Nepali Times
State Of The State
A clash of values


The call of duty, loyalty towards leadership and the privileges of paternalism are values all totalitarian ideologies seek to cultivate. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia had Brother Number One, the Chinese Communists had their Chairman and North Korea's Juchhe followers have their Dear Leader. Comrade Prachanda calls himself 'president'.

In totalitarian as well as authoritarian systems, there is no place for dissent of any kind. If the insurgents think certain human rights activists are sympathetic towards political parties, they will not be allowed to enter areas under their control. Ganesh Chiluwal was killed because he had the courage to burn the effigies of Maoist divinities.

Authoritarian monarchists may show a higher degree of tolerance (the fact these lines are even allowed to be published is a sign) but they refuse to extend the minimum courtesy towards politicos preaching the values of democracy. Unlike his earlier speeches in Biratnagar, Dhangadi, and Nepalganj, King Gyanendra refrained from criticising the political parties in Pokhara. But palace-friendly propagandists are still as shrill as ever in denouncing the struggle for the restoration of people's sovereignty.

The Pokhara speech failed to incite spontaneous applause from the sparse audience that stewed in the fierce sun. Pokhara and its environs were closed down by a Maoist banda, and the king failed to come up with ideas to resolve the conflict, or raise hopes for the restoration of democratic order. Other than a vague call on everyone concerned to "create the environment" for elections to be held within next twelve months, a royal commitment to constitutional monarchy and people's sovereignty was missing.

The result is that the king appears as resolute as ever to protect the "historical legacy" of his "great forefathers". The allusion, not a promise in any way, of polls needs to be seen in that perspective. Such an unwavering adherence to tradition is quite natural for monarchists. Practitioners of democratic politics draw their inspiration from the French Revolution (liberty, equality, fraternity). The monarchists' chant of duty, loyalty, and paternalism also seems to have a Gallic origin: the Vichy slogan of 'travail, famille, patrie'. These are values that King Gyanendra has been stressing since the day he took over on 4 October.

The Maoists and monarchists may be fighting for their own interests, but their values are essentially the same: primacy of arms, the undisputed supremacy of the ruler, one ideology and an unquestioned chain of command. With such convergence, no wonder monarchists shy away from directly criticising the Maoists.

Politics, however, is about pluralism. In a dynamic society, ideas must compete. A clash of values and divergent views are natural in social systems. Totalitarian despots seek to crush such dissent through intimidation and terror. Authoritarian rulers try to suppress it through a combination of inducement and fear. But both have a common abhorrence for the contest of ideas.

News reports this week that Maoist leaders are in constant touch with the Royal Nepali Army top brass is therefore quite plausible. A temporary truce between the two isn't as unlikely as it appears. The monarchists and Maoists therefore have a fundamental disagreement with democratic mainstreamers: it is a conflict of values over the principles of governance, a contest between the power of the bullet and ballot. This is an irreconcilable dissonance.

The insistence by diplomats from donor countries that all constitutional forces must get together to fight the insurgents is flawed. The king has no patience for a constitutional role, and the political parties can't see how a 'constructive' monarch can be constitutional. Unless this contradiction is resolved, the possibility of "free and fair" polls that King Gyanendra wants will remain distant.

The ground reality is that with every violent attack, the Maoists (whatever their real intentions) help the monarch consolidate his position. Thus, neither an election nor an understanding between the monarchists and the insurgents can end the challenges to democracy. To balance anarchy and monarchy, mainstream politics must be restored to centrestage. Pathways of progress are full of twists and turns. The king's way of peace-shanti ko rajmarga-is no roadmap. It is a mirage.

Elections are important, but the reactivation of constitutional process through the reinstatement of parliament is even more imperative.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)