Ajit N S Thapa

Ever since King Gyanendra assumed state authority invoking article 127 of the Constitution on Oct. 4, 2002, Nepali politics is in a state of great turmoil. None of the major actors in our national politics — King, political parties and the Maoists — seem to know or even bother to care where the country is heading to. The national woes continue unabated. The country is now engaged in a triangular contest for power rather than in a two-way contest that existed prior to October 4. Since then, the parties have been sidelined and the King calls the shots through his nominated government. The strength of the monarchy lies both in its being a symbol of national unity and the allegiance of the security apparatus. Ever since the army began its engagement with the Maoists about two years ago, it has done an excellent job of containing the Maoist killings, destruction and mayhem. The question is: can the King with the help of the security forces alone, without the support of political parties, achieve a lasting peace either by vanquishing the Maoists or by making a truce with them?

With the government of India, of late, actively engaged in anti-Maoist activities, it seems that the Maoists’ safe haven is no longer so. They can no longer use Indian territory to rest, recuperate and re-organise and this should force them to re-think their strategies. The Maoists themselves are gradually losing their own so-called strong-holds in Nepal. Even their ideological appeal targeted at the deprived segments of society is beginning to lose its appeal. If the Maoists continue to conduct their activities in this manner, they will only perpetuate misery and deprivation in the nation without accomplishing their goals.

The King has been actively engaged in directing the affairs of the State since he dismissed Sher Bahadur Deuba’s government on grounds of failing to hold general elections in time. Deuba had asked only 14 months’ time extension. The King’s direct rule has lasted close to 18 months and election is yet to be announced. In a way, the King has failed too, but who is there to censure him? Besides attending a number of felicitation ceremonies in Biratnagar, Dhangadi and Nepalgunj, which were well attended, in spite of the blockade attempted by Maoists and by parties, the King has recently toured the Maoist affected districts of mid-western and far-western Nepal. Thousands of people suffered hardships and even risked their lives to greet their King. The Nepalis have always respected their monarchs. Thus it is natural for them to go out of their way to greet him. Besides, these people have suffered greatly at the hands of the Maoists and have began to look to the King to provide them security and much needed relief. Such a show of warmth and faith certainly speaks a great deal about the trust of the people in the Crown.

This does not however indicate that democracy should be replaced by an active monarchy. A 21st century monarch should be seen and be rarely heard. Royalty should be involved in humanitarian and social works to inspire civil society to contribute to nation building, as is being done by royalty the world over. It would be completely erroneous if the palace were to attempt to portray the failures of leaders of parties as the failure of multi-party democracy. The King must seek new and innovative methods to bring the political parties in his fold. The future of the country does not lie in active or ‘constructive’ monarchy, but in a democracy that works in the larger interests of the people. The King should take appropriate steps to nurture and strengthen democracy and its institutions rather than sideline political parties on the basis of leadership failure.

Since the King’s controversial step, the parties have been somewhat disarrayed. Initially, some of them even silently supported the move by not going against it immediately. When the King completely ignored them by nominating Lokendra Chand as PM, they suddenly felt that the carpet has been pulled under them and they began to cry foul. Five political parties formed an alliance and began to denounce the King’s move as a regression against democracy and launched a movement for the restoration of democracy. Initially, the methods adopted were peaceful, but later, students were used to burn effigies, throw stones at buildings and policemen, burn vehicles and shout anti-king and pro-republican slogans. The NC (D) has denounced the King’s October 4 move as anti-constitutional from day one and has launched a number of peaceful protests demanding the restoration of the Constitution by reinstating Deuba as the PM.

Other parties are also opposed to the King’s takeover and are in favour of an all-party government and early election. It is time that the parties organised themselves and formed a common strategy either to ally with the King or to oppose him in a united manner. Thus it has become paramount to hold a national political conference with participation of the palace, parties, Maoists, women, Dalits, Janajatis and Madhesis to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of our national character and chart a road map for the future. The King, in line with the Shah dynasty’s tradition to govern on peoples’ mandate, would be wise to initiate the holding of such conference with a view to extricate the nation from the present morass and to guide it to peace and prosperity.

Thapa is a Mahasamiti member, NC(D)