Nepali Times
Reshuffling the pack

The king has tried to buy time by falling back on his father's favourite trick of reshuffling the deck. There seems to have been an effort to bring in smarter people but things are too far gone to regain legitimacy this way. But it shows the king is determined to ride it out and is following his three-year timetable to install loyalists in key places.

The political parties are encouraged by large turnouts at their public meetings. But they are so hung up on process and on chanting the boycott mantra that they are in serious danger of being sidelined by both the king and the Maoists. Instead of being kneejerk rejectionists, they must come up with a proactive plan. Reuniting the Nepali Congress would be a place to start and perhaps even preparing for general elections with a strong and united pro-democracy front.

The reshuffle has coincided with the announcement of Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran's visit to Kathmandu next week. India's role in fixing Nepal's mess has become an issue of heated debate after the party-rebel pact. Our view on this is straightforward: if your house is on fire and you do nothing to put it out, you can't complain if your neighbour hoses you down.

India's leftist politicians had a hand in brokering the Maoist-party pact. So? Defanging the Maoists is in India's national interest because of what a Maoist victory in Nepal would mean for their own Naxalite movement. That aim should coincide with the king's own goal.

What sections of the Indian establishment perhaps disagree on is how to go about preventing a Maoist takeover. The brass thinks the king and his army are the bulwarks against the Maoists while the Saran Doctrine is mainstreaming the Maoists and restoring full democracy for long-term stability. The two sides are having it out in public through sponsored write-ups in Indian dailies by their pet pundits.

The Pink Palace thinks it is cleverly playing these factions and using the China card to gain leverage in Delhi. But it forgets the rising rage here at home. While India-baiting in public, monarchists are actively courting India's VHP-royalty-khaki coalition for moral support. When it comes to Big Brother, whatever they may say at home Nepali political forces of all hues have always sucked up to their Indian patrons.

It comes as no surprise that the Indians are turning the screws once more on a regime that is thumbing its nose at them. There is a strong sense of d?j? vu, it looks like 1988-89 all over again. A word of caution here to Indian babudom: diplomatic ragging backfires and you shoudn't try to squeeze the king by squeezing his long-suffering subjects. Many Nepalis still remember the blockade, and that is not the way to win hearts here.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)