At the citizens' rally for democracy and peace at Ratna Park on Monday, some demonstrators chanted slogans that would have been unthinkable until a few years ago. In protests the next day, supporters of Sher Bahadur Deuba used the vilest anti-monarchist language yet heard on Kathmandu's streets.
Lese majest?, a concept that places the person of the king beyond reproach and makes any attack on him a punishable act, has ceased to command respect. Could it be that the days of monarchy as we knew it are numbered?
The monarchy lost the mandate of heaven, the central doctrine of Divine Rights Theory, after the Narayanhiti Massacre on 1 June 2001. The alleged killer was declared king and spent his entire reign in a coma. People weeping inconsolably at the gates of the royal palace were in fact mourning for the loss of innocence, an end of the era when the monarch was one of the deities in their pantheon. Many Nepalis ceased paying customary homage to the king at family altars after that.
The risks of having a manipulative monarchy were proven when Sher Bahadur Deuba dissolved parliament in the dead of night four years ago without even consulting his senior cabinet colleagues. It was a coup by stealth where the avarice of a politically inept premier was exploited. No one believed elections could be held within the specified period and when they weren't, King Gyanendra sacked a prime minister who was only doing his bidding. His announcement on 4 October 2002 broke the compact King Birendra had made with his people in 1990. With the second instalment of the takeover and Deuba's second sacking on 1 February, the king became CEO, transforming himself from constitutional monarch to constructive king.
An active monarchy is judged by the results it delivers. But every premier installed by the king since 2002 has bowed out in disgrace as the insurgency escalated, the economy decelerated and Nepali society got increasingly polarised. Young people started to openly espouse the republican agenda and in campus after campus, students voted against the monarchy in referenda.
February First was the third and final stage of the creeping coup. Six months later, the king continues to hold all state power but his authority is now completely coercive. On an ideological level, a political consensus is emerging that even a constitutional monarchy may be detrimental to healthy democracy. Tulsi Giri, the resurrected political ghost from the Panchayat era, has put the debate most succinctly: it's either monarchy or democracy, the two can't go together. The Maoists have been unsuccessfully making the same point for 10 years.
Despite this, some in the international community still call for a "unity of constitutional forces". US Ambassador James Moriarty this week again urged reconciliation between the king and the political parties even as the royal regime dug in its heels. Former US Senator Thomas Daschle, visiting Nepal on a 'democratisation' mission, echoed the point made by his envoy. India's junior foreign minister Rao Inderjit Singh reiterated his country's Twin Pillar Doctrine.
Meanwhile, the king is pursuing his path ignoring all advice and criticism. This is what is provoking people opposed to a return to authoritarianism to resort to unprecedented anti-monarchist rhetoric. It seems the countdown for a final showdown between the palace and the people has begun. If history is any guide, the outcome of such a contest is a foregone conclusion. Sensing the turning tide, radically chic socialites have also joined the republican bandwagon. At public gatherings, advocates of even a ceremonial monarchy are now being seen as too soft.
The monarchy was at its weakest in the aftermath of the royal massacre. But the political mainstream came to its rescue. Now that the king is running the country, that is not likely to happen again. Public evaluation of his performance, rather than faith, will determine the future of the institution of monarchy. With its bleak record since October Fourth, this constructive monarchy needs all the divine blessings it can get.