The terrible night of June 1 was nothing short of a Shakespearean tragedy enacted on a Himalayan scale. A demonic rage seems to have swept Narayanhiti to decimate the reigning dynasty and completely unhinge the Nepali psyche in one stroke. As the nation mourns and confusion reigns, one tragic figure is left standing to pick up the pieces of family annihilation and national crisis.
Enormous responsibilities have been thrust upon the shoulders of King Gyanendra in the worst of circumstances. As the last man standing he must be aware both of his responsibility to the 500-year-old dynasty and the urgency of providing a unifying motive and hope for a nation beset by a host of problems. Despite the enormity of his own family grief King Gyanendra may not however expect much sympathy for his personal situation or the task he has at hand. He carries the burden of the living where death may be the only proof of innocence. How come you are alive? You were supposed to be dead along with the rest of your lineage, the monarchy's detractors insinuate in innuendoes.
The snub UML dealt by ejecting from the commission called by the still grieving King to investigate the killing of late King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and rest of the royal family is a portend of things to come in the future. Coming from a party that has shut down Parliament for months on end, the constitutionality plea was rather hypocritical. Or it could also be that having burnt their fingers in the investigation into the death of late Madan Bhandari, the UML is merely trying to steer clear of what it sees as a potential minefield. Considering the task at hand the commission did a commendable job despite UML's exit.
The committee appears to have decided not to speculate on the motive for the killings as all of those most involved in Dipendra's bridal disagreement were dead. While the report helped lift the heavy fog of uncertainty, suspicion and chaos generated by the royal carnage, it disappointed some who had expected its findings to confirm the more colorful version of events and motives. Apparently it can be difficult to accept a truth which is far simpler than all it is hyped up to be.
For the republican stream in Nepali politics, there will probably be no better opportunity to strike than the present when royalty is reduced to the last man following the royal massacre. Therefore no quarters will be given in the grim struggle, even by some of those who opportunistically recast themselves as 'constitutional monarchists' out of political expediency. If outright insurrection is not feasible at the moment then attempts will be made to sap the credibility of the new king by feeding the frenzied rumor mills. Rumour and slander remain potent weapons in Nepali politics, their efficacy resting not on veracity but rather on the intensity and audacity of the whisper campaigns. An ancient political art, rumors now command the services of the latest means of communication such as the internet, fax and the media to create virtual smear communities transcending national and local boundaries. Efforts will be made through various means to further destabilize the nation during the throes of succession by both internal and external interests. Instability at this critical juncture would serve some sections very well.
In the emerging cacophony over the present crisis, some seek to disqualify King Gyanendra for being involved in industrial entrepreneurship in the past. If anything that should be an asset, an industrious king is always better than an idle one. Obviously for reasons of conflict of interests he should not be owning or running them once he has ascended the throne, but his past experience will definitely assist him in better understanding the issues of state in his role as the head of state.
Others question King Gyanendra's ascension to the throne simply because he happens to be the father of a wayward prince. It is not as if Prince Gyanendra sought the throne, the throne was thrust on him for the second time in history. Should a son's recklessness disqualify a father? Politically Nepal has been an uniquely forgiving country. Former hijackers, head hunters and those who deliberately blew up parliament now grace the highest positions in government and legislature because of the general amnesty granted every now and then. No doubt, this lenient tradition will continue in the future. In this accommodative milieu, is it possible to conceive of a similar gesture of public pardon for Prince Paras? The prince may however have to bear in mind that healing and reconciliation is always a two-sided effort.
The new king is going to be compared to his illustrious brother constantly, which is only natural. He is already being painted as an Indophilic, Sinophobic, anti-Indian and so on by different groups to suit their vested interests. These comparisons with the late king might also turn somewhat disingenuous when it comes from those who have no love lost for the monarchy. Then the rumour mills resurrect Dipendra as a martyred angel just to make it difficult for the living. These will be challenges of a different nature for the new monarch.
There are other issues that need prompt attention. Nobody could have fully anticipated an irrational act of such deranged self-destruction, but still it must be said that the palace security apparatus failed miserably. What kind of security system allows assault weapons to be lugged to the king's chamber and dozens of bullets to be fired without activating prompt interception? The palace will also have to improve its arcane bureaucracy that drafts and defends ridiculous statements like submachine guns suddenly discharging. Such inept utterance not only insulted the intelligence of the global audience, but also cost the new monarch vital credibility. What was needed from the palace at such a critical moment was information, not provocation. The Crown now must establish a timely and credible line of communication with the people.
At times the new king must feel as though he is reliving the destiny of the Ramayana's Bharat who reluctantly accepted the realm following elder brother Ram's departure from Ayodhya. Bharat faced the silent resentment of his subjects even though he had nothing to do with Ram's exile, having been away at his maternal home at the time. Despite personal agony, duty bound Bharat to the thankless job. At least Bharat's brother returned after fourteen years, Gyanendra's brother won't. He is on his own now.
The only silver lining for a person on whom greatness is thrust upon is that exemplary leadership is often forged during testing times. King Gyanendra only has to be true to his country and history and render his best effort. Out of the present baptism by fire may rise a monarch who nurtures our unity, sovereignty and democracy. As the spontaneous outburst of public sorrow and grief made it clear, the silent majority has a deep faith in the institution of monarchy and that may be the new king's biggest asset in these turbulent times. The new monarch must learn to respect this historic trust and draw from it to heal a divided polity and chart his new destiny as the symbol of national unity and identity.
(Saubhagya Shah is currently completing his PhD research on state, development and social movements at Harvard University)