Frustrated by increasing international censure, the royal regime has begun venting anger on students on the streets. But that irritates the international community even further. The regime is damned if it prosecutes republican students and damned if it doesn't.
Unlike the middle age survivors of the Panchayat, this generation has grown up in the relative freedom of post-1990 Nepal. After student leader Gagan Thapa was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, four students declined to submit bail of Rs 500 each early this week and waved merrily at photographers as they were taken awayBy their defiance, these youngsters have undermined the legitimacy of the February First order.
Whether malign or benevolent, dictatorships invariably turn out to be oppressive in the end. It's not just their methods, the very existence of dictatorships needs to be questioned. Our mainstreamers have been found to be lacking in resolve, so younger activists are taking up the struggle on their behalf. Twelve years of limited democracy, it seems, hasn't been enough to break the cultural shackles of feudocracy.
Soviet dissident Nathan Sharansky describes the phenomenon of 'fear societies' under repressive regimes: people don't believe in official propaganda but pretend to do so for fear of retaliation. In all likelihood, very few here really believed that King Gyanendra was interested in holding polls as promised and handing sovereignty back to the people. But the opposition to the October Fourth move was so muted that it emboldened the palace to carry out February First and appropriate all state power.
The legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the media and civil society have one by one fallen prey to Rule by Royal Ordinance under an elastic interpretation of Article 127 of the now-comatose constitution. Yet, the fear society is so pervasive that the bourgeoisie hasn't yet realised the risk of silence.
Meanwhile, palace propagandists are running a concerted misinformation campaign: "Since the people aren't against the king, they are for his direct rule." Legitimacy by default is being sought in the name of historic necessity.
The exercise to acquire salon legitimacy began soon after the king's ascension to the throne. Palace loyalists ridiculed political parties in public, character assassination of popular leaders became fair game. Rumours about the American ambassador saying this, the Indian envoy uttering that or the UN representative believing such and such were carefully circulated in the run-up to October Fourth 2002 to create the myth that royal intervention may be needed to end fractious politics and face the Maoist menace. In the drawing rooms of the elite, consent was being manufactured for a coup by stealth.
The myth that political parties were somehow responsible for instability in the country has now begun to unravel. Royal revolving door regimes have come and gone every six months and since February the head of state has also been head of government. Yet the country is in a worse mess. The enlargement of the ministerial council three weeks ago with unsavoury characters was the last straw. Even in the capital's cocktail circuit, the balance has now tipped.
At some point in fear societies, people are no longer afraid. People who had given the king the benefit of the doubt now have no doubt about his real intentions. The takeover was justified for three reasons: restoring peace, controlling corruption and holding elections. There has been little progress on all three fronts. Many people are now convinced this wasn't about bringing democracy back on track, it was about bringing dictatorship back on track.
The heat building up on the streets is also being felt in the leadership of the political parties and has put it in a bind. They are damned if they support their radicalised student agitators and they are doomed if they don't.