The problem with Nepal’s King Gyanendra has been that he not only refuses to bite the bullet, but prefers to shoot himself in the foot. This is clear from the latest goings-on in the Himalayan kingdom where the Maoists have reportedly signed a pact with seven political parties to fight the monarchy jointly. Last Sunday the Maoists and the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy agreed to form an interim government by launching a general strike and a civil disobedience movement from April 6. This government will write a new Constitution, presumably minus the monarchy. The Maoists have agreed to withdraw the three-week-long economic blockade of Kathmandu to make way for the intensified agitation. This adds credibility to their offer of laying down arms in return for the formation of a constituent assembly.
This puts the king on a very sticky wicket. He passed up on the opportunity to hammer out some kind of a face-saving deal with the political parties after the municipal elections last month. Reneging on an offer for talks with the parties, he arrested the leader of the party with the maximum number of seats in the dissolved National Assembly. The king’s post-poll actions called into question the role of the armed forces: suddenly it seemed the RNA was being used against the Nepali people. To add to the king’s self-inflicted woes, this time the Maoists have chosen to launch a ‘charm offensive’ of sorts — with their usually reclusive leader Prachanda giving interviews selectively to the international media, creating the impression that the rebels seek to take over Kathmandu by political means rather than militarily. His statements that the Maoists would accept multi-party democracy, that a government involving them could work with the West and that the Maoists would ‘call off the war’ if elections were held, suggest that the rebels could actually be persuaded to abandon the gun.
The overwhelming response in opinion polls across Nepal — that the Maoists are reasonable in their demands — have starkly showed up the king’s obduracy and infirmity. If the choice is between Nepal or its monarch, there should be no doubt as to which direction the future is headed right now.