Saturday, November 10, 2007

In Substance, The Challenge Stands

It’s one of those mystifying moments again. A government minister publicly claims that the Maoists and the monarchists have joined hands in a grand alliance against the mainstream democrats.
Prithvi Subba Gurung’s assertion comes days after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala purportedly told his extended family that King Gyanendra had emerged the real winner from the mêlée called the peace process.
The geopolitical strokes are no less intriguing. Sonia Gandhi, the most powerful personage in the world’s most populous democracy, goes to China tugging along royal relative Karan Singh. After that, Wang Hongwei, the preeminent Chinese spokesman on Nepalese affairs passes an opportunity to go ballistic on King Gyanendra’s direct rule.
Then comes a bit of history. Indira Gandhi almost took up King Birendra’s offer of asylum for her extended family after she lost the 1977 elections amid popular revulsion over her emergency rule. By now, you’re forced to wonder whether the Rajiv Gandhi-King Birendra frostiness was really as icy as it was made out to be on the eve of April Uprising I.
Then-Prince Gyanendra was reportedly the intermediary, a former Indian foreign secretary told us in the aftermath of the 2001 palace massacre. That assertion came in an effort to quell growing speculation that the newly enthroned monarch was congenitally anti-Indian.
Six years down the road, the Indians are eager to punish the king for shifting the geopolitical locus of South Asia northward by bringing China into SAARC. But how far can you go when a dynasty’s genetically dominant heart disease skips a generation and strikes Crown Prince Paras.
The notion of a Baby King – enthroning the monarch’s grandson Hridayendra to revitalize the institution – hasn’t quite warmed up the hearts of monarchists. Circumstances have helped King Gyanendra reiterate the reality that, in a monarchy, you don’t get to choose the king.
With India once again on the cusp of dynastic politics – and seemingly out of the clutches of communists – the ex-royals that dominate the ruling Congress Party must be pondering their own dilemma: how do you make a king repent for something he doesn’t believe was wrong?
Back home, each of the king’s adversaries recognizes how badly they need him. Of course, palace bashing was the principal adhesive of the mainstream-Maoist alliance to begin with. The difference now is that each of the protagonists needs the monarch for its own different reasons.
The Nepali Congress, in its newfound struggle for self-preservation, needs a bulwark against the onslaught of a broader communist front it thought could never materialize. The Maoists need the king to ratchet up their rhetoric, especially the nationalism variant revived by their disenchantment with India.
The Unified Marxist Leninists need the palace, if nothing else, to keep both the Nepali Congress and the Maoists guessing. UML ministers, after all, are the most vociferous in claiming that the government was under no obligation to implement the latest legislative directive on laying the groundwork for a republic.
The three major external stakeholders are equally flustered over one other’s true beliefs vis-à-vis the monarchy. They know they cannot afford to remain silent should things spin out of control, which looks increasingly likely.
If we are to believe that, by assuming direct control of government on February 1, 2005, King Gyanendra defied the world to accept him over the messed up mainstream and the marauding Maoists, then we must acknowledge that the substance of that challenge is still alive.