Monday, March 10, 2008

Dwelling Of Donor-Driven Dissemblers?

When Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala purportedly claimed the other day that the United States, India and Japan were intent on preserving the monarchy at all costs, what did Maoist supremo Prachanda do? He sulked that the constituent assembly elections might not reflect the people’s will.
Let’s get this straight. The officiating head of state, in effect, tells the principal contender for a putative presidency to quit daydreaming. In response, Prachanda doesn’t unleash his obnoxiously familiar tirade against imperialists and expansionists. Instead, he virtually concedes the inevitability of a monarchical Nepal.
The governments concerned have not reacted to Koirala’s reported remarks. So let’s take him and Prachanda on their word. After the final results of the constituent assembly elections – whenever they are held – come in, the state will hectically prepare for that much-vaunted first session. It would take a few days, at a minimum, to convene the body. Well before that, presumably, foreign funds will have been deployed to influence the triumphant parties as well as elected representatives individually.
The Seven Party Alliance, each constituent of which has officially committed itself to republicanism, will control the assembly. So how would they vote to retain the monarchy? Forget the adjective. The king is the king in Nepal and, as such, will embody some kind of political role inversely proportional to the unceremonious-ness of the major parties.
The first session of the constituent assembly won’t be as complicated as it might seem today. The Nepali Congress has clearly set forth its stance. The party convention may have decided to drop its official fealty to the monarchy, but the “royalist” tag still doesn’t seem to bother influential members.
True, Minister Without Portfolio Sujata Koirala did a U-turn in New Delhi on her past support for the monarchy. But not without establishing the party’s line. Every election campaign the Maoists disrupt goes on to underscore Sujata’s contention that the country needed the monarchy to check the ex-rebels.
Things won’t be that difficult for the comrades in the Unified Marxist Leninists, either. Expect them to blame the obduracy of the Nepali Congress and the Maoists for royalism’s revival. Once a few leaders throw in geopolitics, the platform will be ready.
Operationally, our mainstream comrades are adept in political prestidigitation. In their earlier incarnation, they had helped the Panchayat camp win the 1980 referendum in the guise of an “active boycott”. A decade later, they metamorphosed opposition to the Tanakpur Accord to pave the way for the wider Mahakali Treaty. And who can forget the UML’s machinations during the Bondage at Midnight vote ratifying the treaty?
Don’t expect the Maoists to spend too much time scratching their heads. They already have hailed “nationalists” around the king. The piety of the flock certainly says something about the shepherd, doesn’t it? One group of Maoists will be tempted to use the crown once again as a tactical device. (Remember the King-Birendra-and-all-of-his- predecessors-were-nationalists line of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai after the Narayanity Massacre?)
The more loyal foot soldiers will probably still oppose tooth and nail what they consider the prime feudalistic anachronism. Compromising on the monarchy after entering multiparty democracy, after all, would represent a double whammy for the ex-People’s Warriors. A safe bet, therefore, would be a Maoist abstention from the first constituent assembly vote.
And the Madhesi parties? Well, one leading public opinion survey found support for the monarchy stronger in the Terai, didn’t it? Even if that weren’t true, everybody saw the palace – as well as India and the United States – behind the Terai agitation. Things do add up.
Our international donors would do well not to set too high a price range. Slice half off whatever has been apportioned. Some representatives will no doubt demand more money than others. Perhaps a proportional system of disbursement would be relevant to the spirit of our times.
The donors could then transfer the other half to a peace and development fund whose interest would help ease Nepal’s annual assessment burden to the United Nations. That would do much to raise the nation’s spirits.
None of this, of course, would address one thing haunting our political class vis-à-vis the lifting of the monarchy’s suspension. Ordinarily, someone who regains his official position gets back all entitlements. What might King Gyanendra claim?