Nepal: Pragmatism As The Flip Side Of Power

By sending the reinstated House of Representatives (HoR) into suspended animation, the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) has moved halfway toward meeting the Maoists’ principal precondition to continuing the peace process.

Although Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala – newly emboldened by consultations in India – has refused to walk the full walk and dissolve the HoR, the Maoists seem to be reasonably assured of the SPA’s good faith.

Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula has held preliminary talks with Maoist supremo Prachanda and his deputy Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, among others, ostensibly in preparation for the full “summit” between the representatives of the two states.

The withdrawal of anti-terror legislation has virtually emptied prisons of Maoists. Some reports suggest that a constituent assembly election could be held in six months.

Clearly, the SPA and the Maoists have achieved their minimum program: emasculation of the royal palace in the run-up to the constituent assembly polls. The substantial portion of the legislative proceedings was focused on trimming royal powers through last month’s “historic” Proclamation and last week’s HoR regulations. It was only when MPs ventured into such radical programs as outlawing untouchability and ensuring gender equality that the Maoists started becoming agitated.

Since the entire program of restructuring the Nepalese state is being envisaged without consultation with the head of state – much less the very institution that led the campaign to establish the nation – King Gyanendra may be forgiven if he sometimes feels he is already living in a republican Nepal.

After all, there cannot be much ceremonial in a monarch who has to pay taxes, can be hauled into court, cannot be assured of his successor and cannot assent legislation, forget about vetoing it.

In retrospect, King Gyanendra’s roadmap wasn’t devoid of substance. The monarch simply stood no chance of overcoming the “autocratic” tag Nepalese political parties and foreign organizations conferred on him for a variety of seemingly disparate reasons.

The monarch probably grasped the enormity of his undertaking by the direction of the media coverage. In the weeks after the February 1, 2005 royal takeover, publications and outlets that did their best to “prove” that Crown Prince Dipendra murdered his parents, siblings and other royals before turning the gun on himself revived an intriguing interest in how King Gyanendra happened to be out of town and how his wife and son escaped the wrath of his deranged nephew.

Conspiracy, by definition, cannot be conceived in isolation. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, officially in charge of royal palace affairs during the night of the massacre, was never held accountable for dereliction of duty. He’s too busy these days institutionalizing democracy.

Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, who admonished King Gyanendra to form an official inquiry commission and originally consented to sit on it before refusing five years ago, can today talk freely about institutionalizing transparency in royal palace affairs.

Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who praised King Birendra and each of his predecessors for their deep nationalism and profound contributions the Nepalese people would glorify unto eternity, has no qualms in holding King Gyanendra accountable for all 238 years of “pillage and plunder” by the Shah Dynasty.

But the monarch can take solace in one overriding fact. The core of the royal roadmap, enhancing security and stability in a tiny state sandwiched between the two Asian giants while deriving the benefits from the rapid economic modernization of both, remains relevant.

Prime Minister Koirala appears to have grasped that reality. Having won over the Maoists, he has now extended an olive branch to the palace. In his hometown of Biratnagar, where Koirala invariably makes utterances of consequence, the prime minister said King Gyanendra should be given a ceremonial role in order for the country to enjoy peace and stability.

Speaking at a gathering of political workers, Koirala said his Nepali Congress is in favor of giving “space” to all players in the current transitional period that Nepal is passing through. “Denial of such space would lead to frustration and to even revolt,” he added.

That position stands in sharp contrast to the UML and other SPA constituents, not to speak of the Maoists. But, then, they too know how prudently power breeds pragmatism.

Maila Baje is a native of Nepal, who writes about the convoluted and often inscrutable politics of his country. His insight points out the things we couldn’t see for ourselves.