Sunday, June 17, 2007

An Enfeebled Premier’s Infantile Royalism

It’s pretty clear how Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is saddled with the unenviable job staking out that space between the monarch and the Maoists. With almost clock-like precision, after his latest taming of Prachanda, he’s back to the abdication business.
If King Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras step aside, Nepal has some chance of keeping the monarchy under a Queen Purnika or King Hridayendra. Does our premier really think Nepalis are that stupid?
We know how badly Koirala needs a fig leaf to rally behind the monarchy. But a child monarch? When’s the last time that happened? When the current monarch was a toddler, of course. But, really, hasn’t our turbulent history of minors on the throne done enough to negate that option for a new Nepal? Or has senility set in our perennial premier so seriously now that he hopes to do another Bhimsen Thapa or Jang Bahadur Rana?
It’s easy to sympathise with Koirala’s desperation. That honeymoon with Prachanda was a fiction that had to blow up in his face sooner or later once India was reasonably satisfied with the onset of the ex-rebels’ decline.
Prachanda, by no means a quitter, is pestering Koirala by advertising all those phone calls he’s made recently to royal secretary Pashupati Bhakta Maharjan. And that China card? With two out of the country’s three power centres leaning northward, the Nepali Congress’ prospects are not promising. On top of that, Sher Bahadur Deuba keeps upping the stakes in his demand for a respectable unification of his faction.
Prime ministerial daughter and would-be successor as party president, Sujata Koirala, must be pushing the old man to the wall. The longer the media focuses on the price tag of her purse, the real message is going to get more muddled. The Nepali Congress needs to come out firmly – and publicly – behind the monarchy before the party hurtles any further toward extinction. How longer can that imperative be left to the likes of K.B. Gurung to hammer home.
Now things are going to get worse if vice-president Sushil Koirala were to lose his voice to cancer. Who’s going to go after the Young Communist League marauders with so little to lose?
Prime Minister Koirala, to be sure, can’t appear to be seen capitulating to either the palace or the Maoists in order to preserve his legacy. For one thing, this whole myth about the Nepali Congress having restored King Tribhuvan to the throne in 1951 and having forced King Birendra to his knees four decades later would dissolve into the cloudiness of his “grand design” bluster. Moreover, we still don’t know the precise terms of the compromise that resulted in King Gyanendra’s decision to restore the House of Representatives.
But should Koirala be insulting the intelligence of Nepalis in such a brazen way? He says the current king can either go abroad to a life in exile or run his businesses from Nepal. That’s a pretty wide range of choice. By implication, the would-be ex-crown prince would be free to swing his entire line of golf clubs at Gokarna.
Logically, a Queen Purnika or King Hridayendra would reign under their mother’s regency. Unless, of course, the eight parties form separate council. Regardless, who do they think the girl or boy would listen to? Mom, Dad and Granddad – even if in that precise order – or a self-appointed panel populated by people who have already done so much to denigrate the monarchy?
If Koirala really thinks King Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras are that unpopular, why doesn’t he let the sovereign people decide in a referendum? Better still, why not ask the people whether they think a minor king can even be contemplated as a component of a new Nepal?
Or is the premier somehow suggesting that the current monarch and heir apparent would be allowed rule from behind the throne. In any case, shouldn’t Koirala, the Great Democrat he is, be asking Princess Purnika and Prince Hridayendra – through their legally designated guardian – whether they’d really like that fast-track deal?