Space for King : Should it be given or acquired?

The Interim Constitution Drafting Committee (ICDC) has failed to define the space for the King and some other issues in its draft. The interim constitution is to be declared for paving the way for holding the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections and the Parliament is to be dissolved after getting replaced by a suitable legislative arrangement.

Since the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists failed to have a common view on several other issues, including the space for the King, the ICDC could not incorporate this issue. In this connection, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in his hometown Biratnagar a few days ago had expressed the need to provide a space to the King so that he does not feel frustrated in the political arena. This expression of his has invited criticisms from various quarters.

Looking at the history of modern Nepal one finds that the institution of monarchy has been playing a significant role, thus occupying a space in statecraft.

It has a chequered history of 237 years. Now, it seems that it has outlived its utility and has forfeited its moral as well as natural claim over its significant role in the national politics that it has been playing for so long.

A peasant harvests only once a year the crops which he plants in his field. Even a mango tree can bear fruit for some years only and cannot continue to be fruitful for centuries. Similarly, a kingdom established once cannot and should not provide guarantee of the throne to the monarchy for centuries together. Hence, in this regard, two very important questions crop up: Is any space given by others or acquired by oneself? In other words, Is the place enjoyed by the monarchy hitherto been given to it by someone or acquired by it? And what sort of space is required for the monarchy?

The Shah dynasty was established on the strength of force and tactics about 237 years ago. Naturally, the monarch occupied the most significant place in his kingdom. The Ranas ruled the kingdom for 104 years in the name of the King, thus throwing the monarchy to the back seat. The armed revolution led by the Nepali Congress in 1950 restored the original space to the King in early 1951 with an assurance to revert to the occupancy of a secondary seat for himself by holding Constituent Assembly elections to form a constitution to hand over the reign of the country to the people. Alas, that promise was not kept. There was a democratic rule for about 18 months from 1959 to 1960 in which the King had a secondary space, which the then King could not tolerate. He dismissed the elected government of the time and took over the reins of the country in his own hands, thus placing himself on top of everybody.

The institution of monarchy continued to have the uppermost hand by ruling the kingdom for nearly three decades in the name of the partyless Panchayat system. The position was changed diametrically through the people’s movement in 1990 and again his space was reserved in a corner of the statecraft. Although, the late King Birendra had started to regain his lost space, of course tactfully, he was assassinated and in his absence the craving for a special space in the kingdom by the monarchy became so insatiable that, again, as history repeats itself, the King dismissed the elected Prime Minister and started ruling the kingdom with the help of appointed Prime Ministers. But his greed for unique space in the statecraft forced him to come to the seat of the main administrator of the country which he could not hold with all his might for more than one and a half years. The people’s movement in April 2006 led by the seven party alliance with the support of the Maoists threw the monarchy out of gear, which cannot be repaired at least for some time in the near future.

So far, monarchy has been seeking its space through force that ultimately failed it miserably. But there is another option before it. If the King donates the entire property of late king Birendra to the nation and declares to live like an ordinary citizen of the country, he may not acquire a significant place in the political arena but he will definitely carve out some sort of place in the hearts of the people to be remembered in the history of modern Nepal. He should come out boldly that he does not require anybody’s grace for his space. He will get it through his renunciation and sacrifice made for the nation. The space acquired through force does not last for long as its opposite force starts dislodging it spontaneously in a natural course. But the space acquired through making sacrifice is more lasting and without any opposition. Moreover, if the King makes a generous gesture to the nation, it will not only resolve the controversy of establishing a republic for ever but also reserves a historic as well as moral space for himself which may last for centuries to come.

Prof Mishra is coordinator, National Monitoring Committee for Code of Conduct for Ceasefire