Unbeknownst even to themselves, the students of Tribhuban and Mahendra Sanskrit universities created history last week. Compared to the 20 percent turnout in last month's civic polls nearly 85 percent of eligible student voters lined up for students council elections at nearly 200 constituent and affiliated colleges all over the country.
Nearly all those elected had campaigned on a republican platform. Student unions affiliated to royalist parties failed even to register their presence. The writing on the wall is clear: the future of Nepal is republican. This will have far-reaching consequences on, for instance, our rapidly-expanding military. How is the army going to vet new recruits to weed out republicans if 85 percent of college kids don't believe in the monarchy anymore?
There are other indications that the monarchy has dealt itself a mortal blow in the past year. The landmark Supreme Court decision dismissing the RCCC was a reaffirmation of the sovereignty of the people, that the constitution is still in force and that the government headed by a chairman-king has no constitutional basis. In a civilised a society with a residue of political morality, such an unequivocal judgement would have forced a government to step down in disgrace.
But we are still under the spell of strongman rule.
Then the 10th conference of Nepal Bar Association last week declared its commitment to constitutional supremacy and rule of law, called for the dissolution of the present government and demanded elections for a constituent assembly. That was a polite way of saying 'republic'. A legal-political definition of 'republic' refers to a form of government based on civic virtue, liberty, non-arbitrary rule and a mix of representative and permanent government with constitutional checks and balances. By that logic, a ceremonial king can still exist in a republic but it has no place for an active monarchy.
Loyal royals entrusted with speaking for the palace have of late toned down their rhetoric. But accepting a constitutional role is a precondition for a palace-parties rapprochement. It implies that the king will have to abandon his interventionist ambitions and dump dummy parties set up by handpicked henchmen.
US Assistant Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs for South Asia, Donald Camp arrived in Kathmandu via New Delhi on Wednesday and Sher Bahadur Deuba is going on a junket to Colombia. Don't know if the two are connected but neither visit is likely to change ground reality.
What must be giving the royal rearguard sleepless nights must be vanishing international aid. With the state coffers effectively at the disposal of the palace, army and police the regime needs cash and fast. In public, the Harvard-alumnus state minister for finance puts on a brave face but privately treasury officials are in near-panic. It's a mess: double-digit inflation, revenue shortfalls and a disbursement crisis. When an outraged public can't take it anymore, no prizes for guessing where the anger will be directed.
UML and NC leaders and the Maoists are confabulating again in New Delhi. When the 12-point understanding between them crystallises into a consensus document on a republican agenda, even hardcore monarchists will start jumping the royal ship. Everybody, especially the traditional elite, love to be on the wining side.
Lastly, the international community and India are seriously worried about this dangerous drift. Even China is getting edgy and sending State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan on a rescheduled trip this month.