Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Royalist Realism In A Republican Nepal

Royalist Realism In A Republican Nepal


By Madhav Raj Wagley

When newly appointed foreign ambassadors landed in the Nepalese capital after the heady political changes of April, their dilemma was evident. Going to the palace to present their credentials to King Gyanendra, as their predecessors had, would violate the spirit of Nepal’s “Magna Carta”, the legislative proclamation stripping the powers of the monarch who had just reinstated it.

Perhaps concluding that the proclamation was meant primarily for a domestic audience, the ambassadors-designate chose to adhere to diplomatic convention. In doing so, they prevented Nepal from becoming the first nation without a functioning head of state.

In their maddening rush to “democratize” the state, Nepalese politicians have systematically stripped the monarchy of even the basic role of a head of state.

As someone who participated in some of the mass protests that forced King Gyanendra to cede absolute powers, I was stunned by the scale of the state’s repression. Normally indifferent to the monarchy, I, like many protestors, became convinced that the crown was the principal obstacle to Nepal’s salvation.

As the reinstated legislature began stripping royal powers, I grew impatient – and angry. The people’s representatives should have straightaway announced the abolition of the monarchy and brought the Maoist rebels onboard a republican government.

How naïve I was. King Gyanendra has accepted his humiliation without as much as a murmur. Politicians have equated royal silence with conspiracy. Sections of the media are more aggressive in denigrating the monarchy. Nepal is squandering a real chance for peace as the Maoists and the ruling Seven Party Alliance (SPA) bicker over the smallest of things.

At 84, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is virtually incapacitated by illness. His two deputies are still squabbling over who is senior. SPA constituents are mired in internal wrangling. Civil society complains the government is going too slow on peace with the Maoists, but its leader, Devendra Raj Pandey, makes it slower by turning down the government decision naming him to head the peace-monitoring panel.

If there is a winner in these last three months, it surely is King Gyanendra. The vigor and stridency of the anti-monarchy discourse has already placed a heavy burden on our putative republic. With no crown to kick around, will Nepalese politicians finally have the honesty of taking responsibility for their actions?

A monarch that can’t choose his successor, can be hauled into court and must pay taxes is not all that appealing. For someone with King Gyanendra’s temperament and outlook, it must be abhorrent. But that’s just about what Nepalese politicians – and most of the people – seem ready to grant the palace as Nepal heads to constitutional assembly elections.

Yet the fickleness of public opinion and the frivolousness of politics make the future highly unpredictable. Some in the SPA have recognized the fallacy of clubbing the fate of the monarchy with the restructuring of the state. They now want a referendum on the monarchy, separate from the task of writing a new constitution.

The Maoists, for their part, want the SPA to abolish the monarchy right away. No wonder they see a referendum as an SPA ploy to retain the monarchy to check the Maoists’ preponderance.

For royalists – a shrinking tribe to which I now must concede I belong – this is a moment of truth. The SPA and the Maoists have both proved King Gyanendra was correct in claiming that the political class did not possess the seriousness the severity of Nepal’s crisis demanded.

The risks he took in seizing in February 2005 were immense. The principal challenge was always clear. As a traditional, feudal institution, the monarchy was from the outset vulnerable to charges of autocratic tendencies. In the months since the royal capitulation, Nepalese have witnessed all kinds of foreign influence and maneuvering from all parts of the world.

In retrospect, King Gyanendra was not merely attempting to free Nepal from the clutches of its giant southern neighbor India. He must have been fed up with the competing and conflicting pressures from all external stakeholders – China, America, European Union, Japan, just to name a few.

Consider the facts. As a country sandwiched between the two Asian giants, Nepal could not afford the burlesque that passed for democracy between 1990 and 2002. Nor could it reverse the universal reality of governance by consent. Nepal’s security, stability and prosperity depended on winning the trust and confidence of both China and India, along with the goodwill and support of the wider international community.

The royal regime’s efforts to expand relations with China were a laudable correction of the distortions that had crept into Nepal’s foreign policy. The palace’s sustained effort to project the cultural and religious heritage Nepal shared with India was aimed at buttressing Nepal’s identity.

The monarch’s plan to develop Nepal as a transit hub between the two rapidly expanding Asian economies was lampooned as a ruse to prolong his rule. While it was based on sound economic realities of today, it also stemmed from Kathmandu’s successful experience in a previous era. For most of his opponents – and he had many -- the “autocrat” label came handy. Indeed, reconciliation among the principal Nepalese political forces would have laid a sturdy foundation for the future. Unfortunately, those abroad bent on widening political rifts prevailed for their own reasons. History might judge the king’s actions in a more dispassionate light.

A resolution of Nepal’s conflict no doubt focuses on future of the monarchy. As someone who has so incessantly invoked the popular will, King Gyanendra, too, might be awaiting that ultimate test. The case is far from open and shut. Let’s say the Nepalese people vote to retain a ceremonial monarchy. Doesn’t the no-taxation-without-representation principle spring to mind? Will a ceremonial monarch then be able to maintain an active – albeit indirect -- political role and as well as non-tax-exempt commercial interests to finance it?

If the choice is between a republic and a monarchy severely emasculated politically, then Nepal should opt for the former. King Gyanendra would be of greater service to the nation as an ordinary Nepalese. In its formative years, our putative republic could benefit from his entrepreneurial zeal, wide international contacts, and decades of political experience.

This is not an apocryphal vision for royalists. As a commoner, Gyanendra Shah can inspire what is today a small but palpably growing constituency of Nepalese who wish to see their historical legacy of independence fuse with their geography-induced opportunities to produce a prosperous future. With the “autocratic monarchy” leash out of the way, the royal roadmap of February 1, 2005 might finally gain that vital resonance.

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news