Nepali Times
State Of The State
Spring cleaning


For the fifth time since he was appointed last year, British special envoy to Nepal Sir Jeffery James is here again. His achievements in defusing the ongoing conflict in this country are a closely guarded secret. But our political parties did take Sir Jeffrey's hints last year to temporarily suspend street protests against the constructive monarch.

The rapprochement he had promised between the king and constitutional players failed to materialise. King Gyanendra continues to consolidate and display his power, apparently without any second thoughts about his 4 October takeover that pushed out democratic politics through the hole of Article 127 in the constitution, the only article that still seems to be valid.

Despite the carnage on the banks of Kali Gandaki last weekend, the public felicitation in Pokhara on 29 March is going ahead. In fact, if the royal minister Kamal Thapa is to be believed, the king will be felicitated on schedule even at Ground Zero in Beni itself.

The Raj Parishad meanwhile is holding another of its roving meetings in Biratnagar next month to hear the 'people's aspirations' and submit its recommendations to the monarch. From the proceedings of this Privy Council's previous meetings at Dhangadi, Nepalganj and Pokhara, it's quite clear what these recommendations will be: call upon the king to go beyond his constitutional role.

The government-controlled media are surprisingly muted in criticism of the Maobadi, compared to the vitriol they pour against political parties. When it comes to hitting out at parties, palace-friendly propagandists have the tendency of going ballistic. They may think that running down parties helps improve the palace's image, but it discredits the already weakened political layer between the monarch and the Maoists. When the next 26 Chait comes, as it will sooner or later at this rate, who will come to the defence of the monarchy: the military and the Mandales?

The royal communication minister is half right that a section of the press has been unwittingly abetting the insurgents by ridiculing the practitioners of peaceful politics. But the way minister Thapa plans to deal with it is completely wrong. Nothing helps the anti-establishment rumour machine as effectively as curbs on the press.

When an old Nepal-hand in the UK read minister Thapa's "example from Spain" speech calling for government restraint on media, he sent an email to a colleague two days later, "One, twenty-four hours later, the Spanish people kicked out the government. Two, they had the opportunity to do so!" If the present experiment in the governance of the country fails, it won't just be the Thapas that will go.

Sir Jeffery said he held talks on the "current political situation" with different parties. He began on the right note with a meeting at the Human Rights Cell of the Royal Nepali Army on Monday. Presumably, the Maoists are also having their views conveyed to him through respectable intermediaries. But if the British emissary were to trim the frills of the invincibility rhetoric, the helplessness of the military as well as the rebels is too stark. In the heat of the battle, the combatants may be blinded by the slaughter, but deep inside they must know that they need the mainstream parties to bring the country back to normalcy.

If India's Central Reserve Police Force's pre-election sweep against insurgents gains momentum in the badlands of Bihar and uttar Pradesh, our own Maoists will be hard-pressed for cover. They will need the parties, not vice-versa.

For their part, the party leaders look a bit flustered lately, a bit like crabs in warming water. They will have to jump out soon, and the planned 1 April demonstration may turn out to be a harbinger of change.

Who knows, 2004 could be what the 1986 Satyagraha was to the 1990 "Peoples' Movement". History doesn't move in a straight line, it moves in fits and starts.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)