Nepali Times Asian Paints
State Of The State
Constitutional farce


When the government reneged on its promise to let the Nepali Congress use the BICC premises for its 11th general convention, the party held it in an open playground in the sweltering heat of August.

But this just gave thousands of delegates from all over Nepal a sense of d?j? vu. Their party was once more on the street doing what it has been doing since the reign of King Tribhuban: raising its voice against the excesses of yet another activist king. In Jawalakhel on Tuesday afternoon speakers most critical of the king got the loudest applause.

Meanwhile, King Gyanendra ignores pleas for unity between constitutional forces and continues to consolidate his 'constructive' role. On a tour of the west last week the king frequently changed between casual and camouflage. He instructed newly nominated district development chiefs as head of government in pastel civvies and then changed into the military fatigues of the supreme commander of the Royal Nepali Army to boost troop morale.

In mannerism, too, the king switched between king and chairman of the council of ministers alternating between the first person singular "I" and the royal "we". The chief executive threatened "departmental action" against errant officials. There was no mistaking the royal resoluteness to be the real ruler. Then, speaking to state media the king asserted he was directly answerable to the people and was forthright about his ambition to be a hands-on king.

On a conceptual level, absolute monarchists are much clearer in their beliefs than votaries of absolute democracy. A constitutional monarchy is a political fantasy that can't be replicated anywhere other than in the country that first thought it up. Britain doesn't have a written constitution but it has a constitutional monarchy. So every parliament is a 'constituent assembly' because it can depose the reigning king with a simple majority. In that sense, every general election is a referendum on the future of monarchy and a contest for the formation of a constituent assembly rolled into one. The arguments of Nepal's ardent royalists aren't without merit-the idea of a ceremonial king is antithetical in a hierarchical society.

All this has pushed the political parties to rephrase their agenda. Democracy is a system of governance 'of the people, by the people and for the people' and organisations claiming to represent the people must challenge the idea of absolute rulers or be prepared to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

To be regarded as a 'constitutional force' you had to be a practitioner of peaceful politics, you had to come together to counter the violent insurgency in a united way. Nobody seems to believe in it anymore. The king wants to chart his own course and live up to the expectations of those who want him to be a true Hindu monarch reigning and ruling in the name of god.

And by adopting a republican agenda, political parties have also accepted that the 1990 constitution is now beyond redemption. Developments since the 4 October 2002 takeover have thus confirmed the Maoist prognosis: the age-old conflict between the palace and the people can only be resolved by a competent constituent assembly empowered to assert the supremacy of the people.

Now it's the international community's turn to respond. India's twin-pillar doctrine of stability hasn't worked and is unlikely to. The Americans seem to be having doubts about a military king keeping an unruly country under control and feel that with the Maoists continuing their rampage, the search for a political solution can't be delayed much longer. Due to an association dating back to 1816, nobody understands the peccadilloes of Nepal's ruling families better than the Brits. They have seen a lot of intrigue in the Kathmandu Darbar but nothing like what is going on today.

In the final analysis, it is democracy that links peace and stability in the country. The search for alternatives to establish the people's supremacy must extend beyond the boundaries of a constitution made ineffective by repeated willful abuse.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)