Sunday, February 03, 2008

The ‘Ignorance,’ Too, Is Illuminating

From the swiftness with which some of the people said to have recently met with King Gyanendra are issuing denials, you’d think the palace has sunk deeper into putrid toxicity. Yet the national gaze remains firmly focused on Narayanhity.
What another postponement of the constituent assembly elections could possibly invite is anybody’s guess. Still, each scenario has a royal component.
From journalist Hari Lamsal’s summary of his conversations with the monarch, King Gyanendra sounds updated as well as upbeat on current affairs. The exception, of course, is the monarch’s professed ignorance of the republicanism that has crept into the interim constitution.
What’s significant here is the nature of the denials of these purported palace visitors. Nepali Congress leader Govinda Raj Joshi, a leading figure of the “royalist” wing of the party, vigorously denied having met with the monarch. But he found it convenient to reiterate his opposition to the interim legislature’s foray into republicanism. Journalist Jib Raj Bhandari, too, rubbished reports of a palace audience. But not without asserting his solid monarchist credentials.
Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) president Pashupati Shamsher Rana claimed he had no reason to meet with the king. In an interview with a Kathmandu weekly, Rana claimed he would meet with the monarch in full public view if he thought it was necessary. A few breaths later, the RPP chief questioned the interviewer why such a meeting should be considered newsworthy anyway.
The establishment’s reaction to King Gyanendra’s response on the unfolding national situation offers an interesting historical contrast. When King Birendra granted his first interview to a leading Kathmandu weekly two years after the collapse of the Panchayat system in 1990, the political leadership was up in arms.
“Supreme leader” Ganesh Man Singh questioned the propriety of a constitutional monarch speaking directly to the press. It didn’t matter that King Birendra had merely expressed his acceptance of the nation’s new political reality. That, too, in response to a set of questions submitted by the editors well in advance.
When King Gyanendra defended his takeover on the eve of its third anniversary, there was relative silence. You could argue that the calm merely represented the palace’s irrelevance as far as the seven parties in power are concerned. But the muddle emitted by those who did respond undercuts that contention.
Peace Minister Ram Chandra Poudel urged King Gyanendra to contest elections, oblivious to the hastiness of his counsel. How about first persuading the country, much less the palace, that Nepal has become a republic?
Commentators close to the ruling establishment, too, seem to have lost some of their certainty. Instead of invoking the finality of the popular mandate the April Uprising supposedly embodied, some analysts reminded us how the country could not afford to squander a rare opportunity for change.
That’s a sentiment some of our foreign friends quite anxiously seem to share. They are growing more and more candid about their displeasure with the Maoists’ monopolization of the state. While they do acknowledge the palace as a pivot of stability, they don’t want to be seen handing King Gyanendra victory on his terms. Especially not at a time when the monarch views events vindicating his action.
For them, time is running out, particularly with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s faltering health. His anointment of daughter Sujata as heir apparent has made succession within the ruling alliance difficult. She may have distanced herself from the palace in recent days, but that might not be enough to win her the premiership.
All said, the republic enshrined in the interim constitution is looking increasingly elusive outside the palace. King Gyanendra’s ignorance, too, is meaningful.