Friday, February 08, 2008

A Timely Tutorial On The Throne

You have to hand it to King Gyanendra for clarity of conviction. Breaking his silence on a nation in disarray, he has carefully tailored his message in tune with the medium.
In his widely quoted conversations with journalist Hari Lamsal, the monarch astutely preempted critics by alluding to a secret deal between the palace and the Seven Party Alliance under which he reinstated the House of Representatives. (What could such a deal actually contain? A commitment to retain the monarchy duly signed by the king, mainstream parties and the Maoists in triplicate, with Karan Singh or his designated representative as a witness?)
Then the king snubbed the ruling alliance by professing ignorance at Nepal having become a republic. To ordinary Nepalis, the monarch offered some contrition laced with compassion. The royal takeover of February 1, 2005 was an attempt to save the nation that couldn’t succeed. And the people are paying the price of the failure, he stated.
We may or may not be as magnanimous a people as the monarch gave us credit for, but the compliment certainly felt good. Should Nepal become a republic, the monarch would not leave the country. (Doesn’t that raise the prospect of Gyanendra Shah joining the Maoists?)
But the people must make that decision. In an interview with Japanese journalists, King Gyanendra quite explicitly described the interim legislature’s decision to declare Nepal a republic undemocratic. That prompted Maoist chairman Prachanda to urge the monarch not to lecture the parties on democracy. But, then, look who’s talking.
King Gyanendra cleverly chose Japanese journalists for his first full-fledged interview since losing power. The Thai press would be the next logical choice, but reporters and editors there are busy grappling with a political crisis in which their beloved king, too, seems to have miscalculated.
The upshot: The king can do wrong and accept it. King Gyanendra cited a recent opinion poll that showed 49.1 percent of the people supported the monarchy. Since the Asia Foundation and Britain’s Department for International Development funded the survey, it became hard for critics to question its credibility. So they spun in another direction.
King Gyanendra doesn’t get it, one newspaper editorial gushed. Nepalis may want the monarchy, the Friday weekly asserted, but few want Gyanendra or his son on the throne.
Clearly, it’s the critics who really don’t get it. In a monarchy, you don’t get to choose who sits on the throne. Only the monarch does. That’s what King Gyanendra has been hammering home since the April Uprising, through silence as well as semantics. If he doesn’t like the idea of a Baby King no matter how much he may love his grandson, that’s the monarch’s prerogative. Opponents are free to campaign for a republic.
It was hard to miss the publishers’ impertinence in the editorial. How many of us have actually forgotten the foray of their Southasian platform after the Narayanhity massacre? Didn’t the same media house ask Nepalis to ponder what might have happened had King Dipendra had actually lived?
Admittedly, the question was framed in the context of describing the job for a “democratic king.” But how does that explain the publishers’ urgency to indict the dead crown prince when so much was up in the air? And what happened subsequently? Did the royal regime’s drift northward automatically galvanize the chaebol toward its Southasian responsibilities?
As for King Gyanendra not getting “it”, the opinion poll accompanying the editorial on the weekly’s website had an interesting revelation. Almost 60 percent of Nepalis wanted the retention of the monarchy, with a full 13.5 percent favoring an absolute monarchy. So much for the distinction between the king and the crown.