October 7, 2002


 Search the Internet
E-Mail this column to a friend

Print this page
Recent Columns
America's double game
A kingdom under
Can infiltration be
     be checked?
The death squads of
Op Parakram: the
     balance shifts

Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta

The flux in Nepal

Most Nepalese believed that the mid-term poll will be postponed by one year as proposed by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's caretaker cabinet. Some had hoped that parliament would be restored but only a few expected the king to dismiss even an 'incompetent' prime minister at this time.

Whether the king's action was constitutionally correct or otherwise will be debated for a long time. What is in the king's mind at this stage is anyone's guess. He has seized the opportunity to either make or mar the future of the monarchy in Nepal.

Postponement had become such a plausible option that it is reported that Radio Nepal had prematurely announced the postponement after Deuba recommended this on October 3 during his weekly audience with King Gyanendra. He took for granted that Gyanendra would accept his recommendations even though he was a caretaker prime minister.

Instead, on the next day, the king acting under Article 127, dismissed Deuba and his cabinet for failure to hold the election on time. He said he was temporarily assuming executive powers, would install an interim government and had indefinitely postponed the election.

Those hoping that the king might restore parliament, forgot it was he, who on May 22, had endorsed its dissolution and holding elections by November 13. The Supreme Court had subsequently, on August 6, unanimously upheld the termination of the House. Did anyone expect the king to act decisively even dramatically as he has? Stories doing the rounds in Kathmandu forecast a royal takeover (with Indian approval) so that the king could clean up multiparty democracy with this shock treatment. King Gyanendra, the de facto ruler is now de jure, the supreme authority in the kingdom.

The October 5 royal takeover bears little resemblance to a similar takeover on December, 15,. 1960 when Gyanendra's father, King Mahendra, summarily dismissed the B P Koirala government to usher in party-less Panchayat Raj which lasted 30 years. He made no apology for his action in stifling multiparty democracy. It is widely believed that India had not disapproved of the royal action. The Indian Army Chief, General K S Thimaiyya was present in Kathmandu on that day, planning his tiger shoot in Chitwan.

This time around, circumstances were very different: a totally discredited democracy, Maoists calling the shots in the country and a caretaker prime minister unable to hold elections as he was constitutionally bound to doing. It is not possible that India was oblivious to the royal plan at least as a contingency.

In Kathmandu the impression among most intellectuals was that the king could not have acted without India's nod though the acting Indian ambassador was out of Kathmandu at the time. Multiparty democracy had become so messy that Indian policy makers had a difficult time choosing who to deal with: the elected/caretaker prime minister or the constitutional monarch. It is believed the BJP-led government's choice was in favour of the Hindu monarch who is expected to clean the stables of democracy though both the horse and the rider are accident prone.

Although Deuba has called the king's action unconstitutional and most political parties condemn the action, the king has said he acted in the spirit of the constitution and will uphold parliamentary democracy. No one has forgotten that monarchy itself was badly mauled by the palace massacre last year and has been constantly attacked by the Maoists. So Gyanendra may well be acting to restore confidence in the monarchy while appearing to resurrect democracy.

Judging by the conjugation of events, the suspension of multiparty democracy in Nepal is neither surprising nor unexpected. The political elite has certainly been caught on the backfoot. Helped by the Maoists they have played into the king's hands. The origin of the drastic and dramatic step to sack Deuba for 'inefficiency and inefficient (a word used twice in royal proclamation) conduct' -- harsh words by the king -- was his recommendation to dissolve the House and hold mid-term elections.

The king has in one fell stroke, disabused the view that Deuba (and his wife) is a badge-carrying royalist. He has used and discarded Deuba, made him a scapegoat, according to an insider in the palace. Deuba himself never believed the king would pull the rug from under his feet. "Do you think he can do to me, what his father did to B P Koirala?" The question has been resoundingly answered.

But the question that remains is why did the king accept Deuba's recommendation to dissolve parliament on May 22. Everyone including the king knew then as now that holding an election without the cooperation of the Maoists was simply not feasible. Did the king, who is the supreme commander of the Royal Nepal Army, apply his mind in instantly accepting Deuba's recommendation to dissolve the House?

The king acted under Article 127 -- power to remove difficulties -- 'If any difficulty arises in bringing this constitution into force, His majesty may issue necessary orders to remove these difficulties. The orders so issued shall be placed in parliament.' But there is no Parliament! And has the king removed or created more difficulties?

Deuba is the victim of his own machinations. He should have seen the writing on the wall. But the urge to stick to office by whatever means made ground reality for him very fuzzy. Rightly or wrongly, he feels betrayed by the king.

What are the future scenarios? It is clear that the king and not a newly elected government will address the problems and demands of the Maoists. The king intends, it seems, to sort out his problems with the Maoists himself.

Scenario One

An interim national government is established that may later include the Maoists or their nominees to address their demands and clean the stables. An election would be ordered subsequently. But a ceasefire and a dialogue are necessary first.

Scenario Two

A government of technocrats is nominated by the king. The security forces free from the pressures of securing the environment for elections, go for the Maoists to force them to the negotiating table. Elections are held only after an interim solution is found to the Maoist problem.

Scenario Three

An interim government as above with the king exercising real power. A combination of events could bring together all democratic forces and the Maoists on one side and the king on the other to settle the issue of monarchy once for all.

With the suspension of multiparty democracy the king is now pitted against the Maoists. The anger of the political parties may spill over onto the streets. The king can do a deal with the Maoists on their key demand of abolition of the monarchy. It is believed he is willing to concede a constitutional review as well as consider placing the army under civilian control -- the other two demands of the Maoists. The king, by dealing directly with the Maoists, will emerge stronger. It will enhance the credibility of the monarchy vis a vis multiparty democracy and redeem the tarnished glory of the Shah dynasty. But ambitions and the course of events can change. So can the consequences for the future of the monarchy.

If India is out of the regime change loop -- as is reflected in the bland official statement on the royal takeover -- it is yet another blow for it as the regional influence. The blow to democracy is another matter.

Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta

Tell us what you think of this column