www.sacw.net | February 3, 2005


by Kanak Mani Dixit

[February 01, 2005]

When King Gyanendra sacked the prime minister and began direct rule on 1
February 2005, he said he did so under a constitutional provision which
enjoins the monarchy to uphold and protect the Constitution. While he
repeated many times in the royal address his commitment to constitutional
monarchy and multiparty rule, the king's drastic action on Tuesday went
patently against those principles. Firstly, he was taking over as executive
monarch on the basis of a personal decision. Secondly, the royal address was
replete with castigating references to political parties, who are the
intermediaries for pluralism and democratic practice anywhere in the world.

King Gyanendra's antipathy towards the political parties is well known and
has been often-expressed, but by sidelining them completely and planning to
rule as well as reign, the king has removed a buffer between himself and the
rough and tumble of politics. To that extent, he has taken a great risk and
put the institution of monarchy in the line of fire. Clearly, the king
believes that the risk is worth taking. Which brings us to the matter of
whether Narayanhiti Royal Palace has a trump card vis-à-vis the raging
Maoist insurgency. If such is indeed the case and there is rapid movement
towards tranquility, with the insurgents being routed or laying down arms,
the royal palace may be able to overcome the turbulence it has introduced
into the Nepali polity. Peace and an end to
the insurgency would put the monarchy back on the pedestal as a respected
institution, but everything depends on how soon that would happen. At one
time, the Maoists did announce that they would negotiate only with Prime
Minister Deuba's 'master', so are we to hope that now with the king directly
in-charge the Maoists will extend a hand? We can hope.

Further, the Royal Nepal Army's fight against the highly motivated and
increasingly brutal insurgents thus far has been lackluster. Will the royal
palace's direct control of national affairs mean that the military will now
put up a spirited fight, and also that its human rights record will improve
from current levels? We will have to see.

What is clear is that this has been a radical step exposing the institution
of kingship to flak, when other approaches could have been tried. Such as
using the inherent powers of kingship to cajole the political parties to
work together and put up a political front against the insurgents. But the
king's deeply held feelings towards the parties seems to have blocked off
this avenue towards resolution. The calls made since King Gyanendra took
over informally in October 2002 for an all-party government or revival of
the Third Parliament, all of which would have provided political challenge
to the Maoists on their home ground, are now for naught.

King Gyanendra's announcement of a takeover for 'up to three years'
provides a long window in which Nepal's highly successful experiment with
democracy of the last dozen years may be eroded. Unless there is a rapid
move towards resolution of the insurgency, it is also likely that the
Maoists will try to make common cause with the political parties. Although
it is not likely that the above-ground parties will go with the insurgents
as long as they hold on to the gun, it is certain that the royal action
will add strength to the insurgents' demand for a king-less republican
constitution and government, a call that has been taken up with alacrity
lately by many politicians.

It is inexplicable how the royal palace plans to attend to the criticism
that is bound to erupt in the domestic political arena as well as in the
international community. In castigating the political parties, King
Gyanendra preferred to hark back to the Parliament dissolved three years
ago, while keeping silent over interim period and rule through
palace-appointed prime ministers. This is the period when the peace and
security of the country's populace plummeted more than previously.

In the speech, King Gyanendra highlighted the great contribution of the
Shah dynasty to the creation of the nation and ventured that he was speaking
for the 'janabhawana', i.e. the Nepali people's feelings. While it is true
that the desire for peace overwhelms all other political desires among the
people, the question arises whether the royal takeover was the proper way to
address the 'chahana' (desires). Rather than remonstrate at the political
parties' inability to work together and opt for the takeover, it would have
been a much more popular and realistic move for the king to have used his
prerogative as head-of-state to bring the bickering parties together at this
critical juncture.

In the end, unless King Gyanendra is able to come up with the trump card of
peace vis-a-vis the Maoists in the near term, one can conclude that his
unprecedented action of the First of February has exposed the historically
significant institution of Nepal's monarchy to the vissictitudes of
day-to-day politics and power play. Did the Nepali monarchy deserve this at
this late a date in history?

Endnote: As I write this on Tuesday evening, the significant political
leaders are all under house arrest, the media (press, television, radio) is
under censorship, the fundamental freedoms have been suspended, a state of
emergency has been announced, telephones (landlines and cellular) as well as
Internet are down, and the Tribhuvan International Airport is closed.

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