Sunday, April 05, 2009

‘Baby King’: Then And Now

The idea of a ‘baby king’ seems to have grown out of its infancy. Former king Gyanendra, news reports suggest, has begun consultations on how to formalize the restoration of the monarchy. This came days after former crown prince Paras all but renounced his claim to a reinstated throne. Former prince Hridayendra may find the crown thrust on his head long before really having set his heart on it.
If our three formers are so feverishly at the initiative, why did the concept fall so flat when then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala first broached it two years ago? Things are becoming clearer now.
In acceding to the Koirala blueprint, the monarchy would have allowed the real architects to decide who sat on the throne. Suspended the monarch may have been at the time, but it was certainly in full control of his senses. The royals would have been edged out of the regency. A formal declaration of a republic, at least in the palace’s view, was far better than a rollback to the Rana era.
The abolition of the monarchy was not part of the deal that brought about the reinstatement of the House of Representatives in April 2006. Once the protests grew, and the government cracked down harder, the anti-monarchy momentum gained ground. Many bought into what was an exaggerated narrative. American Ambassador James F. Moriarty, fearing, in his own words, a messy abdication, relocated much of his embassy to New Delhi.
Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal may have given his word in New Delhi in November 2005 on retaining a ceremonial monarchy. By the time the rebels figured out that their third-country enablers – that odd admixture of God-fearing and atheist global crusaders – wouldn’t tolerate a callous betrayal of a carefully constructed cause, Dahal already had his rear covered.
While signing on to the 12-point agreement, Dahal carefully avoided affixing his signature in any joint document with the Seven Party Alliance. More importantly, however, he had issued a joint statement with Indian Maoist supremo Ganapathy two months previously vowing “to fight unitedly till the entire conspiracies hatched by the imperialists and reactionaries are crushed and the people’s cause of socialism and communism are established in Nepal, India and all over the world.”
Back home, as the Maoists joined the political process, every step became a repositioning of the goalposts. While promising Koirala the presidency, the Maoists spared little effort in courting the royalist vote. Insignificant as it might have been to make a meaningful presence in the constituent assembly, the bloc was crucial to augmenting the first-past-the-post margins of the Maoists and the subsequent proportional allocation of seats.
The Maoists, as expected, overreached. The Nepali Congress knew its neck would snap once the monarchy was out of the Maoists’ way. The party wasn’t going to outlast Koirala very long, so the grand old man sought his crowning glory. Today, a sizeable section of the UML seems similarly anxious.
This, by itself, doesn’t do much to soar royalist hopes. Prime Minister Dahal reminded us the other day that the baby had been thrown with the bathwater. Yet one must juxtapose that statement with his unremitting warning that the Maoists would seize power to forestall attempts to oust them. Could acceptance of the monarchy be the price of retaining power? Of course, the Maoists would still be free to make the usual noises about consummating a ‘revolution’ that never really was.
How will a restoration be achieved? By referendum? Or, should the political – and geopolitical – rancor persist to the point of blocking a new constitution, by reactivating the 1990 statute? The first may not entirely amuse the monarchists. The second will almost certainly enrage the Maoists, unless a slew of appropriate amendments are put in place in the reactivation order. Either way, there is little chance the regency would be held outside the royal family.