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Light on Kathmandu

King Gyanendra had no choice but to restore Nepal?s Parliament. The monarch, suffering from delusions of grandeur, had cut himself off from the people.

india Updated: Apr 27, 2006 01:47 IST

As time was running out for him, King Gyanendra finally restored Nepal’s Parliament after the Indian Prime Minister’s special envoy, Karan Singh, made him read the writing on the wall. It is a clear victory for pro-democracy forces in Nepal. The king’s policy of ‘too little, too late’ inspired no confidence. The people of Nepal had little or no trust in him as they could see through him and were apprehensive of his subterfuges. Singh made it amply clear to the king that India’s affinity remained with the Nepali people and their democratic aspirations. Some of the malodorous propaganda projecting India’s intervention as a last ditch bid to save the monarchy was nothing but abusive libel.

Jaswant Singh was less than gracious to Singh by employing the semantically nuanced appellation of ‘Maharaja’ while referring to him — hinting as if the ‘Maharaja’ may have had a soft corner for Gyanendra. In fact, we owe a vote of appreciation to Karan Singh for having conducted his delicate diplomatic mission in Nepal with singular skill, grace, clarity and discretion.

The late Ganesh Man Singh, who had successfully led the movement for democracy in Nepal, had at one time made up his mind to abolish the institution of monarchy. He had, however, finally opted for giving it a chance. Had Gyanendra proved himself to be worthy and people-friendly, the monarchy could have lasted — at least for a trial period — for a while. The 1990 Constitution of Nepal was, however, wilfully violated by the king, who along with the politicians of Nepal, made a mess of the institution of democracy.

The good news is that the alliance of political parties now see the magnitude of the perils of political mismanagement and are united in their resolve to restore democracy. One only hopes that they will stand united and not go back to the bad old ways of pointless altercation and decisive and self-destructive disunity.

The tragic massacre of the royal family in Nepal and the public suspicion against King Gyanendra and his family has put paid to the monarchy’s credibility and survival. It is not the 1990 Constitution that has failed the people of Nepal, but the monarchy under King Gyanendra and Nepal’s politicians. Nothing short of a broad-based constituent assembly or a restored Parliament can save Nepal from chaos and disintegration at this juncture. Even the king’s abdication may not suffice.

His earlier speech claiming that the executive power was in his ‘safe keeping’ only added insult to injury. What Nepal needs today is a democratic Constitution and the unity and solidarity of political will to make the Constitution work democratically.

Gyanendra suffers from delusions of grandeur and has lost touch with the grassroots of Nepal. He has consistently acted in disregard of constitutional norms and capriciously in dealing with democratic institutions. King Gyanendra committed a series of unforgivable Himalayan blunders by denying and defeating democracy at every step and putting in its place a form of personal despotism. It is a noteworthy irony of history that India, which helped pave the way for the tyrannical Ranas to be replaced by the benevolent regime of King Tribhuvan (who was virtually a prisoner of the despotic Ranas), now has to enter and register an unequivocal plea on behalf of the people of Nepal against the lapses and excesses of the monarchy.

Karan Singh made the king see the light at least for a while. But the people and the pro-democratic alliance had no faith in the king, a man who enjoys a dubious reputation as a master of ‘divide and rule’. But India’s role as a friendly neighbour is not yet over.

With G.P. Koirala chosen by the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) as Nepal’s prime minister, the king should apply for leave of absence so that Parliament may begin the task of Constitution-making or that the constitutional assembly may be convened in consultation with the SPA.

Nepal is no longer divided on the issue of democracy. The king is already far too isolated to rule. At this critical juncture, Gyanendra must have the good sense to jettison his coterie and sycophants and abandon all pretense of power.

Sovereignty must now be vested in the people and Parliament or the Constituent Assembly of Nepal. That would be an act of partial and pro tem abdication, seemingly a sacrifice by the king but in reality, the only real service he can render to the Nepalese nation.

Having forfeited the legacy of King Tribhuvan and his elder brother, an initiative for democratic constitutional governance is the only way Gyanendra can redeem himself and save his country from the tragedy of chaos, insurrection and disintegration. India’s goodwill for Nepal and its people is boundless. But its patience with the wily ways of an oppressive monarchy and egotistic politicians has been severely strained if not altogether exhausted.

The writer is former Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MP and was India’s High Commissioner in the United Kingdom