Heavyweight Indian politicos are in town this week to express solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Nepal. They should be careful-any sign that future reforms are engineered from south of the border will be their kiss of death. Rumour is rife that a prototype constitution, modelled after the one submitted to the 1990 drafting committee by top army brass, is doing the rounds of diplomatic missions.
The build-up of rhetoric indicates that the third anniversary of the takeover process that began on 4 October 2002 will further intensify the confrontation between the palace and the people. Whatever the outcome, the struggle will weaken the state. As in life, so in politics-if anything can go wrong, it will.
When King Gyanendra dismissed Sher Bahadur Deuba and assumed control three years ago, he initially got the benefit of the doubt. A ceasefire soon after convinced many he could lift the country out of the quagmire. The middle-class believed the king had an ace up his sleeve to solve the Maoist menace. The Americans hoped that the end of political bickering would help focus attention on resolving the insurgency. The Indians anticipated dealing with a confident king who could restore stability. Big Business expected a former colleague to quickly clean up the mess. All such hopes have now been dashed. The promises of peace, good governance and development remain unfulfilled as the country hurtles towards the edge.
February First completed what was started that Dasain three years ago. It removed any doubts that this was a neo-Panchayat experiment all along. The plan all along seems to have been to take over, plain and simple. The international community hasn't yet completely ostracised the royal regime but there are signs that our foreign friends are abandoning this sinking ship. Snubbed abroad and shunned at home, the regime now comes to another fork on the road.
Perhaps as a sign of things to come, the vice-chairman vented his ire at the constitution, dismissing it as a roadblock to peace. Another ominous hint: last week the king charged that the flow of foreign funds was responsible for the nasty activities against his rule. One is tempted to ask: does the establishment really know who its really enemy is? There are Maoists at the gates and they have smirks on their faces.
If a further consolidation of powers is being contemplated that is the wrong road. No one in authority appears to have realised yet that continuation of the October Four order without substantive correction is fraught with dangers unimagined by strategists in the palace. Power has the strange effect of making people nearsighted. Absolute power often means an absolute inability to gauge dissatisfaction simmering below an apparently calm surface. If the king refuses to rollback the royal takeover, the unthinkable may soon become reality.
One need only turn to history books about Iran in 1973. Fully armed and funded by the Americans, and despite the quadrupling of oil prices that gave him vast riches that he spent on pomp and progress, Shah Reza Pahlavi couldn't stop the tide once it turned. Elected leaders can fall back on performance legitimacy in times of crisis but even that is no guarantee for non-representative ones. Even kings with the mandate of heaven need to submit themselves to popular will expressed through the universally recognised mechanism of plebiscite, endorsement of a constituent assembly or periodic approval by a functioning parliament. This is no longer medieval Europe.
Notwithstanding the dire predictions of the monarchy's critics, the king still has several face-saving options to return to a constitutional role. But if he keeps on this path, even a ceremonial role may not be guaranteed. And you don't even need Murphy's Law to know that.