Shashi Malla: Nepal - Beginning Of The End?
Nepal: Beginning Of The End?
By Shashi Malla
At a time when the Nepalese ship of state is floundering without a helmsman, the King's New Year's message has not been able to provide the necessary respite to the long-suffering people. Peace and democracy have disappeared into the far horizon. The people are caught up between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand, the agitating political parties and the Maoists with absolutely no regard for the worsening state of affairs are continuing their undemocratic movement with absolutist methods. On the other, the royal regime considers the situation "dangerous and volatile", but under control — but for how long?
Although containing nothing new, the King's message stressed various parameters as a way out of the current impasse. First, the King underlined the fact that "democracy demands restraint and consensus, as all forms of extremism are incompatible with democracy". Genuine democrats cannot quarrel with this viewpoint. There is, therefore, no doubt that the present agitation of the political parties and supporting organizations and groups, and of course the Maoists' terrorist activities cannot be reconciled with democratic norms. The international critics of the regime — and, therefore, supporters of the agitation — are turning a blind eye to this aspect of the crisis.
Second, King Gyanendra emphasized the preeminence of the Constitution and that the goals set forth by it could only be achieved through constitutional means. However, the agitating political parties and their terrorist allies are continuously violating democratic norms and values. Even the Constitution is no longer sacrosanct and constitutional monarchy is only a stumbling block. The King is, therefore, speaking to people who are playing deaf! The interfering foreign powers have also realized that it is the King and the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) which stand in the way to attain their nefarious goals.
Third, the King highlighted the election process as the only means to re-activate representative bodies. Here again the agitating political parties have completely other ideas and their own road-map. For them any means are legitimate as long as they achieve naked power. Democratic exercises are not part of the equation at all. Here again certain foreign countries and international organizations which constantly harp on the need to 'restore democracy' and curb ostensible 'brutality' of the security forces conveniently ignore the agitating parties abhorrence of democratic elections and their use of violent methods.
Finally, the King advocated "active participation of all political parties committed to peace and democracy" in a fruitful dialogue to end the crisis. Unfortunately, in the eyes of the leaders of the violent movement it was too little, too late. Actually, they had smelt blood and were only interested in accelerating the spiral of violence, in order to bring the King to his knees. Foreign powers with vested interests had no compunction to support them with their own pressure tactics.
Thus, the King must have meant very well, but the march of domestic events and the international constellation as such has left his initiative in tatters. The "self-respect and self-confidence of the Nepalese people" has been severely shaken and jeopardized and "the pre-eminence of the collective wisdom in charting a future course" a pipe dream. What had gone wrong? The King's New Year's message was a golden opportunity to take the wind out of the sails of the agitating parties oppressing the Nepalese people. Instead, the writing on the wall was not heeded and the message contained mere words with no meaningful action in sight.
The sheer incompetence and short-sightedness of the royal advisers came into full play. They failed to realize that the escalation of the conflict had reached the point of no return. They are still insisting that it is business as usual. The point is that the ball is now definitely in the King's court and that he has to act decisively and swiftly, if a national catastrophe is to be avoided.
The people have already started to blame the royal regime for their current woes, inflicted actually by the agitating political parties and their terrorist allies. To free itself from the self-inflicted noose, the royal regime must act swiftly before all is lost. First, the King must be removed immediately as a political target of all domestic and international detractors. This means that the present government must be disbanded and one of national reconciliation instituted. Its constitutional legitimacy is anyway open to question.
The present royal government has not woken up to the seriousness of the situation, whether internal or international. If the demonstrations turn fully peaceful, they could gain a momentum of its own, which will be unstoppable. The security forces would not be able to control the sheer mass of people, or even as a last resort fire upon them. And the corrupt leaders of the agitation would be declared right for the wrong reasons! The restoration of bad governance would have serious long-term effects for our country. It is, therefore, imperative that the King act resolutely and fast. If he does not do so now, history will blame him for the end of the glorious Shah dynasty in the short term, and the loss of our independence and sovereignty in the long term.
The King can no longer remain as head of the government (Chairman of the Council of Ministers). The King should appoint a politically and constitutionally 'correct' personality as prime minister to form such a government. It should be composed of competent and untarnished politicians (from all major parties that wish to participate) and accomplished technocrats. Its assignment will be to restore peace as soon as possible (which the present government has failed to do) and to hold parliamentary elections in the foreseeable future or within a year. The present government is not equipped to do so.
The elections must not only be free and fair, the participation must be such that they enjoy international recognition. Let us not forget the fiasco of the municipal elections!
It is incumbent on moderate political leaders and 'thinking' generals to impress upon the King that a change of direction is the need of the hour. Above all, the role of the top brass of the RNA will be crucial.
The sly agitating leaders have already started wooing the police and army.
The RNA has to enforce the 'unified command' with full power. And since it will bear the brunt of the people's wrath, if things go wrong, nationalistic-minded generals have to impress upon the King that he has to act swiftly to seek a political solution to the on-going agitation — the only viable course. The days of the royal sycophants are numbered in any case. The generals have to act in the national interest and start thinking strategically and in the long-term.
After having lost our way in the dark jungles of 'unreason', we have to find the main route to the summit of understanding!