When King Gyanendra entered the Pratinidhi Sabha on 29 June to address the joint session of the parliament, Speaker Taranath Ranabhat had seen to it that there would be no danger to the person of the king. On his express orders parliamentary security guards subjected even the prime minister of the country to a thorough body-check. This no-nonsense face of Speaker Ranabhat was quite different from the clownish one seen over Nepal Television screens last month when he was presenting the probe panel report to the press.
Now that two weeks have elapsed, it may be time to take a fresh look at Ranabhat's performance that Thursday evening of 14 June. Many found the Speaker's antics unspeakable. Ranabhat entertained media no end by his theatrical impersonation of Rambo and was quickly dubbed a national embarrassment in the virtual community of the Nepali diaspora (see sample Internet illustration, right). After reading his submission in enthusiastic regalese at Narayanhiti, Ranabhat recited the entire report of the two-member probe panel constituted by the King to investigate the Narayanhiti Massacre of 1 June. In the manner of students who have just finished a particularly difficult exam Ranabhat completed reading the report all by himself, and then lifted Dipendra's M-16 gun with his now-famous pose. The next day's national dailies proclaimed this was the worst affront to Nepal's image abroad after Girija Prasad's interview to CNN. And his "bhatatata" is now immortalised in the Nepali lexicon, and is sure to find place in the next edition of the Nepali Sabdakosh with the new meaning for this onomatopoeia: "getting carried away with one's words".
Apparently, Ranabhat prefers Hollywood blockbusters to homemade Kollywood tear-jerkers. Had his taste been different, he would have known when to hold his smile, and when to shed a strategic tear. Nepali society places a premium on solemnity, and Ranabhat forgot this cardinal principal: if you want to be taken seriously, you must appear as grave as a gravestone. He is still paying for being himself at that press conference. Nothing causes as much revulsion in the bourgeoisie as a breach of decorum, and for them his frivolity was unforgivable.
Ranabhat's first faux pas was that he didn't run away from responsibility like Comrade Madhav Nepal. To be a true-blue Nepali elite, you don't do anything other than pontificate. By putting his shoulder to the grind, Ranabhat lost all rights to self-righteousness. He antagonised half the bourgeoisie by just being in the probe committee. The other half then had enough reason to denounce his demeanour when he chose to be serious without seriously appearing to be so.
Somehow, the possibility of a conspiracy offered a solace to the middle-class that has found it too difficult to cope with the tragedy of regicide. The stark fact of the massacre being the result of insanity that sets into any stagnant value-system would have blown the cover of conspiracy. The bourgeoisie therefore hated Ranabhat for not being a party to its social cover-up exercise. One look at the way the Maoist insurgency is being taken by the social elite of Kathmandu is enough to expose the hypocrisy and duplicity that is rampant here.
Upper and middle class Nepal is so rotten to the core that it does not have the moral courage to face uncomfortable facts. All it wants is a convenient fiction to hide behind, and Dr Baburam Bhattarai had already produced one with alacrity. After Kantipur published the good doctor's paranoid purple prose on its opinion page, it became the revealed wisdom for the chattering classes of Kathmandu. What the probe panel found contradicted that fiction with an array of facts too powerful to refute. So the pundits unsheathed their pens and ridiculed Speaker Ranabhat in a display of the "hang the messenger" mind-set. Accepting facts would demand too much self-analysis.
However buffoonish Ranabhat's antics were, at least they were spontaneous. To those who know Ranabhat personally, he is correct to a fault when it comes to observing the niceties of Kathmandu's nobility-notice his noblesse oblige at Naryanhiti while presenting the report to the King. Ranabhat's desire to be accepted by the high society of Kathmandu is so strong that he would never dare transgress the borders of propriety set by it.
One explanation for his behaviour is that the Rambo act was an act. By refusing to become a sobbing bearer of bad news, he may have courted censure and diverted the attention away from the shortcomings of the probe panel report which, everyone agrees, was full of holes. It was a compilation of eyewitness accounts and physical evidence of what happened, it did not analyse, and it offered no conclusions. Questions about motive-the why of the tragedy-were not fully answered, and tangential references to it fudge rather than clear the issue.
Ranabhat's antics distracted attention from that central point. No one cared to notice the nervousness Ranabhat was trying to conceal by his false bravado. Take a second look at the video-clip: with the advantage of distance from that day of fearful anticipation, you can see the raucous scene with a more discerning eye. The sadness in Ranabhat's eyes above the smiling face is all too visible. The laboured English is as much due to exhaustion as a display of his lack of command over the language. If you look dispassionately, the agony behind is apparent. To be able to misquote Shakespeare is one of the essential attributes of belonging to bourgeoisie, and it is difficult to resist the charm of taking liberty with the bard to sum up the fracas over the fiasco in one sentence: all the world is a stage, Tara Ranabhat played his part, and lampooning him is much ado about nothing.
However he may have come across on television on 14 June, mark my words: Ranabhat is a son of the soil and street smart. Watch this man, he was BP Koirala's blue-eyed boy and is destined to go places. Even the negative publicity he got will help him in the long run.