Sunday, June 03, 2007

Carnage Anniversary & Creepy Anticipation

The Narayanhity Carnage anniversary went largely unmarked this year. And for good reason, at least from the perspective of the Eight Party Alliance (EPA)-led power elite.
Unlike previous years, there was no longer any logic to eulogizing King Birendra as the antithesis of the current monarch. When the EPA’s overt objective still is to do away with the throne, accusing King Gyanendra of usurping it is obviously a waste of time.
Last June, despite its capitulation, the palace was still a palpable player. The fact that the House of Representatives owed its resurrection to King Gyanendra’s proclamation was pretty apparent. Since the interim constitution doesn’t recognize the king, and the debris from royal statues lays strewn across the landscape, the monarchy is on its way out, right?
Not so fast. In varying degrees of conviction, the communist factions that dominate the interim legislature believe constituent assembly elections can’t be held as long as the monarchy exists. In terms of shifting the goalposts, our comrades are very supple. For an embattled palace, the good news is that the only way it can head is up.
Despite the sustained calumny, the crown continues to draw the support of roughly half of the people, according to most opinion polls. As any pollster knows, the large “undecided” column is the place to watch.
With the military having emerged as the most trustworthy national institution in the latest poll, the threat of a coup seems to have risen. Maoist chairman Prachanda has discounted the possibility of an army-backed palace takeover. Yet even he recognizes that warnings of impending authoritarianism are being sounded by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, not some royal rep on a palace-appointed cabinet.
Prachanda’s deputy, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, has conceded that the Maoists respected Koirala only for his international legitimacy. On the defensive vis-à-vis the constituent assembly elections over the past few weeks, Koirala has now turned the tables on the Maoists.
If the elections are to be held on schedule, a modicum of law and order is what is really needed – not an arbitrary declaration of a republic. This can’t be news to Prachanda. Long before the premier, the Maoist chief had publicly acknowledged that a mere legislative declaration of a republic wouldn’t force the monarch onto the next flight out of the country.
It was significant that Koirala chose June 2, the Nepali-calendar anniversary of the palace massacre, to renew his threat to institute drastic measures to restore law and order. If Koirala succeeds in mobilizing the army against forces of instability, that would no doubt be a belated personal triumph.
But he hardly seems to be in a mood to rejoice. It’s Dr. Bhattarai’s “international” dimension our premier is really zeroing on. At the South Asian summit in Delhi in April, Koirala declared he had staked his six decades of politics on the mainstreaming the Maoists. The Young Communist League (YCL)’s antics have forced the premier to reconsider the wisdom of that accomplishment on various external planes.
Former premier Sher Bahadur Deuba has returned from China, ostensibly having assured our northern neighbors of the Nepali Congress’ recognition of geopolitics since its last stint in power. The longer Prachanda persists with playing China and India off against each other in his search for the best patronage, the greater the chances of an ultimate fiasco.
China may have opted out of the Diplomatic Corps’ statement demanding the security and safety of foreign envoys, in the aftermath of the YCL’s attack on US Ambassador James F. Moriarty’s vehicle. But it would be wrong to construe that Beijing’s pragmatism comes with unlimited patience. More so, when a US Assistant Secretary of State arrives in Kathmandu for the express purpose of encouraging the government to set the date for the elections.
On the southern front, an EPA delegation is sounding out the official mood of India. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has affirmed his intention to take the Bharatiya Janata Party into confidence while proceeding with his Nepal policy.
Newspapers close to the New Delhi establishment are becoming more candid in asserting the urgency of giving the monarchy a “toehold”. Gandhi family confidants, moreover, remind us that it was then-Prince Gyanendra who kept open those vital channels of communication during King Birendra’s 1988-90 standoff with Rajiv Gandhi. When Rajiv lost power, Prince Gyanendra still maintained contact. King Gyanendra’s message to Sonia Gandhi after her Congress Party won the 2004 elections, we are told, didn’t come out of the blue.
The death of former army chief Satchit Shamsher Rana, the man the Indian media reviled as the chief architect of King Gyanendra’s takeover, may or may not have helped clear the air between the two dynasties. The fate of the Bhutanese refugees’ Long March was nevertheless emblematic of the extent of New Delhi’s reciprocity to friendly royals.
The Nepali Congress, mindful of its own history, is sticking its finger in the wind. Leaders of both factions are blowing hot and cold on unity prospects primarily to keep the communists guessing. Unity will eventually come and the catalyst will likely be the Nepal Army. Those wary of a military intervention should look not at Pakistan, but Bangladesh – perhaps even Thailand – for parallels.
An army-backed Nepali Congress-led broader democratic front under the monarchy sounds too far-fetched? After the 1951 democratic upsurge, few Nepalis had envisaged the Shahs and Ranas ending up as a single power center.