Nepali Times
State Of The State
Ask not for whom the poll tolls


A day before it was to be telecast, the palace secretariat promoted King Gyanedra's impending speech as a royal address. Naturally, public anticipation was high. Political activists were rounded up across the country and the army presence on the streets was stepped up.

Fortunately the king didn't do any of the things that we have come to expect of him. He didn't announce a new constitution for monarchical democracy. The army didn't arrive at our newsrooms. People checked their post-paid mobiles and they were still working. There was no new state of emergency. Mercifully, the king's address turned out to be a damp squib.

Like the February First address, the speech this year also consisted mainly of faulty premises and empty promises. It was all double-speak about authoritarianism being the mainstay of meaningful democracy. However, compared to his grave composure last year, the king looked relatively calm this time around.

Some of his self-assessments, however, sounded outrageous. Even as the king was pronouncing that the security situation in the country had improved, the Maoists had just finished sacking the capital of Palpa district. He claimed that in the past year corruption had lessened, the administration de-politicised, fiscal discipline enforced, decentralisation strengthened, and a balance between security concerns and human rights established. Nepalis, he said, have whole-heartedly embraced municipal elections. Err, not quite, Your Majesty.

Any independent observer can see the municipal polls have degenerated from being a farce because of the political party boycott to a tragedy because of assassinations by the Maoists. Hazards for candidates remaining in the fray, dangers to officials assigned to election duty, and risks for voters making the trip to polling booths remain as high as they were before the royal address this week. The king studiously avoided criticism of mainstream parties and censure of international community, but he came across as a man still determined to play the game by his own rules.

To his credit, the king admitted in his Wednesday speech that history is the judge of the people's conduct during times of crisis. Someday when a free and independent historian will sit down to appropriate the blame for the murder of Bijay Lal Das (a restless youth who wanted to be mayor of Janakpur), it's very unlikely that he will assign all the guilt upon Chairman Prachanda alone. The confrontational politics of Chairman Gyanendra has also deepened the country's crisis even if he doesn't seem to see it that way.

Pashupati Shumsher is the chairman of an avowedly royalist political outfit but even he has been compelled to call these polls "a joke". Unfortunately the joke is on common Nepalis, a group that hardcore monarchists don't consider worthy of any respect.

Experiences throughout the world have shown that history doesn't always move in the direction desired by princes, potentates and other pretenders. On 11 February, the Iranians will be celebrating the 27th anniversary of the overthrow of their 2,000 year-old-dynasty. Lessons of the Iranian uprising are salutary for Nepali political parties. But the international community may need to revisit its complacency towards the Shah of Iran and revise its strategy towards Nepali monarchy.

During the last days of the Shah, a relatively soft and accommodative Mehdi Bazargan was leading the pro-democracy movement in Iran. However, like in most monarchical societies, his support base was relatively weak. That inspired the regime in Tehran to ignore the demands of representative politics. The stage was thus set for the decisive showdown and the ascendancy of extreme revolutionaries.

No two countries are ever exactly alike but parallels between Iran and Nepal should be frighteningly unnerving. For our collective survival, let's hope King Gyanendra's assessment of historical processes are more astute.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)