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Ill advised


Last week The Independent reported that the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was advised wrongly in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalitions forces. Apparently the advisers led Saddam to believe that the Americans would never be able to take over Baghdad. They were soon to be proven wrong.

On Sunday, King Gyanendra will receive yet another civic reception in Pokhara. His advisers must be busy checking the final draft of yet another royal address to the nation. The events so far have proved that the king is being misled by his advisers, though it would be important to recognise that it was the king himself who picked them. So, as it has happened, the blame has largely fallen on the king himself, not on the advisers.

The king has surrounded himself by the likes of Marich Man Singh and Sharad Chandra Shah, both staunchly royalist but highly discredited Panchayati stalwarts. What can one expect when he has chosen to be advised by such blinkered horses?

This columnist modestly believes that he is more open and objective than Singh and Shah. Hence, from the perspective of distance, it may make sense to provide some unsolicited advice from London on the eve of the Pokhara address:

a) Kathmandu's rumour mill has it that the king may announce general elections in Pokhara. That will be yet another mistake. The announcement of the general elections at present is only likely to further complicate the situation.

Just because the king has been visiting the district headquarters amidst heavy security does not mean that it is safe for polls. Even if they are held in phases as the Home Minister, Kamal Thapa, repeatedly emphasises, they are not likely to produce democratic results.

b) In terms of PR, it may be wiser to announce the establishment of a charitable trust from the assets left behind by his beloved brother, Birendra, and his family. This may actually redress some of the damage to the institution of monarchy in Nepal.

c) The king must be realistic in choosing the words of his speech. One can deceive some people for some time, but not all the people all the time. So far he has limited himself only to rhetorical statements which have gradually brought him down to the level of other political leaders.

d) The sooner the king accepts the importance of political parties as indispensable democratic institutions the better it is. He should not be cynical about them when so much cynicism is growing about his own role. Trying to make political capital out of their weaknesses was, is and will be a blunder.

e) The politics of civic receptions must stop. The king and his coterie have always suffered from political myopia and the latest moves are just the latest example. On the one hand, they have consistently hampered the institutionalisation of the state as a democratic and progressive entity, while on the other, gradually discredited the monarchy.

f) By deliberately sidelining the democratic forces, the king is playing a dangerous political game, which will be long-drawn and which he will never win. If he does not lose, it may be his son who will. And when that happens, the outcome will not be as tame as in 1990.

None of the king's advisers, nor Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, can be expected to give this kind of advice. These royal puppets have outlived their usefulness in pursuing their personal ambitions. There are scores of other true monarchists in Nepal who are genuinely concerned about the longevity of this institution and could provide far more valuable counsel. It just requires King Gyanendra himself to keep an open mind.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)