Political crisis Which way is the wind blowing?

If and when the situation gets out of hand like in 1990 the King will be pushed into a receiving end.

Many still believe that the Panchayat system would not be dead if King Birendra had acted in time during his sojourn in Pokhara when Kathmandu was taken by storm by the democratic movement in 1990. Leaders of those days had made a moderate demand of lifting the ban on political parties and making room in the defunct system to participate in the elections under their flags. That was the time when the King was at the giving end and the parties at the receiving end. But the tables were soon turned when the protest movement gathered unprecedented momentum and posed a threat to monarchy itself. King Birendra acted, though late, and scrapped the monolithic political system but, at least, saved the institution of monarchy. However, his position changed overnight from a giving to a receiving end. Are we not observing a similar scenario now? The King is in command with absolute power. The parties are in the streets with demands for restoration of democratic rights, reinstatement of the parliament and participation in the government. Neither the then king nor the parties felt the real pulse of the people and the depth of their resentment against the prevailing system or foresee to what extent the people, especially the young generation, could launch a mass agitation.

The king was surprised to find the surging crowds heading towards the palace in the face of bullets and bayonets. The political leaders were equally taken aback by people power. What they are trying to do now is to revive the same movement but in vain. That, however, does not mean that the people would not come out in revolt. It is the turn of the present King to be able to read the gravity of the situation and act in time. In other words, he should not allow the situation to drift in such a way that would put his position from a giving to a receiving end as was observed in the run-up to 1990 change-over.

There is a clear lesson to be learnt from the 1990 movement, both for the King and the parties, more so for the former than the latter. The political developments are ironically so relevant in today’s context after a gap of 15 years. King Gyanendra is certainly in a giving position, invisibly after October 4, 2002, and visibly after February 1. Other political actors, the parties and the Maoists, are on the receiving end. They are seeking something from the King that he can afford to give, say, for instance, reinstatement of the dissolved parliament or an interim government or even a constituent assembly. The international community is urging the King to give, at least, the parties something that could accommodate them in the government. The King is still in a position to offer something that can win over his adversaries and critics.

If not, why would the Maoists and the political leaders ask to talk to the King?

But he has shown no sign of flexibility and giving. He has taken the utmost he could from the Constitution, from the people and from other political adversaries. When Finance Minister Madhukar Shumsher Rana suggested a moderate idea of holding a referendum on monarchy vs republicanism, he was disgracefully snubbed by his own cabinet colleague. When Vice Chairman Kirtinidhi Bista showed interest in peace talks with the Maoists and sought assistance from the civil society, he was publicly reprimanded by a junior minister. Another Vice Chairman Dr Tulsi Giri threw the gauntlet to choose between democracy and monarchy and was never disputed. These are strong evidences of the establishment’s rigidity towards political opposition, be it violent or non-violent. It does not matter as long as the situation is absolutely under control. That was the mood before 1990 and it holds true even in the present context. If and when the situation gets out of hand like in 1990, the King will be pushed into a receiving end, which could mean an end of the institution of monarchy because there is currently no Panchayati curtain in between.

It is good to see all the political actors trying to win the hearts of the people. They are playing a guessing game — on whose side are the people of Nepal. But does it make any sense? King Birendra was fully convinced of popular support to his regime when the people turned out to chant slogans in his praise. Did they come forward to protect the royal regime when attacked by the other section of people? Who had imagined that the people, on the other hand, would come out on the streets as they did against the Panchayati Raj? The then royal regime had, at least, something to claim in the name of welfare of the people, which is almost nil in the present context. It would be foolish to take the people for granted according to one’s whims and fancies. Those who are most vulnerable should have the nose to read where the wind is blowing. It would become too late if one realised it after being transformed from the giving to the receiving end.

Shrestha is a freelance journalist