The march of history

Hours after this newspaper reaches you today, Nepal will do two of the most momentous things in its history. One, the Constituent Assembly (CA) will convene its first meeting; and two, it will execute a decision already made by the political parties and incorporated into the Interim Constitution — the declaration that Nepal is a republic. As the parties that fought the election on the republican agenda have won all the 240 seats under direct election, and almost all the seats under the proportional representation system, this near-total republican majority means that CA ratification will be automatic and almost unanimous. These two events will mark a big leap forward in the nation’s political development, taking the peace process further forward that will be complete with the promulgation of a new constitution and the conduct of a general election.

On this day of the abolition of the monarchy, people are also recalling the legend of a curse of Guru Gorakhnath that the Shah dynasty will not survive its eleven generations of reign. The country has been so suffused with republican sentiment that even the weak voices in favour of retaining the monarchy, a toothless one at that, have grown fainter. With the exceptions of one or two non-significant political parties, none dared go to the people seeking votes with a royalist agenda. The few faint voices have either appealed for postponing the implementation of the republican decision pending the promulgation of a new constitution, or for a separate referendum to settle the question of monarchy. But time has moved on, leaving the monarch, the monarchy and the monarchists far too behind to catch up. King Gyanendra (this is the last time we may still call him so if we like even though he has already been stripped of his role as head of state) squandered all his chances of saving the two and a half centuries-old dynasty of a Nepal unified under the leadership of his illustrious ancestor, King Prithvinarayan Shah of Gorkha.

King Gyanendra has lost the kingdom. He and his family members will become common citizens within hours. The misadventures he embarked on after his accession to the Throne in 2001 had dissipated most of the public sympathy the royal family had enjoyed. The Narayanhity royal carnage of that year had already weakened the moral authority of the Shah dynasty considerably for more reasons than one. The insatiable power ambitions displayed by King Gyanendra had blinded him to all sensible advice, thus closing the possibility of his reconciliation with the parliamentary political parties while there was still time. Besides, underestimation of the power of the Maoist insurgency by him, as well as by his domestic and foreign supporters, has hastened the monarchy’s undoing. He had spurned the Maoists’ willingness to accept a nominal king provided that he yielded to their demand for an elected constituent assembly as the settler of all political disputes. Though the CPN-Maoist has established the republican agenda in the country, King Gyanendra has himself to blame for his failure to read the temper of the times and of the people, and to act accordingly.

As he faces his moment of truth, King Gyanendra may be privately ruing his blunders and indulging in hindsight. But what has surprised many is his unrepentant public attitude towards his ruinous actions, which had further deepened the public impression that, in Nepal at least, monarchy and democracy are incompatible. But mea culpa will not come to his rescue now. Most of his supporters have deserted him, as people abandon a sinking ship. The two power bases he had relied on too heavily — the Nepal Army and certain foreign powers that had recognised monarchy as a pillar of their Nepal policy — have been helpless in the face of the overwhelming republican mood of the Nepali people. At this late hour, no one can rescue the monarchy, except offer the only well-meaning advice — accept the people’s verdict gracefully and make no further mistakes.

It is not necessary, however, that a sad day for the King should be a sad one for the people, too. The elected CA — the culmination of the people’s struggle of six decades — will make a new republican, democratic constitution for the Nepalis within two years. All political parties securing with around thirty thousand votes or more have been represented in it. Therefore, the resulting constitution is expected to address the aspirations of the Nepalis, irrespective of their caste, creed, sex, ethnicity or geographical location. Republic and CA have to herald a new dawn for the Nepalis, for their unity, for their development, and for their freedom — a sovereign, democratic and prosperous New Nepal. By entrusting them with this historic responsibility, the people have put the political parties and their leaders to the test.