Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Insulted But Not Humiliated

Around this time last year, he was designated Asia’s most humiliated man. This year King Gyanendra – according to the same bestower – is the “humiliated scarecrow of the institution that helped bring Nepal together as a nation-state.”
Evidently, the monarch does not share the sense of mortification conveyed by this gentleman, whom the Voice of America described as “one of Nepal’s most influential civic voices.”
The day after he received last year’s title, King Gyanendra issued a public statement welcoming the comprehensive peace agreement. Those who mocked what they considered the monarch’s eagerness to take credit for the mainstream-Maoist rapprochement weren’t jeering on for too long.
This year’s designation didn’t deter King Gyanendra from discharging the crown’s Dasain duties within the palace perimeter and outside. Stung by his ill-conceived reaction to the monarch’s visit to Kumari Ghar the previous month, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala chose to play it cool this time.
The public turnout at Narayanhity for the traditional Dasain tika may not have merited headlines in the Nepalese media (much of which was on holiday any way). The scant coverage it did receive outside the country seemed to have forced some to pause a bit. (“Festival shows uneroded Hindu support for Nepal king,” went one. “Embattled but still revered: Nepal lines up before King,” read another.)
Coincidental or not, one Maoist leader, C.P. Gajurel, indicated his party’s readiness to drop its demand that the interim legislature announce the abolition of the monarchy. How far that stance would reinforce the Maoists’ other demand – a fully proportional electoral system – remains to be seen.
What matters far more is our wider predicament. Domestically, the utter senselessness of the Six Party Alliance (SPA)-Maoist accord forged in New Delhi in November 2005 was apparent from the outset. For its external sponsor, the tie-up made tactical sense.
For New Delhi, the singular objective of the April Uprising was to forestall the reconfiguration of Nepalese statehood along monarchical lines. That, too, only after the royal regime’s tenaciousness in correcting Nepal’s detrimental southern tilt appeared irreversible.
Autocracy became a convenient cover to discredit the monarchy’s effort to widen Nepal’s sovereign space. The bad news: the slur stuck to the seven-party oligarchy. As “democracy” deepened Nepal’s drift, its civil society contractors couldn’t skirt responsibility. New Delhi, meanwhile, set out to operationalize the second phase of the SPA-Maoist pact.
The systematic marginalization of the ex-rebels in the name of a muddled peace process might have succeeded but for the activism of the other two external players. Geography and topography would shield America and China from the worst turbulence emanating from Nepal. How insulated could India expect to be?
That was their problem. What about ours? When a retired Indian general asserted that New Delhi might feel compelled to send in its troops unilaterally, many rushed to condemn him. Yet few in Nepal felt the urgency of pulling the country from the brink of a disaster that could easily precipitate such preemption.
Following Army Chief Rookmangad Katuwal’s assertion that his soldiers would never mount a coup, might the external dimensions of a stabilization initiative come into sharper focus? Now that would be some humiliation, wouldn’t it?