Nepali Times
"I may die, let my nation live on"

That is a line by the late King Mahendra that was turned into a patriotic song. Words particularly prescient in a week when two kings died in a carnage that nearly wiped out Nepal's entire royal family. Yet (and this will come as a surprise to those who see only the shroud of death that presently covers the country) the institutions of democracy have held.

Confusion prevails among commoners about this mass murder of their royals. This was an aloof, but respected clan in a country of multiple ethnicities, castes, faiths and languages. The monarchy is one of few symbols that hold this diverse country together. The Nepali royalty lost its authoritarian edge in 1990 when King Birendra let go of the reigns of absolute power and became a constitutional monarch. He learned to grow comfortable in this role, and genuinely believed that it would give Nepal the suppleness to deal with its democratic transition and development agenda. In the past eleven years, he played a low-key but effective role, providing continuity to a land going through the stress of change, a near-feudal country pushed headlong into a globalised era with little preparation.

We tried authoritarianism for 30 years, it didn't work. Parliamentary democracy was seen as the only alternative to bring social and economic progress. Unfortunately, the insular political chieftains who took over were not able to rise above personal and party interest, and wasted a full decade in factional infighting and corruption in high places. We experimented with every permutation of political coalitions between the left, centre and right, but the country fell ever-further into an abyss of mal-governance. It allowed the Maoist insurgency to burst forth with surprising speed and vigour.

In this mess, the one institution that lived up to its role was the constitutional monarchy. King Birendra was correct to a fault, as the political parties in power came and went in a welter of crises. It is the precedent that he set over the last decade of his reign that strengthened the foundations of our democracy. And that is what will allow it to stand after his tragic departure. The legacy King Birendra bequeathed his Nepali subjects is a parliamentary democracy backed firmly by a constitutional monarchy. He had made it easy for his son Dipendra to follow, but Dipendra too is by now reduced to ashes by the banks of the Bagmati. It now rests on the survivor, Gyanendra to make up for his brother's absence.

Nepal, it is said, is a 'soft state'-one that is spectacularly mismanaged and only keeps standing through times of stress because of the resilience of its polity. This has perhaps to do with the fact that Nepal is the oldest nation state in South Asia. All of the others were born after 1947, but Nepal was unified by King Gyanendra's eleventh ancestor in the mid-1700s. And so, even with this catastrophic decimation of our royal family, the country's parliamentary democracy has held. Girija Prasad Koirala is shaky but still prime minister, the army remains in the barracks, and the succession to the throne has been done by the book, passing through Dipendra and within two days to Gyanendra.

However, all will not be smooth for the newly anointed king. To begin with, Gyanendra will have to win the confidence of the people on two counts: first, he will have to convince conspiracy-obsessed citizens that the kingship was thrust upon him. In the past, violence and killings among Nepal's ruling classes were never properly explained, with historians forced to leak information by writing novels and making oblique references. King Gyanendra broke with this obfuscatory tradition in one of his first acts as monarch, by announcing a high-level independent enquiry lead by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The confusion arising from debates within the UML will first need to be sorted out.

Second, there is the matter of Gyanendra's son, Paras. With his reputation for lawless behaviour, the fact that Paras could be crown prince is unbearable for many Nepalis, who are additionally suspicious because the young man remained unscathed in Friday night's slaughter. This will be a tough one for King Gyanendra: he may well have to choose between the people and his son.

The larger problems regarding the state and society will remain. They require King Gyanendra to work with the prime minister and the government of the day under the umbrella of the parliamentary system. Democracy has not yet brought long-suffering Nepalis the relief they need, but the ideologically rigid path proposed by the Maoist insurgents is not the magic wand either. The insurgency has led Nepal up the path of unprecedented political violence over the last five years.

King Gyanendra must support the elected government and parliament to find a peaceful solution to this raging problem, and our squabbling elected leaders must support him. They must remember that they need to first save the country. If the nation ceases to exist, they will have nothing to fight over.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)