Nepali Times
State Of The State
This state in a state


In Kathmandu, time either stands still or it races like a monsoon flashflood. As a columnist trying to make sense of the baffling drama unfolding on the national stage, I have ruefully realised that no matter how fast you run you can never catch up with events. Media thinks it can predict or influence the course of a nation's history. Alas, here we are just spectators.

The Maoist attack on Dunai in September 2000 exposed the vulnerabilities of democratic Nepal for the first time. Armed with crude bombs and improvised guns, they overran the district headquarters and then mercilessly massacred hapless police personnel while the Royal Nepal Army watched the carnage from their nearby barracks. That event proved King Birendra's assertions to premier Krishna Prasad Bhattarai that the army was under the sole control of its supreme commander. And the Maoists learnt that there was no point sacking the headquarters of Dolpa-ultimate state power rested in Narayanhiti.

A frail government made feckless by the insurgency failed again in December 2000 when rumour-mongers succeeded in stoking the fires of hyper-nationalism over what Hrithik Roshan never said. Within a span of four months, an elected government had been successfully challenged by extremists of the left and the right.

But even for a country numbed by senseless violence, there was nothing to compare with the shock of the Narayanhiti Massacre of 1 June 2001. It exposed an anachronistic institution that created the conditions for probably the worst slaughter of royals in human history. When the army again failed to rescue policemen abducted from Holeri in July 2001, leading to the resignation of premier Girija Prasad Koirala and his replacement by Sher Bahadur Deuba, many saw it as proof of a conspiracy hatched on high.

Things started getting even more bizarre when Deuba dissolved parliament in the dead of night on 22 May 2002. A day earlier, COAS Prajwalla S Rana had hinted about the army's impatience with democratic rule. The creeping militarisation of the state had started in earnest but Deuba failed to see the trap.

The intent of the sudden dissolution of parliament became abundantly clear when King Gyanendra on 4 October 2002 dismissed Deuba, assumed all powers, and made the constitution of 1990 redundant. Deuba never learnt. When appointed premier once again by the king, he exulted in an interview to this paper, "The Maoists are a bigger problem than the king" (#203). The decision of his own party to hold talks with the insurgents while he remains in the unlawful custody of the royal government is a testimony of his impertinence.

Two years after October Fourth came February First. The king dismissed the government he had himself appointed, imposed a state of emergency, posted security forces at media houses and curbed fundamental freedoms. All in the name of protecting democracy. Despite intense international pressure, the king has refused to correct the course of post-modern monarchy where the country is run like a large estate with the help of traditional loyalists.

The liberty gauge of this paper has moved slightly upwards since we had a guest editor-in-chief poring over our copy. But other than that, there is nothing to suggest that the king believes in the supremacy of the people exercised through their elected representatives.

The safest course for journalists and editors these days is to stick to facts attributable to identifiable apparatchiks. Any attempt to explore the truth behind the lies is liable to be declared unpatriotic. The charge of not being sufficiently nationalistic has been levelled at me so often that I have come to regard it as a professional hazard.

After five years of occupying this space I find to my dismay that the country is still going round and round in circles. Palace propagandists portray the process of circumambulation as a divinely ordained duty but the country is clearly yearning to throw the shackles of its accursed history. Absurdities

will most certainly cease and together we shall build a more just and rational society. That's the only state this state should be in.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)