Appointment of Deuba A royal master stroke

Aditya Man Shrestha

King Gyanendra finally made a master stroke. He appointed Sher Bahadur Deuba — whom he had fired some 20 months ago as "incompetent" — as the new Prime Minister. By so doing, he eschewed his words and, meanwhile, sent out a message that he loved surprises. In fact, the King was reported to have warned Deuba before his ouster in October 2002 that he would give him a surprise. The unceremonious dismissal of Deuba in 2002 was as big a surprise as his new appointment in 2004 in exercise of royal discretion.

It is a master stroke that made a big difference to the current situation not simply because of unexpected appointment of Sher Bahadur Deuba as the new premier. It is because of multiple effects that it brought about visibly in the political scene. The royal action achieved several points at one go. It made unhappy Deuba very happy, notwithstanding his changed status from an elected prime minister to a nominated prime minister under Article 127.

The royal action made a greater impact on the five-party agitation. Not that the King was taking it seriously, but that there was an immediate setback to it, following the royal action, with the withdrawal of the CPN-UML from it. The two parties, NC and the UML, parted company primarily due to the royal move. The five parties failed to recommend a consensus candidate for a prime minister in response to the royal public call.

Since October 2002, the royal actions helped the mutually hostile political leaders to come together and launch pro-democracy agitations against the King. The latest royal move created, on the contrary, a fissure among them putting the sustenance, extent and intensity of the agitations in jeopardy. It is thus evident that the King has a big and effective role in the positive as well as negative sense to play in the political development of the country. The appointment of a new premier was positive in installing a government when there was none and negative in dividing those leaders who were united, at least in public appearance.

If the King is so effective in his present position, constitutional or constructive notwithstanding, the logical question arises as to why he does not take a proper step to bring about peace and security the people are craving for? To be more precise, why does he not come forward to deal headlong with the Maoists to find an amicable settlement? After all, it is only he who can negotiate a deal with the insurgents on sensitive political issues like the role of the monarchy in the new national dispensation or a possible agreement on a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has reinforced this view by admitting that the question of a constituent assembly he was championing as the president of his party, NC(D), cannot and would not be pursued by him in a similar vein from the position of a Prime Minister he has just assumed.

It would be relevant to recall here that the appointment of Sher Bahadur Deuba would be the third best choice out of four solutions (Political crisis: Options before the King, THT, May 12, 2004). The first two choices related to a call for a round-table conference of all political parties including the Maoists under the chairmanship of the King. The second best thing for the King to do was to invite the seven political parties and ask them to recommend a consensus candidate for premiership.

"The third best thing for the King to do," to quote the article, " is to call upon the five parties to forward a consensus candidate to form a new government with a mandate of protecting the constitution, holding the elections and negotiations with the Maoists. In case of failure on the part of the parties to do so, he can go ahead and act in his discretion in the selection of the prime minister." If a third option could make such an impact, the first and second options could definitely make greater difference to the present context. It re-emphasises the role of the monarchy in finding out a way out of the current crisis in the country. There could be no better solution than for the King to take initiative in summoning a roundtable conference to approach the national problems in a holistic manner. As far as peace is concerned it should be considered and treated as his priority responsibility towards the people. It would not, therefore, be too much to expect a surprise move, from the palace to deal with the Maoists for restoring peace in the country. However, the second suggestion is no longer relevant in the prevailing situation.

Premier Deuba has had a love and hate relationship with the Maoists. He is the one who made the first breakthrough in holding peace talks. That unfortunately failed. Towards the end of his ouster in 2002, he said he had agreed with the Maoists to restart the talks in a foreign country. That was aborted after he was ousted from power. It is again Deuba who has been thrown up in the front with the responsibility to grapple with the Maoists. To demonstrate his seriousness in peace negotiation, he must appoint a high-profile personality with the sole responsibility of negotiating with the rebels. The negotiator should also be provided with necessary technical and political support. He should declare, if he has the courage and power, unilateral ceasefire to compel the Maoists to come to talks by laying down arms. Shrestha is coordinator, Volunteer Mediators Group for Peace.

King has a big and effective role in the positive and negative sense to play in the political development.