Nepali Times
State Of The State
Something is rotten


This is the time of the year when Nepalis do their annual shopping, house repairs and autumn cleaning in the run-up to the upcoming Dasain-Tihar-Chhath.

There is a parallel in the political scene: a mood of anticipation tinged with apprehension about something Big that is about to happen. No one is quite sure what, but it is sure to be significant.

The unilateral ceasefire by the Maoists has caught the state in a bind. Judging from the outburst by Vice-chairman Tulsi Giri in Biratnagar this week, it appears that hardcore monarchists are feeling a bit concerned by the proactive rebel ceasefire and pressure from the international community. Regressive elements in the palace may be trying to get the king to hit back decisively.

It goes without saying that any such move will be counterproductive.
But then hardliners aren??t known for their clear-headedness. Giri wasn\'t just issuing empty threats when he lashed out at the constitution. Prior to February First, we ignored Mohammad Mohsin\'s prediction of a return to autocracy and look at that happened. Something nasty is cooking once again in the royal political kitchen.
The smell is overpowering.

Was February First an all-of-nothing gamble that has to logically continue with more and more repressive measures? Or was it merely a two-step-back-one-step-forward move ot further consolidate monarchical power? Based on conflicting signals emanating from the palace, it\'s difficult to say. Between Dasain and Tihar, the pendulum of power can swing either way: an even more despotic regime run by the military, or a softer authoritarian version functioning under a multi-party facade.

The Maoists may have hoped to score big with their overtures to the parties. But the parties remain suspicious of their intentions. Civil society is hesitant to give them an unqualified benefit of the doubt.
The international community is skeptical. Nobody is taking the Maoist commitment to pluralistic democracy at face value.

In the countryside, the ceasefire has meant the continuation of their non-lethal war through abductions, extortions and indoctrination campaigns. Will they strike back at the state with even more vehemence if the ceasefire isn\'t transformed into a full-fledged truce? Just look at the past pattern.

It is easy for civil society to be critical of absolutism but the devil lies in the detail: what is the alternative vision, slogan, ideology and plan of action to replace this tottering regime? Pointing fingers at the leaders of political parties will not do, their inaction is already cause for genuine concern and exasperation. How can it include and stir an apathetic Nepali public into action?

Meanwhile, the Americans fear the fall of monarchy will lead to a Maoist takeover.

They are hopeful the king will mend his ways and restore democracy. Indians fear absolute anarchy in Nepal more than an absolute monarchy and are concentrating their efforts in mainstreaming the Maoists. The EU believes that as long as human rights issues are taken care of, there isn??t much to worry about. For the Chinese indifference is the best defense against charges of unwanted meddling. The UN system feels strongly about that needs to be done but its charter limits its role to the wishes of member states. (Read ?The UN is talking to India, China and the US").

So, civil society is pushing for a government response to the ceasefire and parties say they\'ll talk to the Maoists. The foreigners say they are stepping up the pressure on the king. And the king himself can\'t be untouched by all this.

All we can say is: at least they\'re not sitting around twiddling fingers. That and the near limitless fortitude of the Nepali people are what give us a glimmer of hope.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)