Sunday, April 27, 2014

The King’s Creed

The whispers had begun to get louder in recent weeks. The royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) was not only going to change its name but also dilute the extent of its fealty to the monarchy.
The renamed party, it was being suggested, would stand for a fainter-sounding ‘ceremonial’ kingship rather than its sturdier ‘constitutional’ variant.
Apparently, former king Gyanendra isn’t too thrilled.
In his first public comments since the election of a new assembly ostensibly to draft a republican constitution, Mr. Shah has liberally indicated his ample acknowledgement of public demands for a more ‘conscious’ role on his part.
Interestingly, the former monarch and Kamal Thapa, RPP-N president, happened to express on the same day their dissatisfaction with the ‘politics of proscription’ the Big Three political parties have been exhibiting.
Maila Baje recognizes how easy it is to detect a measure of hypocrisy in Mr. Shah’s call for inclusion. After all, didn’t he try to sideline everyone except the most diehard royalists during much of his seven-year second reign?
Still, there’s a qualitative difference in context. Then, the king was trying to put multiparty democracy back on track, wherein the major political parties would return as the principal players. Even during the harshest phase of his rule, the king had merely sought three years. Those driving politics today are struggling to legitimize a republican order that was introduced spuriously – and are enjoying an open-ended run at it.
To be sure, many will link Mr. Shah’s public assertiveness with the impending electoral triumph of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition in India. In a sense, that would be akin to our Maoists’ ardour with the communist element in the first Manmohan Singh government, which oversaw the 12-Point Agreement that sidelined and eventually abolished our monarchy.
Deeper down, though, the thrust of Mr. Shah’s stance has remained essentially unchanged since he exited Narayanhity Palace in 2008. In response to rising public protests two years earlier, he had handed power back to the political parties, increasingly vexed by his authoritarian tendencies, to set things right themselves. The royal decision to restore the House of Representatives dissolved by an elected prime minister may have been political. But the move was within the ambit of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990.
Thus, in the ex-king’s view, at least, his stepping down from the throne was an act of goodwill, essentially aimed at giving the political parties a freer hand to advance an agenda they concluded the palace was incapable of doing. It was more an act of abnegation than abdication.
Mr. Shah’s move was also an acknowledgement of the political alignment of national and regional forces at the time. The hollowness of the political establishment’s confidence in the finality of republicanism has been perforated time and again much more than in the manner which leaders of the principal sponsor of the 12-Point Agreement have received Mr. Shah in New Delhi.
How many former kings do we know of who have continued to live among their people? And how many of them have continued to remind their successors of the solemnity of their responsibility not only with a straight face but also amid a swelling audience?
What role Mr. Shah envisages for himself – should he respond to the public sentiments he has perceived – remains unclear. It would be unnecessary to be caught in titles and trappings. In the seven years before the six in which has remained a commoner, Citizen Shah was both the weakest and strongest monarch in a generation. The space is wide open.