Nepali Times
State Of The State
Losing mystique


It will soon be three years since King Gyanendra dismissed Sher Bahadur Deuba for being "incompetent" because he failed to hold elections within the constitutionally stipulated period. The country is no closer to national elections today. Meanwhile, the king crisscrosses the country in televised tours. This week he was in central Nepal, as far away from New York as could be.

His absence at the UN summit was a direct result of the declaration of unilateral ceasefire by the Maoists, reluctance of world leaders to 'seek an audience' with the king despite intense lobbying and indications that the streets of Manhattan were going to resonate with anti-monarchist slogans.

Instead, the royal helihopping this week seems to have been hastily arranged to divert attention from the cancelled summit. Like all chief executives, the monarch will be judged by what he does and not by what he says. Politicians can get away with rhetoric, a monarch who craves an active role has to deliver results to justify it. Unfortunately, performance-wise this royal regime makes the Deuba administration look like Singapore in comparison.

The country is no closer to peace, good governance, corruption control or 'meaningful' democracy in the past three years. Not that we had any doubts about creeping authoritarianism but this blatant disregard for all accepted norms has exceeded our worst fears.

Now that the Maoists have stolen the thunder with their ceasefire, monarchists are once more beating the tin drum of paranoid patriotism and xenophobia. The king says the nation should be the meeting point of all nationalist forces. However, the nation imagined by the constitution is in shambles and state power is the monopoly of family loyalists.

In the absence of rule of law and functioning democracy, nationalism is an impulse of the ill-educated, the schizophrenic and the chauvinist. It's just a rabble-rousing technique of imagined outside enemies to intimidate rivals at home. A return to constitutionalism and democracy is the only way to unify nationalism. And political parties are institutions that can mobilise diverse people under just ideas and shared ideals.

But since October Four, monarchists have been treating parties and not the Maoists as their real enemies. Since political nobodies wouldn't dare do this without a wink from their patrons in the palace, it can be safely assumed their rhetoric has royal sanction.

In the absence of a political structure to support his ambitions to reign and rule, the king has tried to bedazzle the people with his presence. Waving at crowds, nodding at the hoi polloi and hugging babies. This can be counter-productive for the monarchy: demagoguery makes the monarchy lose its mystique without a commensurate gain of popular legitimacy. When he descends to active politics the people will begin to wonder about his divinity.

The surface of our collective national pool looks calm because it is stagnant. But underneath, there is uncertainty and chaos and the monarch is being sucked into the vortex of his own making. Nepal's friends are worried and its enemies are ecstatic. To extricate himself and the country out of this quagmire, the king must find a way to hand the state back to the people's representatives soon.

The greatest quality of a statesman rests not in knowing what concessions to make but recognising when to make them. Dismantling the Wall of Democracy will not keep a restive population quiet, its flame will not be doused by water cannons. Empty slogans will not inspire unwilling people to make sacrifices for a transcendental institution gone plebeian. Whatever other role a ceremonial monarch may have in an evolving republic, addressing mass rallies is definitely not one of them.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)