Debating India


Beginning of the end?

Wednesday 12 April 2006

The tsunami of protest in Nepal against the brutally unconstitutional rule of King Gyanendra is virtually a rerun of the People’s Movement of 1990 - with an important difference. Sixteen years ago, the street protests were directed against the absolute monarchy of his elder brother, King Birendra; they helped usher in a multi-party democracy with a constitutional monarchy. Then, as now, the King used repressive tactics to protect his position, surrendering to the demands of the people only when it became clear that the protestors would not be intimidated into backing off from the palace doors. But King Birendra was a much wiser man than his business-minded brother. He was astute enough to cut his losses by forging a deal with the political parties that ensured the monarchy would continue in a diluted, constitutional form. It helped his case that those spearheading the protests also thought it unwise to do away with the monarchy. That has changed. After five years of King Gyanendra, more and more people in Nepal are questioning the wisdom of holding on even to a constitutional monarchy. The seven-party alliance for the restoration of democracy has acquired a distinct republican hue, to the extent of forging a loose political understanding with the Maoist insurgency whose avowed aim is to abolish the monarchy. The proliferating protests in Nepal despite a vicious Palace crackdown reveal that even those who initially bought the King’s promise that he would restore democracy have completely lost faith.

King Gyanendra’s shenanigans are shown up in stark contrast by the actions of other monarchs in the region. In Thailand, the people revere King Bhumibol Adulyatej; and he protects this status by a studied policy of non-interference in the day-to-day politics of his country. Leaving that to the politicians and steering clear of divisive ambitions, he has carved out for himself a role of such moral authority that in the recent political crisis, all it took was a word from him to make the discredited Thaksin Shinawatra resign as Prime Minister. In Bhutan, a sagacious King Jigme Singye Wangchuk is voluntarily preparing to change from an absolute monarch to a constitutional one. When Gyanendra ascended the Nepal throne on June 4, 2001 after an infamous massacre of the royals (with an unpopular Paras next in the line of succession), he needed badly to establish his credentials. He could have fashioned a role that was constructive for the country’s fledgling democracy but has shown himself incapable of anything like that. Notwithstanding an international chorus for "constitutional forces" - meaning the democratic political parties and the monarch - to come together to resolve Nepal’s political crisis, it is unlikely that this King will be acceptable to his people even in a constitutionally marginalised role. After all, what is the guarantee that his crude political ambitions will not rise to the top again?

See online : The Hindu

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