Nepali Times
Khaire Bhai
Baby queen?


It looks like there is little that can save the Nepali monarchy now. The seven parties have agreed that the first order of business for the constituent assembly is to declare Nepal a republic.

Though he now seems more than reconciled with the idea of a kingless Nepal, it was prime minister Koirala who last year made one of the weirder suggestions for the monarchy's future: the Baby king Formula.

Recent opinion polls ('Pre-poll poll, #386) indicate that, despite everything, as much as half the people in the country are in favour of a symbolic monarchy in Nepal. The only problem is what to do with the present king, who even staunch monarchists like Surya Bahadur Thapa can't stomach.

Mindful of this, the PM proposed that the crown be taken out of Gyanendra's hands, passed over his son Paras (who due to his own antics is also not deemed king material) and go directly to his grandson, seven-year-old prince His Baby Majesty Hridayendra. But it looks like even going back to Birendra's bloodline and declaring a baby queen would not be accepted now.

Bestowing the sovereignty of the realm on a powerless child who would naturally require a regent was a tactic used throughout history by uncles, widowed queens and power-hungry courtiers who lusted after the throne but were not in line. More recently it has been a publicity stunt intended to boost the mass appeal of ailing dynasties.

Take the UK's ruling house of Windsor, for example. They have lost the pomp and circumstance of yesteryear. As the Gurkhas' favourite prince Harry will happily admit, royals are not saints, they are normal people. It's hard to keep up an image of spotless national role models in the age of mass media and paparazzi.

Prince Charles, Harry's dad, is personally my favourite UK royal but for many people he is the most objectionable. So in Britain, too, it has been suggested that the crown should skip a generation, and Charles' firstborn, prince William should be the next King of England.

The rationale seems to be that such a move would give the monarchy a makeover. It would make the institution appear younger, more hip and 'in touch' with modern Britain. Prince William is still fresh and doesn't have a messy, unseemly past like his father, thus the purity and moral rectitude of the institution will be safeguarded (in England kings are not gods but they are head of the church).

Kings used to lead their armies into battle. They conquered enemies, founded cities, and if they were displeased heads would roll. Although these kinds of kings haven't reigned in Europe for many centuries, Gyanendra's ancestor Prithbi Narayan Shah was doing just this 250 years ago.

But with modern communications and universal education, we do not need despots to rule countries (Gyanendra found that one out in 2006). We, the people, can do it ourselves.

'Unity, stability, tourist attraction' are some of the reasons cited for retaining the British royal family. It seems that their only purpose nowadays is as figureheads, and we punish them if they do not live up to the role we have ordained for them.

This has been prince Charles' downfall. He is not very media-savvy. He makes embarrassing statements and puts his foot in it. He doesn't match the neutered, inoffensive role the British have now designated for their royal family. Gyanendra has had similar problems, though on a larger and more turbulent scale, in Nepal.

But would appointing a baby king (or baby queen if one takes the proposal of princess Sruti's daughter seriously) really be able to save these dinosaur institutions? Is it fair to keep descendents of long dead powerful men on display like caged animals because we feel we need figureheads? Is there any point in retaining an institution if it has been dragged through so much mud it has lost what dignity or relevance it once had?

Maybe it would be kinder to the poor baby kings and queens themselves to relieve their burden altogether and just let them live like normal people.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)