King vs. People

King vs. People
By H.K. Dua

Wisdom generally dawns on kings later than it ought to and when it does, it comes in a small measure. King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev of Nepal last night came down from the throne by a notch but chose to cling on to it without realising that the ground underneath had already been shaken, perhaps beyond repair.

Over two years ago, he imposed his personal rule on the country, dissolved Parliament by an arbitrary decree, arrested political leaders and began suppressing movements for civil rights and the emerging free press of Nepal.

Beleaguered and living in isolation now in his palace, he went on TV to offer “executive power” to the democratic parties and invited them to nominate a Prime Minister who could form an interim government.

While King Gyanendra was speaking on TV, crowds of people, young and old, were out on the street demanding his abdication from power and setting up of a constituent assembly which could frame a constitution to induct a republican form of government in place of the monarchy. The King in his telecast kept quiet on all these demands and gave no indication that he had accepted even in principle the concept of a constitutional monarchy where only the wishes of the people – not of the palace – would prevail.

The Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) has taken no time to reject the King’s offer. In its view, the monarch was giving too little and too late and that he was merely buying time, retaining power to dismiss an elected government and dissolve a parliament at his royal whim. The SPA apart, few in Nepal seem to take his offer to political parties to nominate a Prime Minister seriously. The general belief in Kathmandu is that the King is merely trying to divide the anti-monarchy forces and cleverly weaning away the SPA from the Maoists who together in alliance have emerged as a major threat to the monarchy.

Judging from Dr Karan Singh’s mission to Kathmandu and the statement New Delhi made soon after King Gyanendra’s telecast, India seems to be endorsing his offer to the political parties to nominate a Prime Minister. Although ground realities in Nepal have changed in a big way, India continues to believe that a democratic government formed after an election and a constitutional monarchy is still the best option for Nepal for ensuring its political stability and economic progress. New Delhi will announce an economic package, and possibly military supplies, to a new government formed by a Prime Minister named by the SPA. That is possible only if a new government actually comes into existence.

New Delhi has never been fond of King Gyanendra, and his ways or intentions. There is no evidence that he has ever got converted to the proposition that the King should have only a nominal role. Or will the people of Nepal, who have earlier liked the monarchy as an institution, but remained distrustful of King Gyanendra, accept an arrangement where he remains in power any longer? It is hard to believe that the youth of Nepal who are all over Kathmandu agitating against him will accept anything less than his abdication.

King Gyanendra, like most people who happen to symbolise an anachronism, made the offer of “executive power” rather late in the day and only when he had been pushed into a corner by events and the people’s movement which already might have gone out of hand of the political leaders. Whether India, which also has got into the act rather late in the day, can still help in stabilising the situation, remains to be seen.

Clearly, the Indian government is worried about the prospect of the Maoists coming to power in Kathmandu and the fear that this could lead to an alliance between the Maoists in Nepal and the Naxalites who have gained influence in several states of India. India may be already paying for delayed reaction to the situation, which has been developing in Nepal over the last several years.

No one can imagine that King Gyanendra’s offer can tackle Nepal’s crisis for which he himself is to blame. No one knows how the situation will unfold. India has a vital stake in the stability of Nepal. Whatever the worth of its yesterday’s initiative – which is of a limited nature – New Delhi may have to think of more options about its role in sorting out the Nepalese situation. Its best policy should ultimately be taking the side of the people of Nepal.