The spectre of unknown enemiesPolitical parties have been harping that the hard-earned achievements are at risk from ‘internal and external forces’.
The day King Gyanendra, who tried to emulate his father Mahendra after becoming an accidental monarch, was forced out from the Narayanhiti palace, the centuries-old monarchical rule was consigned to history.
Nepal transitioned into a federal republic in 2008. It was people’s power that helped Nepal turn a new page. Of course, the movement was initiated by the country’s political parties.
It has been more than 13 years since Nepal was declared a federal republic and six years since a new constitution guaranteed the transition, but the spectre of the monarchy still continues to frighten Nepali politicians.
On Friday, the Nepali Congress inaugurated its 14th general convention. And as has been the tradition, it invited top leaders of all major political parties. Among them was Rajendra Lingden, the newly elected chair of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the only pro-Hindu and pro-monarchy party.
When it was his turn to speak, he made a cheeky remark. When politicians come to a village, villagers say ‘thieves have come’, he said.
He gave enough to the subsequent speakers—CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli.
As if the two leaders had nothing else to speak—all invitees, as the tradition has, are supposed to extend best wishes to the host party for its convention—picked Lingden up on his statement and went on to lash out at Gyanendra.
Nepal challenged the deposed king to join politics if the latter is dreaming about returning to power again. “People will not accept any regressive move,” he said.
Dahal started by asking if Lingden’s statement that people refer to leaders as thieves was right. The answer in the chorus was “yes.” The Maoist chair had to make a quick improvisation.
“No, that’s not true. Such rumors are usually spread to defame those who fight for democracy and peace,” said Dahal. “This is a conspiracy to give birth to autocracy and totalitarianism.”
When Oli took the stage, he termed Lingden’s comment as something coming from an immature leader. He warned Lingden and monarchists not to dream about reinstating an autocratic rule.
Congress leaders ignored Lingden's statement. However, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba on different occasions has challenged Gyanendra to form a party and contest elections.
“Politicians from across the spectrum have failed when it comes to delivery,” said Ram Krishna Tiwari, head of Department of Political Science at the Tribhuvan University. “They know very well that they are losing public faith. That’s why they tend to react to something trivial like a statement by a royalist leader.”
After leaving the palace following a press conference in June 2008, Gyanendra has been residing in a palace in Nagarjuna, a hill on the northwestern rim of Kathmandu, as per an arrangement made with the then government.
Besides the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the only declared pro-monarchy force in Nepal, there is not much public support for the ousted king. A few groups and organisations have once in a while rallied in Kathmandu and elsewhere demanding the return of the monarchy and Nepal as a Hindu state, Gyanendra himself knows very well the ground is not fertile.
He, however, throws some gimmicks once in a while, say observers by using some occasions—Dashain, Falgun Saat (democracy day) and the like—to issue statements where he appears to be extending wishes but makes veiled arguments why the country needs the monarchy.
“It’s not only strange but also ridiculous that the same politicians who ousted the monarchy are afraid of its spectre,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst. “Instead of investing energy to strengthen the federal republic, they are wasting time challenging the former king to contest elections.”
More than the Congress, it’s the communist leaders who more often than not say there is no possibility of the return of the monarchy.
That’s tilting at windmills, say observers.
“These politicians know very well that the former king neither has the base nor the support,” said Maharjan. “They are creating an illusionary enemy to distract the people as the public is frustrated with them. They resort to such tactics because they cannot think beyond themselves.”
Nepali politicians have an uncanny tendency to spell out unforeseen dangers. Ever since the restoration of democracy in 1990, they have been harping that the hard-earned achievements are at risk from “internal and external forces.”
The late Girija Prasad Koirala kept the public on toes—and curious in the meantime—by repeating umpteen times what he called a “grand design”.
“We must unite and work together to save this fledgling democracy,” almost every politician would say until the Maoists launched a civil war in 1996.
The Maoists ended their “people’s war” in 2006. The subsequent people’s movement set the stage for the abolition of the monarchy. By and large, Nepal still has the same politicians ruling the country, and their common refrain is: “Federalism, republicanisms and secularism are at risk from internal and external forces.”
Observers say Nepali politicians have been using vague terms for decades. Some argue that the leaders refer to India when they use the term “external forces.”
None has ever spelt out in clear terms. In June, five former prime ministers, however, had issued a joint statement, in an unprecedented move, urging all the Nepali to remain alert against any sorts of direct and indirect foreign interference and influence in Nepal’s politics and internal affairs.
The statement was signed by Sher Bahadur Deuba, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Baburam Bhattarai. It was issued three weeks after Oli dissolved the House for a second time.
There is a perception among a section of society and political class that Gyanendra might have been receiving some tacit support of India’s Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the mother organization of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
A pro-Hindu campaigner told the Post in August this year that it was difficult to say if the Indian ruling party has a direct stake in Nepal’s Hindu nationalist campaign, but he did not rule out communications between RSS functionaries and Nepali campaigners.
The Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the only true right-wing party in Nepal, had less than two percent vote share in the 2017 general elections. No other parties have carried the agenda of reinstating the monarchy, although Oli’s UML at times talks about Hindu gods and goddesses.
Analysts say the growing disenchantment of the people with Nepali politicians is the main reason leaders bring imaginary enemies. Had they performed well on their delivery, they would not have been afraid of the spectre of the monarchy, according to the analysts.
Tula Narayan Shah, a political commentator, says Nepali politicians actually have been lending undue importance to the deposed king and rightist forces.
“Lingden cleverly used the Congress’s forum. Top leaders should have ignored him,” said Shah, “Rather by reacting to his statement, the rightist forces got undeserved attention. “Party leaders must be careful about what they speak.”