actually dawned on Nepal on Fagun 7, 2007. Obviously, the anti-palace camp, including those in the Nepali Congress, believes not.
What this also means is that the Nepali Congress would have to redefine itself. Can it consider itself to be the oldest – and even only – democratic party in Nepal? Moreover, can it claim to have delivered democracy to the people twice before the rent-a-crowd tumult of last April?
And the CPN-UML? When Jhal Nath Khanal is forced to quote B.P. Koirala in describing how the Nepali people can survive without the monarchy, you get a feeling of his relevance to the debate. When you hear J.N. Comrade borrow Mod Nath Prashrit’s line and cite Buddha-era Lumbini as the paragon of Nepali republicanism, the world progressive become a little repulsive.
The Maoists are caught in their own web of lies. As if the Madhesis and janajatis haven’t done enough damage by exposing the ex-rebel top brass’ opportunism, the Indian military remains adamant in asserting their links with the ISI. C.P. Gajurel has all but conceded that Prachanda’s obsequious assertion of the Maoists having rejected ISI offers of assistance in the past was merely aimed at securing his (Gajurel’s) and Mohan Baidya’s release from Indian detention.
So when Krishna Bahadur Mahara says he believes the king’s message has underscored the urgency of establishing a republic right away, you have to ask whether he really believes this ruse can work, But, then, his party doesn’t seem to object to placing a four-year-old on the throne as long as the former rebels get the lion’s share of seats on the Regency Council.
There is a bright side to the outrage triggered by King Gyanendra’s message: a recognition of the need for a modicum of constitutionalism by those who thought they had a mandate to dispense with such distractions.