Any legitimacy-challenged regime, whether benign or malignant, is oppressive. It doesn\'t take long for even a benevolent dictatorship to degenerate into tyranny. Insecure and paranoid, illegitimate governments inevitably go about centralising authority, thereby undermining their legitimacy further. By using coercion, repression, violence, rewards or punishment and manufacture of consent through propaganda, an authoritarian order may be relatively stable in the short-term. But it ends up undermining itself from within.
There are signs of things to come and recent pronouncements by loyal royals are ominous. Former Brig Gen Bharat Keshar Simha, an honorary ADC to the king, argued recently that since the monarch was a Bishnu incarnate he was above the constitution. Yet another retired general and member of the Raj Parishad, Sachit Shamsher, warned that politicians deserved to be treated as in the 1960s when parties were proscribed and their leaders imprisoned by King Mahendra. And then, there is Donald Camp, who tells the king when he meets him that going back to pre-1990 is out of the question as far the international community is concerned.
If these statements by people perceived to be close to Narayanhiti are anything to go by, even tougher restrictions on political activity appear to be in the cards. Hallucinators who yearn for a return to absolute monarchy forget that it had already brought the country to the brink of disaster in 1990. If it were not for the safety valve that democracy accorded, the state would have crumbled under the combined weight of people\'s frustrations with the system, an Indian economic blockade and international apathy towards the plight of Nepalis. But, it seems, no one ever learns anything from history. By making reform impossible, the courtiers are bent upon making revolution inevitable.
The royal regime\'s dismal performance inspires even less confidence. Maoist violence has escalated, the economy is in a tailspin weighed down by stagnation and inflation. Failures on the foreign policy front are so stark that even a routine royal visit to Qatar is being labelled as a monumental achievement. But nowhere is the record as abysmal as in the arena of fundamental freedoms. Five months after February First, political prisoners continue to languish in prison.
Sher Bahadur Deuba and Prakash Man Singh are victims of political vendetta and a selective witch-hunt. They are being unlawfully prosecuted by an extra-constitutional watchdog. Unfortunately, Deuba and Singh lack the moral fortitude to question the RCCC\'s decisions. After all, they themselves functioned as loyal nominees until the king dismissed them.
But people who never acquiesced to the post-October 2002 royal order and were imprisoned for their beliefs can be considered prisoners of conscience. Ramchandra Poudel was released on Tuesday but Narhari Acharya and Krishna Pahadi are still in detention. Unlike Deuba and Singh, Acharya and Pahadi aren\'t where they are for what they did or didn\'t do. They are in prison because they stand for certain values. Prisoners of conscience delegitimise regimes and draw international attention to this state of unreason.
The press is still supressed and the bar is debarred from taking up constitutional issues in the courts. Both have been forced to take their agitation to the streets. February First loyalists interpret acquiescence of a repressed people as evidence of their consent for royal rule and the possibility of a rapprochement between constitutional forces has never been more distant. Instead, a showdown between the forces of autocracy and democracy is imminent.
US Ambassador James Moriarty predicted the outcome of intensification of confrontation in his address to the East West Centre last week: millions of Nepalis are refugees in India, and anarchy inside the country. But such a doomsday scenario is probably scare mongering tactics to make donors fall in line with the royal regime. The result of political upheavals is unpredictable. Royal rollback is the safest course to save the country from unintended consequences of catastrophic confrontation.