Nepali Times Asian Paints
State Of The State
Absolutely traditional


The royal takeover of 4 October, 2002 sought to change the monarch's powers in several ways. It assumed the power to fire elected prime ministers and replace them with selected royal nominees. It sought to establish the precedence that the king could interpret, amend or annul provisions in the constitution. It took sovereignty to imply impunity from censure. And finally, it propounded the principle of primacy of tradition. Enough has been said about first three principles, but even at the risk of belabouring the obvious, some points need to be made all over again:

a. A king constitutionally bound to act according to the advice of the council of minister doesn't have the right to dismiss its chairman, no matter how compelling the reason.

b. According to the doctrine of separation of power in parliamentary democracies, the legislature makes laws, the executive implements them, and should there be confusion, the judiciary is the final authority to interpret it

c. The notion of state sovereignty doesn't supersede the provisions of universal declaration of human rights and other similar covenants duly ratified by people's elected representatives

Thus, by every criteria of constitutionalism, the October Fourth takeover was wrong. It was morally reproachable, legally untenable, and practically flawed. Almost every framer of the constitution has since taken the stand that the takeover is patently unconstitutional. However, that was precisely the point of the proclamation in the first place because the fourth cardinal rule of constructive monarchy is cast in stone: the customs and traditions of the Shah Dynasty supersede the laws of the land.

Hardcore monarchists like Bharat Keshar Simha, Sachit Shamsher Rana and Tulsi Giri have been forcefully pushing this argument. For Giri, the king is the personification of all his subjects. In somewhat similar vein, Simha asserts that a divine Hindu monarch can't be bound by human constitutions. Sachit Shamsher is a little more circumspect, but his position is: the king is the state and vice versa.

The Maoists know what they are up against in a country mired in obscurantism. The mainstream parties also realise the grip Hindu orthodoxy still has upon Nepali rulers. But professionals judge the king by their own beliefs and declare that the idea of an absolute king obsolete. But that attitude is more wishful thinking than a reflection of ground reality.

The dips are even more confused. A western diplomat lamented ruefully: "When we saw a Hindu priests being helicoptered around to four shrines all over the kingdom just before Dasain, we guessed that something was afoot. But had we submitted an assessment report on this basis, we would have been laughed out by headquarters."

What our western well-wishers fail to appreciate is that monarchs don't fit the prototype of tinpot dictators in post-colonial countries. Kings have their own ways of authoritarianism not found anymore in text book case-studies at institutes of international relations.

Marx described traditional monarchs as "oriental despots". The phrase is loaded with racial overtones (hereditary monarchs elsewhere in the world were hardly any different) but it encapsulates the fundamental character of divine kings in unambiguous terms: "An oriental despot requires but little ability: as long as he lives, he succeeds, for he has absolutely his own way." They rule by being, not by doing. Faith is the source of their power, not logic.

Since monarchies are inherently absolutist, there is only one proven method of making them constitutional: make them dispensable. The constitution of 1990, for all its merits, was thus fundamentally flawed. It failed to enshrine the crucial clause that the country could turn into a republic if and when its people so desired.

As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of a comatose constitution on 9 November it is time to end the farce of Article 127 and opt for a constituent assembly. Drafting a new compact to transform this kingdom into a modern state has now become an undeniable imperative.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)