Writing On Revolution, Marx said, "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."
King Gyanendra first made an oblique reference to a 'constructive' monarchy as an alternative to a constitutional one at his felicitation program in Biratnagar last January. He reiterated this concept, again a bit vaguely, at another felicitation ceremony in Dhangadi in April. Meanwhile, the royal propaganda machine was relentlessly churning out the king's disquiet with mainstream political parties.
Now, the gloves are off. Not content with the tone and tenor of the loyal royals, King Gyanendra seems to have decided to enter the fray himself. Sunday's felicitation ceremony at the Mahendra Stadium in Nepalganj was held amidst tight security with helicopter gunships patrolling the sky. "The days of monarchy being seen but not heard, watching the people's difficulties but not addressing them and being a silent spectator to their tear-stained faces are over," said the king. Premier Surya Bahadur Thapa, it seems, needn't harbour any illusions about his executive powers.
The reception at Nepalgunj was too lack-lustre to ignite any spontaneous gestures of support. The king coughed through his address and the event itself was so banal that Nepal Television's Durga Nath Sharma had to rely on fellow propagandist Yubraj Gautam of Gorkhapatra Sansthan to elaborate on the successes of the ceremony.
With all his considered wisdom, the king seems to have concluded that opposition to his active rule can be bribed, booed or bashed into submission with little or no risk to the institution of monarchy. Time will test the validity of his assumptions, but for now, political parties have few options left. Leaders of mainstream parties are bracing themselves for a prolonged struggle.
What will the king's next move be? There may be clues from the way Gen Musharraf has consolidated power in the past four years. After all, like in Pakistan there is a self-selected elite here that considers itself the custodian of the national interest. The ruling class in both countries think that it is their manifest destiny to lift the ignorant masses from their collective misery.
The symbol of the ruling oligarchy in Pakistan are its defence forces-omnipresent, omniscient and sacrosanct. After the Shah Restoration of the 1950s, the monarchy in Nepal has always been at the head of the ruling coalition that consists of the military, the mandarins and the merchants. Add to that the mendicants and minders and we have the five pillars of the establishment.
In addition to the 'Made in USA' label, there are other similarities between the guided democracies in Pakistan and Nepal: both takeovers were staged in October, Gen Musharraf also had a 'Seven Point' agenda, our CIAA has been as active as Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau, Musharraf too opened the floodgates of ordinances, capping them with his Legal Framework Order. King Gyanendra must be contemplating a similar move to institutionalise his constructive role.
The king will probably learn a few more lessons from Pakistan, just as his late father King Mahendra had done, and replicate Gen Ayub Khan's Basic Democracy in Nepal in the 60s. Will it consist of holding Musharraf-type elections by disqualifying all major political figures by claiming that they are tainted with the charges of corruption?
King Gyanendra sees himself as a 'doer' king in the mould of his ancestor King Prithbi Narayan Shah the Great. In that case, we may be three years into a model that may be three centuries old.Dismissing Karl Marx's correction of Hegel, Julian Barnes writes in A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters: "Does history repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? No, that's too grand, too considered a process. History just burps, and we taste again that raw-onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago."