Nepali Times Asian Paints
A stitch in time



Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has no love lost for King Gyanendra, but in the past year he has refused to be swept along by the republican wave.

He is now producing his trump card in exchange for concessions from the Maoists on minimum conditions before they join the government: return of confiscated property, stopping all extortion, a formal renunciation of violence, and general good behaviour.

His Biratnagar statement on 12 March ("in a sense we are already a republic") was to keep his end of the bargain with Chairman Dahal. But more importantly, it was a last ditch attempt to save Nepal's monarchy from extinction. It may not do the trick, but Koirala figures it\'s worth a try and will also make him look less like a royalist.

By skipping two generations and going directly to Paras' four-year-old son Hridayendra, Koirala is keeping the option of retaining the monarchy and its still-loyal army brass as an insurance against future instability or dominance of militarised communists.

The three main international players in Nepal, who are concerned about potential post-Koirala power grabs, are also said to be in favour of this option. Emissaries took the message to Gyanendra recently, and the king is said to have wanted to know if that was his only option.

What seems to have riled Koirala most are hints of Hindu royalists stoking the tarai fires, as well as the king's own controversial Democracy Day statement in which he tried to justify his takeover in 2005. Although Gyanendra read out that speech on the phone to Koirala beforehand, the wily prime minister could have given the green light on its delivery knowing full well that it would stir a hornet's nest. As the prime minister and the king try to out-maneouvre each other, the danger is both could be out-maneouvered by the republicans.

"He [Gyanendra] still doesn't get it," said one longtime royal watcher, "to me it looks like he won't agree to abdication. He'd rather take the monarchy and the country down with him."

If it's hard to see how both the king and his son could be convinced about the Naba Yubaraj option, they'd be even less likely to agree to revert the monarchy to King Birendra's surviving grand-daughter. With abolitionists now literally at the gates, there are questions about whether it is worth going through so much trouble to save the monarchy.

The more urgent business is to set up the interim government which includes the Maoists, and declare a date for elections. In this, the king has become the pawn.

However, even within the NC there is discomfort that Dahal and Koirala are deciding on their own on a matter that should be left to the people. "This is simple dictatorship," said one kangresi leader.

Until now, Koirala has been playing a delicate balancing act by keeping both the Maoists and the army generals engaged. His conundrum: throwing out the monarchy would mean die-hard royals would have nothing left to lose, but keeping a ceremonial monarchy would be the excuse the Maoists need to play
hard ball.

Hence the halfway Hridayendra option.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)