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Nepal: Why I Support The King

Nepal: Why I Support The King

By Sagar Mani Lamsal

A supporter of King Gyanendra's seizure of absolute powers on February 1, 2005 is inevitably criticized as being at least one of the following:

- A scion of the Rana-Shah oligarchy – genealogical or other wise -- congenitally bent on subjugating the vast majority of impoverished and underprivileged Nepalis;

- A superstitious misfit who still sees the king as an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu;

- A beneficiary of the palace payroll aiding and abetting the restoration of full feudalism;

- A remnant of Nepal's palace-led authoritarian past seeking to regain powers and privileges lost in the democratic upsurge of 1990.

As someone who does not fit into any of these four categories, I have decided to create a fifth: a foot soldier in Nepal's war of independence. It is in this spirit that, despite all the gloom and doom hovering over the kingdom, I detect something positive is about to happen regardless of how the conflict plays out.

The tripolar conflict between Narayanhity Royal Palace, mainstream opposition parties and the Maoist rebels is essentially a struggle for the future of Nepal. (I'm sticking with the term "tripolar" because I'm not sure how far the political parties and the Maoist rebels have actually bridged their differences.)

I certainly cannot claim to imagine the horrors those caught on the frontlines of the conflict have experience for no apparent fault of theirs. I can only hope and pray that the sacrifice of the murdered and maimed will not have gone in vain.

The Maoists have brought out the deep political, economic, social and cultural inequalities that have struck ever deepening roots under 236 years of monarchy. In their ardor to blame the king for this reality, the Maoists have let out another side of their thinking. Maoist literature recognizes that Nepal's stagnation is a product of its special form of partial incorporation as a semicolony of the British Raj and subsequently within the political economy of India. This experience, in their words, has ensured a degree of forced stagnation in the production and productivity which led to increased popular pressure on marginal land, emigration and ecological decline.

In seeking to redress these grievances, they have unleashed ancient hatreds to a dangerous level. Destruction and devastation, in the Maoists' view, provide the foundation to build anew. But do they have the ability to sustain even what would remain, much less build anything. Can they expect to retain power – much less initiate their radical programs? In recent months, they seem to have lost the spine to go head on against the monarchy.

Having joined peace talks twice under a king whose enthronement they so severely denounced, the Maoists have swung the other way. Their 12-point accord with the principal parliamentary parties to restore total democracy has raised more questions than it has answered. The circumstances in which they signed the accord have deprived them of their other novelty: the willingness to resist Indian pressures and practices. At least the mainstream parties are honest about their attitude toward Nepal's southern neighbor.

Girija Prasad Koirala, Madhav Kumar Nepal and all the other leaders and followers in the seven-party alliance now arrayed against the palace aren't gripped by some sinister compulsion to ruin the country through perpetual protests. Indeed, they believe the way forward for Nepal in today's day and age can only be by empowering the people.

They may believe the monarchy is the principal obstacle to Nepalese democracy as they envision it. But in their heart of hearts, do they still have doubts about their ability to hold the country together in a post-monarchy environment? Is that why alliance leaders worry in private conversations about the "vacuum" that might grip a small nation perched strategically between Asia's two giants? Is this why, like the Maoists, they have not been able to even articulate what total democracy is?

On the face of it, the mainstream alliance's belief – and even the Maoists', for that matter -- in closer cooperation with India cannot be considered inimical to Nepal's interest. There is full merit their argument that Nepal cannot expect to go on receiving Indian concessions without offering reciprocal pledges on major concerns of New Delhi.

Logically, the new realignment created by the mainstream-Maoist accord should have spelt the end of the royal regime. The reason King Gyanendra remains unperturbed – at least in public -- is because he recognizes that "total democracy" is not the real reason Indian engineered this union.

I personally believe the Indians do not want to do away with the monarchy. If King Gyanendra acceded to Indian demands on a broad package of concessions – I am personally convinced that such a proposal would not differ much from the versions New Delhi tried to impose on King Birendra and interim prime minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai – New Delhi would once again hail King Gyanendra's wisdom, experience and maturity in the same awed tone editorial writers used in the weeks and months after his enthronement four years ago.

For me, the king's game plan is clear. He is too smart to expect to monopolize power the way his father and brother did. But, then, he is not ready to retain the throne without the freedom of action his vision of the monarchy demands. King Gyanendra has made up his mind to wage Nepal's war of total independence. The cause of this war is what inspires me.

King Gyanendra's opponents don't need to stress the obvious. The royal government is autocratic, packed with yes-men and devoid of creativity. The lack of representative institutions at all levels has made the palace unaccountable. Royal relatives and hangers-on are abusing their power and privilege in a way the democratic leaders never could. This, to me, is a price worth paying.

Why is the government is going after the media? Actually, it is going after only one media house, Kantipur, which has been more responsible than any political party for subverting democracy. (The raid on Sagarmatha FM was merely a reflection of the royal government's resolve to implement the law. In the government's view Prachanda is still a terrorist, and the law forbids anyone to encourage terrorists.)

What kind of newspaper would report that the Maoists, in a massive extortion spree, had sought "donations" from its publishers but then hold back the fact that they had paid off. The Maoists had the decency of returning the day the story appeared to return the money. What kind of publisher or editor would carry Dr. Baburam Bhattarai's plea for a military uprising against the new king amid such grave national crisis? Probably one attuned to the traditions of the subversion and subterfuge of Indian journalism practiced against its neighbors.

No doubt, the public had a right to know what the chief Maoist ideologue thought about the royal massacre. Dr. Bhattarai may have had his own agenda in lavishing praise on each one of King Gyanendra's predecessors in the Shah dynasty while singling out the new monarch for calumny on the basis of hearsay and rumor? Was it so difficult to see through the Maoist propaganda?

How many Indians from Assam, Almora, Darjeeling and Meghalaya masquerading as Nepalis dominate Nepali newsrooms to spread Indian venom against Nepal in the name of a free press? Why are publishing houses with hefty property interests in India – including massive income-tax defaults – the most critical of the royal regime?

And the code of conduct for non-government organizations? Again, this was the way the United States and European imposed their color-coded "revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine. Weeks after the Nepalese government issued the NGO code, the Kremlin came out with similar restrictions. One autocrat emulating another? Or two countries comparing notes to protect their flanks?

The royal regime cannot expose the charade because of King Gyanendra's core dilemma. His strongest loyalists are incompetent and the most competent people on his side have the temptation and tendency to become the most disloyal.

But, then, King Gyanendra is too shrewd not to understand the space history and geography have provided him. His plan to develop Nepal as a transit point between the rapidly growing economies of India and China has prompted much ridicule from his detractors, but it worked for Nepal – or at least Kathmandu – in the past. What the Malla kings could do for Kathmandu is entirely within grasp for the entire kingdom.

Nepal has reached a critical crossroads. The stakes are much higher than determining whether Nepal remains a monarchy or becomes a republic. Basically, this is the challenge: Nepal can either be truly independent of or truly dependent on India.

If India wants Nepal to be firmly in its sphere of influence let it incorporate the kingdom as a full member of the union. Having secured its foothold on Nepal's strategic position and established full control of its water resources, New Delhi can lay the basis for a healthy center-state relationship. Ordinary Indians would be startled to discover the commonalities Nepalis share, given the negative image their media have consistently portrayed.

But Nepalis must be assured of the full benefits of formal integration. We would need Central Police Reserve Force to step in to quell unrest. Natural disaster victims would require the full deployment of the relief and rehabilitation of the Indian machinery. Political representation in the Lok Sabha could be worked out in accordance with several factors that assuage concerns of underrepresented social, ethnic and linguistic groups. Indeed, India's current political map might have to be redrawn to optimize integration with bordering Indian states.

Indeed, some communities in Nepal may resist formal integration with India more violently than others, but then that is a price India has been paying in half of its states for more than a half-century.

If that is too high a price for New Delhi, then it must grant Nepal full recognition as an independent and equal partner. Nepal would enjoy the sovereign right to develop its own political and security ties with China, Pakistan, United States or any other country as it deems fit.

India would also need to fully respect Nepal's economic sovereignty. Why should Nepal have to go to such lengths to invite third-country investors like Kodak only to have them leave after India reneges on its promise of full market access? Bilateral treaties should hold the full force of law. If free and unrestricted trade is guaranteed by both governments, why are Indian state governments allowed to step in to impede commerce. Specifically, why do Vanaspati Ghee, zinc sheets, nails and bolts – a handful of Nepalese products that sell well in India – come under the periodic entanglements of Indian trade and commerce regimes?

King Gyanendra's roadmap is aimed at consolidating Nepal's sovereign options through closer integration with China. The first direct passenger bus service linking Kathmandu and Tibet began weeks after the royal takeover, although it has now stalled amid procedural hurdles.

Efforts at developing Nepal as a transit point between China and India have received a fresh impetus. Nepal expects to provide the transit facility with the objective of expanding its service sector and physical infrastructure development. A Nepalese government study has identified three alternative routes linking the three countries.

Chinese delegations have visited Kathmandu to expand cooperation in investment, tourism promotion and infrastructure development. Nepal expects China's modernization of Tibet will assist the development of its own mountainous northern districts. Specifically, the kingdom hopes to benefit from a railway project linking China with Tibet’s heartland. Chinese officials say the railway will bring in 5.64 million tourists to Tibet over the next five years. The Lhasa-Kathmandu bus service is likely to benefit.

Kathmandu is planning to set up a special economic zone in its north with Chinese cooperation. Both governments will have special laws, special taxation structure and special investment policies in an effort to ease the access of Nepalese products to Chinese markets.

Nepal and China have taken special interest in developing the kingdom’s vast hydro-electric power potential. China and Australia will invest in West Seti Hydropower project, the biggest hydro-electric project of Nepal with the capacity of 750 megawatt,
the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported recently.

The $1.2 billion project is scheduled for completion within five and half years. The power generated will be sold to India, yielding $29 million in the first year of operation.

The war of Nepalese independence has begun – never call retreat.

ENDS

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