Sunday, July 08, 2007

Brooding After The Birthday Bash

Fiasco or fright? Fewer than 200 out of the 800 or so invitees showed up for King Gyanendra’s diamond jubilee dinner. Anywhere between 2,000 and 15,000 thronged the palace to greet the monarch on his 61st birthday.
The Maoist Young Communist League (YCL) had vowed to scuttle the celebrations, but fell short. Politicos and pundits within the Seven Party Alliance had dismissed the celebrations as irrelevant. They, too, had their eyes glued on the turnout. Leading anti-monarchy publications carried editorials on the worthlessness of the three-day extravaganza, ignoring the apparent contradiction therein.
You’d think the SPA constituents would tone down their criticism of the YCL goons for a while. But, no, new apprehensions have emerged. Did the YCL politicize the royal bash as part of a Maoist understanding with the palace? Could it be purely coincidental, moreover, that influential sections of the Indian media chose this moment to allude to King Gyanendra’s “open channels” to the Maoists and the madhesis?
Things became really unbearable for the ruling elite when the palace sent out those invitations. For almost a year and half, they’ve tried everything to discredit the monarchy. Asia’s most humiliated man, in the words of a leading critic, somehow seems impervious to disgrace.
Yet that’s not the real problem. Most opinion polls still show the country evenly split on the issue of abolishing the monarchy. According to a survey by one weekly newspaper, over half of the respondents believed it was impolite of the diplomatic corps to have rebuffed the palace invitation.
It’s immaterial whether the Foreign Ministry really had urged the ambassadors to shun the palace. The justification the envoys gave was revealing. In the existing circumstances, they suggested, attending the celebrations would not be useful. Implicit in the emphasis on the present are the possibilities of the future.
The monarchy remains in suspension, awaiting the verdict of the constituent assembly. The prime minister, having started receiving the credentials of ambassadors, is now the chief spectator of Machhindranath’s bhoto.
Like any other recipient of a suspension order, the monarchy, too, can reclaim its role, provided the elected assembly votes to retain the crown. As a taxpayer without direct links to state institutions, the king could perhaps expect greater representation in national life.
What if the elections continue to be postponed for one reason or the other? The SPA and Maoists can’t go on blaming the palace without exposing their own ineptitude. Surely, moreover, there must be some sort of a statute of limitations. The monarchy can’t be expected to wait eternally for a constituent assembly to assemble. Could this be why Surya Bahadur Thapa and Pashupati Shamsher Rana, whose parties have dropped constitution monarchy from their statutes, nevertheless chose to greet King Gyanendra in their personal capacity?
Then there’s the conspicuous absence of Army chief Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal and his principal deputies from the festivities? Is this another indication that the military has severed its traditional links with the crown? Or could it be an admonition from the top brass to ordinary Nepalis not to equate that much-anticipated coup with that cliché called royalist regression?
The SPA government has ruled the country as long as the royal regime. As Nepal’s problems multiply, the ruling alliance believes it can set things straight once it gets the monarchy out of the way. It has the interim mandate and the necessary votes in the interim legislature to do just that before the constituent assembly elections. So why can’t they vote in a republic by acclamation?
Surely, not because they have lost some of their hatred for the monarchy. Nor because they have grown more fearful of the Maoists. It’s because they know they haven’t earned the trust of the country – and beyond – as post-monarchy custodians.