Nepali Times
State Of The State
Let’s save the king


A recent op-ed piece in Gorkhapatra has tried to justify the surrender of sovereignty by the Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir in 1947 as an "instance of crisis of confidence". By trying to draw this historical parallel, Yubraj Gautam, the editor of the government mouthpiece who wrote the article himself, has put forth a menacing insinuation.

No institution in the country is above suspicion now. Politicians of every hue are suddenly on guard.

Meanwhile, King Gyanendra has been granting audience to an assembly line of politicos, but he doesn't seem to be any particular hurry to bring back parliamentary politics. Even Comrade Nepal, who has been eagerly waiting for a royal t?te-?-t?te, didn't appear too satisfied with the Nagarjun meeting. The rest of his agitating partners are bracing themselves for yet another delay tactic to keep the constitution in suspended animation.

This wariness isn't groundless. In the brief history of slightly over half-a-century since the Shah Restoration in 1950, Narayanhiti Palace has repeatedly used its time-tested tactics to keep the democratic aspirations of the people in check. It has used every trick in the book to deny, delay, divide, discredit, denigrate and then destroy mainstream political parties.

The trick is to keep them squabbling perennially. But this strategy runs the risk of putting the very existence of country in jeopardy. Politically, a state without a king is not impossible, but no country can hope to survive for long unless it has vibrant and responsible political parties competing among themselves to create an alert and organised citizenry.

In Nepal, the vilification of political parties goes hand in hand with the glorification of the king, the priesthood, the army, and business. However, none of these entrenched forces seem to have realised that it's not business as usual anymore. The experience of raucous democracy and ruthless insurgency have awakened tribalistic and authoritarian streaks embedded in our national psyche. There is no way the country can now go back to the 'good old days' of authoritarian certainty.

After the Third Wave of democracy swept the world, it has ceased to be merely one among the several systems of governance. Now it is an ideal that even countries like Afghanistan and Iraq are expected to live up to and for a multi-ethnic society like Nepal, it is the sole strategy of survival. Trumpeting the supposed benefits of an active monarchy, as the Royal Council has been doing through its regional consultations, is bound to be counter-productive.

The monarchy lost some of its traditional moorings after the royal massacre, and even when the entire country was in a state of shock in those trying weeks, it was the supreme law of the land that saved the constitutional monarchy. However, the Fourth October royal takeover has now put a question mark over the kingship. King Gyanendra has publicly sought a 'constructive' role for himself, thus transforming the monarchy into a political player.

Politics, by definition, is an arena of contest. Rhetoric is an inevitable part of politics, and if the king wishes to be player, he has to prepare himself for public criticism. The distressing part of it, however, is that the monarchy as a cultural symbol of all Nepalis is now directly being challenged.

Only a democratic polity has the power to protect the institution of monarchy. The people need democracy, but the king needs it even more. Any more dilly-dallying in the acceptance such interdependence will further erode the credibility of the monarchy. On National Unity Day this Sunday, we need mull these things over as we remember the contribution of King Prithbi Narayan Shah the Great in weaving together this diverse land.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)