Monday, October 01, 2007

Koirala’s Crown Of Thorns

So Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has lost patience with King Gyanendra. Evidently, the fact that the monarch trailed the acting head of state to Kumari Ghar by an hour to seek the blessings of the “living goddess” hasn’t mitigated the circumstance.
Koirala rung up royal secretary Pashupati Bhakta Maharjan demanding an explanation for this act of defiance. (One wonders why he chose not to summon Maharjan to the prime minister’s residence.) Then the premier stared down army chief Rookmangad Katuwal with a demand to whittle down the palace’s security personnel. (To what avail, one might ask, considering the kumari’s consent to adorn the royal forehead.)
Koirala’s discontent is understandable. His debut at Indra Jatra – that ultimate symbol of his usurpation of royal religious rights – was hardly propitious. The kumari’s chariot malfunctioned, among other things, sending shivers down the spines of the more traditional constituencies of the capital. Koirala must have wondered whether the omen applied to himself or to the king.
There is a deeper malaise. Having finally acknowledged that Nepal’s sovereignty and independence were imperiled, the premier hasn’t been able to rally the cabinet, much less the nation, behind him. More and more people consider him the cause of this impending jeopardy and want him to shed his penchant for the cryptic. Clearly, there can be no grandeur in a design wrapped in a riddle for so long.
Indeed, the Nepali Congress’ reunification marked a personal vindication for the premier. Five years ago, Sher Bahadur Deuba and other dissidents broke away from the party primarily because they didn’t like their onetime mentor. If anything, their return represented a collective reversal of that sentiment.
No one expected a historically fractious party to shed that legacy. But the Nepali Congress’ post-reunification amity couldn’t last a day. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, the only surviving founder, quit the Nepali Congress less in defense of the monarchy than in defiance of his longtime nemesis.
The “royalist” wing of the party – led by the premier’s daughter, Sujata – seems to be stockpiling for a battle a little further down the road. For now, the Nepali Congress’ platform of republicanism has allowed candor to overwhelm conviction. That alone portends the agonizing wait Nepalis must endure for constituent assembly elections.
Steroid shots or not, Koirala seems eager to keep up his head of state swagger and shtick. The artifice is most apparent when it comes to officiating tradition. A family background of brazen agnosticism doesn’t quite gel with the religious demands of his elevation. And certainly less so in an officially secular nation. It’s hard to believe that our premier has become a born-again Hindu of sorts.
Koirala, to be sure, doesn’t have the luxury of taking on the Maoists and the monarchy together. The last time he did that, he ended up reading out his resignation speech before the TV cameras. With Sher Bahadur Deuba growing more sympathetic of the Maoists’ increasingly strident pre-election demands, Koirala must be quite aware of the other parallels at play.
As for the Maoists, the ex-ministers can’t quit venting their exasperation with the absolutism they saw in full regalia at Baluwatar. There’s no public sign of the ex-rebels’ reversion to their pre-February 1, 2005 proximity vis-à-vis the palace on issues of nationalism. The atmosphere is conducive enough, though. (The fully proportional voting system the Maoists are demanding would help the opposite extreme of the spectrum as well, wouldn’t it?)
Since the premier has now firmly trained his guns on the palace, there must be some inclination to squeeze the trigger a bit harder. The logical question is obvious. Will we now see a special session of the interim legislature adopt that formal resolution abolishing the monarchy?
It all depends on how deep Koirala’s outrage really is. It’s possible, after all, that the premier merely sought to deflect the Nepali Congress delegation’s dissatisfaction by voicing some of his own. And, of course, give some respite to the Maoists.