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Nepal monarchy is down but not out

King Gyanendra is working overtime to secure for the Palace a ceremonial niche, reports Vinod Sharma.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2006 21:26 IST

Nepal’s 238-year-old Shah dynasty is down but not out. Not yet. Far from planning a getaway, King Gyanendra is reportedly working overtime to secure for the Palace a ceremonial niche -- or failing that, some political relevance -- in the Himalayan country struggling to scale Republican heights.

I don’t rule out the possibility of a ceremonial role for the King. I’ll say nothing is settled,” said a Kathmandu-based diplomat. His prognosis rested on a host of imponderables: the Palace’s money power; its “moles” across the political spectrum; the royal network spanning generations and the distinction the vastly illiterate electorate could make between the widely-despised incumbent and the institution of Monarchy.

In fact, there are two explanations for CPN (UML) leader Madhav Nepal’s pitch for a referendum on the Monarchy’s future being stonewalled by Prime Minister G P Koirala. One, the unpredictability of the vote that could give the badly isolated Gyanendra some measure of his support-base and Two, the need to keep the issue hanging for a ‘give and take’ with the Maoists on other key elements of the new Constitution.

The anger against Gyanendra might not translate into landslide rejection of the Monarchy as an institution,” averred Shrish Pradhan, a journalist. “Much would depend on the play of forces in the June 2007 elections to the Constituent Assembly. The PM is in no hurry to abandon the option of a ceremonial Palace as he’s aware that a dynasty that has lasted over two centuries cannot be wiped out by a proclamation.”

The NC’s ostensible tactical ambivalence on the demand for a Republic came across in the remarks of its spokesman, Arjun Narsingh. As a “strong” party group favoured a ceremonial Monarchy, he thought the NC’s highest forum, the Maha Adhiveshan, alone could settle the question.

Former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba’s splinter Nepali Congress (Democratic) is even more amenable to accommodating the dynasty. One of its ministers in the Koirala regime, Gopal Man Shreshta has said the King be made the Republic’s first President if he quits voluntarily for a smooth transition.

But Deuba played safe. “Most of the young girls and boys are fed up with this King. He will remain with or without power till the formation of the Constituent Assembly,” he told HT. “There is a likelihood of a republican front (taking shape before the polls) but nothing can be said with certainty.”

Amid such confusion, the sole redeeming feature for a ‘Republican Nepal’ is the youths’ distrust of the royalty that made and broke promises like piecrusts in the country’s 55-year quest for uninterrupted democracy. A crack between the Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance might rob the April Revolution -- as the latest uprising has come to be known -- of its raison d’etre.

The Palace’s support for the Peace Agreement with the Maoists is no credible evidence of it coming to terms with the changing reality. Spared the referendum, the King might seek to subvert popular will through manipulation and money power, said Madhav Nepal, during the selection of candidates, the campaign and after the formation of the Constituent Assembly that will decide the Monarchy’s fate at its very first sitting. Gyanendra’s point will be proved -- and ground laid for a future political role -- if a good percentage of House members vote for the dynasty.

On the flipside, a referendum, without denying the King a chance to gauge his ground-support, would have posited the Monarchy’s abolition as the core issue -- rather than a step that it is, in the construction of a New Nepal. Either way, the choice was difficult.

First Published: Nov 30, 2006 20:45 IST