Saturday, November 10, 2012

Put Up Or Shut Up

It’s getting patently ridiculous, wouldn’t you say?
Former king Gyanendra Shah alerts Nepalis to beware the waywardness of the current leadership and all Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai can do is reiterate his well-worn threat to withdraw his state privileges. How many times have we heard Bhattarai – and his predecessors – threaten the ex-monarch in this way? And, more importantly, to what effect?
As a former head of state, Mr. Shah certainly has the right to speak his mind on crucial national issues. In that same capacity, he enjoys certain facilities from the state. If the government deems it necessary to withdraw those privileges on any account, it can go ahead. For the sake of its own credibility, however, at a time when former office-holders of far lesser rank have been enjoying state privileges, the government must come up with a better reason to deny the ex-king his.
Let’s say the Bhattarai government, in a singular quest for retribution, decides to withdraw facilities to the ex-king and Mr. Shah still goes around the country expressing his views. What can Bhattarai and his ilk do, might Maila Baje ask, to curb the ex-monarch’s freedom of speech then?
Nepalis are entitled to listen to what Mr. Shah has to say because of the national context. The current leadership – as part of a broader alliance – took charge pledging that it had a better solution to Nepal’s problems than the king’s ‘autocratic’ ways. So impatient were they to implement their nebulous vision that they ruthlessly denied the king the three years he had sought to put the political process back on track.
Nearly seven years down the road, the new drivers themselves have shattered that pledge into smithereens. That they have sequestered themselves today into ruling and opposition camps is as immaterial to the current context as is their sustained campaign to exclude the ex-king and his supporters from the national mainstream.
In the absence of any other gauge of the public mood, the growing size and scope of the audience eager to listen to what the ex-king has to say remains the best measure. The external stakeholders – regional and distant alike – who continue to bless the current dubious political arrangement because of provisional imperatives are far from oblivious to this reality.
During the king’s rule, the mainstream leaders were able to express their views well – be it during their time in detention or during public protests. The Maoist leadership, having deployed their armed foot soldiers to rain death and destruction upon the nation, heaped calumny on the then-king safely ensconced underground, some even from foreign soil. At least the Mr. Shah has mustered the resolve to voice his criticism in full public view within the country.
The frivolousness of the Bhattarai government’s stance becomes starker from the ‘opposition’ parties’ response. Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel, for example, criticized how ‘reactionaries’ were now being emboldened to raise their heads. Yet, in doing so, this time he blamed the Maoists for creating the conditions.
Pressed on the subject, the drivers of ‘new’ Nepal would be the first to invoke the moral high ground and insist that democracy has given the former king the right to speak with such candor. All the more reason, isn’t it then, for them to desist from resorting to ludicrous threats?