Saturday, April 12, 2008

Keep (’Em) Guessing

With the Maoists sweeping the polls thus far, it is tempting to see the rest of the way toward republicanism neatly laid out. Once the constituent assembly meets for its first session, King Gyanendra can expect his letter of eviction. End of story? Not quite.
First, the 600-plus body would have to identify the oldest member who could then swear in the members. Considering the ruckus before the election, that could less easier than thought. After the recess, the assembly would have to elect the presiding officer.
Let’s say everything goes smoothly, and the letter is instantly dispatched to the Narayanhity reception desk. There is something called ‘bato ko myad’ in bureaucratese. It’s not as if the person who received the letter would rush it up the chain to the monarch. The palace bureaucracy, like its civilian counterpart, has its own institutional lag time. Miffed by the exclusion of tax-paying royals from the voters’ list, King Gyanendra might calibrate his move.
Let’s say the monarch accepts the notice and decides to drive off to Nirmal Niwas forthwith. It’s not as if his family alone is the problem. What would become of the royal guards, numbering anywhere between 2,000 and 6,000? We learned after the Narayanhity Carnage that they aren’t under the Nepal Army. We know that their arms and arsenal aren’t under any kind of United Nations supervision.
Surely, the Maoists wouldn’t ask the royal family to leave behind the elite force as republican guards. Any special consideration extended there would anger the ex-people’s warrior. They have been seething since they were told they are no good for the national army.
Let’s back up and take the good-case scenario. Some lawyer files a petition at the Supreme Court arguing that the assembly can’t be considered empowered to abolish the monarchy just because its interim predecessor mandated so. Forget the bench, the registrar would probably need some time to reflect on this one.
The house, meanwhile, could proceed with the preliminaries. It would not need a quorum to gather or even vote. Our legislators, even in the best of times, have perfect a range of stalling techniques. They may not be quite as sophisticated as a filibuster, but they are no less effective. Blocking the rostrum, repeating high-decibel chants, and delivering physical blows are all within legislative precedent. With ex-commissars and ex-commanders entering the chamber armed with the people’s mandate, they would not be constrained from taking matters into their own hands.
The Maoists won’t take long to discover the chink in their armor. They won’t have the luxury of focusing on the vanguard party because the threat of rearguard action remains real.
Khum Bahadur Khadka outside the legislature would be far more perilous than inside. In retrospect, his campaign had a principal flaw. (No, not the fact that the Nepali Congress heavyweight demoralized supporters by withdrawing his candidacy and failing to stick with that for a day.) Instead of reminding the country that he was a republican during King Birendra’s reign, he should have flaunted the fact that he returned with B.P. Koirala from exile in 1976 with a plea for national reconciliation.
Things haven’t gotten out of hand yet, though. It’s far easier to swear by B.P. out of power. Moreover, with the extended third generation of Koiralas now craning their necks, Narayanhity has acquired a new look.
This becomes important since the palace remains central to the Nepal-view of India, China and the United States. Don’t be fooled by the befuddlement of Delhi. The Indians always wanted the elections above everything else. The corollary was that they were prepared to deal with the outcome later.
Mayankote Kelath Narayanan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s national security adviser, had made his country’s preference known well in advance. The day after our election, Singh reconstituted the National Security Advisory Board. Although M.K. Rasgotra was replaced by another ex-foreign secretary who hadn’t also served as ambassador to Nepal, Singh brought in Shyamala B. Cowsik. She was South Block’s Nepal hand during the 1989-90 crisis and would ostensibly complement K.V. Rajan, another former ambassador, who keeps his job on the panel.
King Gyanendra threw up another imponderable in his New Year’s message. Expressing satisfaction at the enthusiastic participation of the people in the elections, he went a step ahead and lauded the emphatic reiteration their “firm resolve not to compromise the nation’s existence, independence and integrity under any circumstance.” Now your head is spinning right? That’s the point. Keep ’em guessing.