Thursday, April 10, 2008

Our Wellspring Of Surprises

In our innate ability to throw up surprises, Nepalis have exceled yet again. The constituent assembly elections, which many -- including this keyboard pusher -- thought would see another postponement, went off to a stellar conclusion. Predictions of violence, chaos and the rest fell flat.
Three decades after his "Cardiac Ailment" regaled audiences in the National Dance House, Gopal Prasad Rimal got a fan revival that broke all records. Maybe the man was saner than he got credit for.
Rimal's one-day-in-an-epoch exhortation appealed to an unlikely quarter. "Asia's most humiliated man" -- in the words of a veteran royal enabler (from June 1, 2001-February 1, 2005) turned inveterate critic -- surprised us all. King Gyanendra urged us to vote in droves. Whether we loved or hated him, we did.
The smoothness of the polls brings us to another question. Were the two postponements really a result of our inability to get things right? Or was the extension meant to allow the political forces some pre-poll equipoise? That shall be clearer as the votes are counted. For now, we must read between the media lines.
On the eve of the voting, one could not avoid the transformation in the tone of a section of the Indian media. Those pushing the line that the elections were about bidding adieu to the monarchy began sounding a less definitive tone.
The western media, for its part, has stuck to its line. Now you could attribute that to the Judeo-Christian temptation to avenge Prithvi Narayan Shah's expulsion of the Capuchin priests. (Something that gains credibility with the Southern Baptists' most prominent layman, Jimmy Carter, already detecting paradise in a republican Nepal.) And what better target than the successor who wore his religion on his sleeve.
The last time this media divergence became so stark was after the royal palace massacre. The Indian media were reporting that no male royal had survived the carnage and that how the Maoists were about to storm Narayanhity. The American-led western counterparts were reporting how Prince Gyanendra was alive in Pokhara.
The fact that those who had explicitly blamed Crown Prince Dipendra for the regicide as well as its specific familial dimensions and had urged us to be thankful for King Gyanendra's safe pair of hands turned out to be his bitterest critics after the February 1, 2005 takeover might sound like a footnote during these heady moments. But juxtapose that with the head of the constitutional lawyers' association's post-election assertion that the new assembly is not bound to follow the interim legislature's stricture. It all comes down to surprises, doesn't it?