Prasai’s campaign uncertain as he fails to unite monarchistsSilent on his support for Durga Prasai, former king Gyanendra Shah appears with RPP chief Lingden in Jhapa.
The “campaign to protect nation, nationalism, religion, culture and citizens’, led by controversial businessman Durga Prasai, made headlines over the week as his supporters hit the streets of the Capital and faced off against the security personnel deployed to contain the pro-monarchy marches.
Prasai continued his protest on Saturday, albeit on a smaller scale. Thursday’s protest, centred on Balkhu, was supported by right-wingers, royalists, pro-Hindu activists, and backers of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, as well as common people bussed in from different parts of the country.
Former king Gyanendra Shah is believed to have supported the movement, whose prime agenda is restoration of monarchy, reverting the decision of the Constituent Assembly in 2008 to do away with the centuries-old institution.
Shah is yet to publicly endorse Prasai’s campaign.
After concluding Thursday’s protest, during a media briefing at his residence, Prasai indirectly expressed his displeasure at the former monarch. He asked for the former king’s explicit support for his protests, but that is yet to come. The former king went to Jhapa on Saturday at the invitation of Rastriya Prajatantra Party Chairman Rajendra Lingden and unveiled the statue of King Prithvi Narayan Shah there.
Though the ex-king made no speech in Jhapa nor did he respond to the media, Lingden said the foundation of Nepal’s republican order had been shaken and was on the verge of collapse. After the former king attended the function, the RPP might have been bolstered even as the former head of state refused to answer Prasai’s call for support in Kathmandu. The king, it appears, is unconvinced of Prasai’s bid to restore monarchy.
Shah’s apparent favour came amid a vertical division in the RPP over whether to join Prasai’s protest against the present republican establishment. Lingden and Prasai both hail from Jhapa but do not have cordial relations, one senior RPP leader said. In the past, Prasai called Lingden the “son” of CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli, meaning that Lingden would fail in the party’s stated goal of restoring monarchy and Hindu state.
Nonetheless, Prasai’s demonstration, amid a hostile position maintained by the government as well as the main opposition UML—which paraded youths and students in a show of force against Prasai on Thursday—has put the supporters of the republican system in a defensive position. Prasai managed to rally as many as 10,000 people behind his cause in an individual capacity. He had announced he’d put up a fiercer show on Friday but the local administration deployed force to restrict Prasai to his house in Bhaktapur while rounding up a couple of dozen protesters who came out to demonstrate.
Addressing two different functions on Saturday, UML chair Oli and Nepali Congress General Secretary Gagan Thapa came down heavily on the former king and claimed that no one could strip Nepal of its republican and secular character.
Democracy and republicanism cannot be wrong, said Oli. Individuals in charge can make mistakes but that does not mean the entire system is flawed.
Oli said the revival of monarchy was unimaginable. “The same way we cannot return to the stone age, we cannot go back to the system of monarchy,” he said. “We cannot accept the tradition of someone becoming the king by birth.”
People ousted the king as they concluded that an institution where an individual reigns supreme solely on the basis of birth was no longer needed, Oli argued.
Thapa of the Congress warned the former king not to harbour political ambitions. Speaking at a function in Gulmi, Thapa dared Shah to jump into politics by forming a party if he still harboured ambitions to rule.
A rift seems to have opened between Prasai’s movement and the broader spectrum of people advocating the restoration of monarchy. “Those Rajabadis, the supporters of the king, are holding closed-door meetings and expressing their anxiety that I have become popular,” Prasai said, addressing his supporters at Sifal on Saturday. “I urge you not to be Rajabadi but nationalists and join my protest.”
Prasai also called on the locals of Kathmandu to join his protest to counter the Marwari traders who are threatening to “take over Kathmandu”.
Both Lingden’s RPP and Prasai’s movement claim the agendas of restoration of monarchy, Hindu state, and rollback of federalism. Besides, Prasai also raises social and economic issues including the excesses of cooperatives, microfinance institutions, loan sharking, and victims of exorbitant interest rates of bank and financial institutions.
“Prasai can mobilise some people with his social and economic issues but he won’t be able to take his movement to a logical conclusion,” said Suresh Acharya, a pro-monarchy leader from the RPP with several years of service at the royal palace.
When the state and political parties see the need to negotiate any emerging agendas, Lingden, as the chairman of a national party, is a legitimate choice. However, Acharya sees the possibility of Prasai’s movement lasting for some time yet given the way he has appealed to an ever-growing mass over the months.
Prasai, formerly associated with the UML and who boasts of his past links with the ruling Maoists, has had no tie-up with Lingden’s RPP. Acharya said he sees no chance of the RPP and Prasai uniting in the near future.
Supporters of both the RPP and Durga Prasai say there is a lack of clarity, understanding and consensus on how to jointly take this political, social, and economic movement forward. Some leaders from both forces are trying to bring the RPP and Prasai together but there has been no progress, insiders say.
“Our demands span the political, social, religious and economic spectrums. But until our political agenda is first addressed, we cannot solve the remaining issues,” said Rama Singh, a former journalist who is now active in Prasai’s movement. She is among those working to bring Prasai and RPP together in order to strengthen their support base.
“We are running a campaign and have raised political, social, economic, and political agendas. In order to take them to a logical conclusion, we have to talk with the government and the political parties. We will not leave the street until our demands are met,” said Singh. “Once we meet the political parties and discuss our demands and agendas, we can then chart out our future strategy.”
The best way forward, according to Singh, is to hold roundtable meetings between various political parties and the former king to rid the country of its economic, political and social troubles.