Nepali Times
From The Nepali Press
Yes to constituent assembly

When Napoleon Bonaparte was returning from his victory in Italy, tens of thousands gathered to welcome him home. His bodyguard said his popularity was so immense that all of France had come to honour him. "More people will come when I am hanged," Napoleon replied wistfully.

If King Gyanendra is under the impression that the people are turning up to felicitate him because of his popularity, then he is wrong. The reason they are there is because of who he is: the brother of Birendra, Mahendra's son and heir to Prithbi Narayan Shah. It is the same as Sonia Gandhi, who rose in public estimation for being Rajiv Gandhi's wife.

If Prachanda were to come out today, Tundikhel would not be large enough to hold people anxious to see him. Politically, this is defined as Bonapartism. During the king's tour of rural Nepal, the people who met him poured out their sorrows, asked for employment, electricity, water and above all, peace. But he can't do much, and their hopes will be dashed.

This is not the same as when Jang Bahadur and Chandra Shamsher travelled around the kingdom to meet their subjects. Society is different today. The king must not assume that he is popular just because villagers thronged to see him. If he really cares for the people, then he must reinstate their sovereign right.

I don't want to question the king's intentions. He may be motivated by genuine concern for the people's welfare. But it is also true that his tour is happening at a time the country is going down a spiral of violence, brutality and authoritarianism. The need of the hour is peace and right now the king's priority should be to restore peace by defeating the Maoists. Public felicitations don't serve that purpose.

Both the king and the rebels have serious national concerns. While the king wants to restore and strengthen the state as his ancestors had by uniting Nepal, the Maoists want to form a new society. Unfortunately, both have become too headstrong. They have deviated from the right path. Just as the king fails to recognise the realities of a modern world, the rebels have not learnt from the mistakes of the communist movements in Russia and China.

It's good to study Marxism in order to understand the world, but unwise to linger and stagnate in it. The Maoists studied old ideas and philosophies that failed to evolve with the times. An underground leadership is like being held immobile in a spider web-it distances them from the masses. This is exactly what is happening with the rebels. The ideological and philosophical leaders are in India while the guerillas are here in Nepal.

The Maoists talk about democracy but they lack vision. More importantly, they lack confidence in the people. How long will they keep on killing innocents? How long will they remain underground? We are losing our trust in them: they say one thing and do another. Why do they deprive other political parties of the right to express their views openly and prohibit political activity? They have reached a dead end and that is why they always talk about a roundtable conference and a constituent assembly.

I strongly believe that a constituent assembly is the only way out of the national crisis. Our country is not ready for another new constitution under the king's terms because we have been betrayed too many times. This time too, the king says he believes in the constitution but his actions are different. Initially, when the Maoists demanded a constituent assembly, I objected to the idea strongly because it would jeopardise our constitution. But since the king started his active rule, I have started to believe democrats should not be afraid of a constituent assembly. It is time for all political leaders to advocate this. It is really surprising that the major political parties are still undecided on this issue.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)