Regal broachLast week, the India Foundation organised its annual counter terrorism conference in New Delhi. One of the topics of informal discussion on its side-lines was the plausibility of the revival of the Nepali monarchy.
Last week, the India Foundation organised its annual counter terrorism conference in New Delhi. One of the topics of informal discussion on its side-lines was the plausibility of the revival of the Nepali monarchy. This was owing to the organiser’s selection of Nepali participants of declared royalist tilt.
It would sound both anachronistic as well as agnostic even to think about the likelihood of Nepal’s monarchy returning to power anytime soon. This is particularly so at a juncture when mainstream political debate, at least on its surface, seems concentrated on institutionalising the country’s infant ‘federal republic’. The royalists are now not only seriously weighing the possibility of the return of monarchy but are moving ahead with their own set of ‘feasible’ strategies; they have also formulated a timeline. Surprisingly though, they claim that the table will turn in not more than two years’ time. And, the political undercurrents to this end extend far beyond dethroned Gyanendra Shah’s wishful thinking and self-entitlement as the ‘king’. These strategists are not hesitant in concluding that both domestic politics and regional geopolitics present a highly favourable environment in which they can strike.
Men at work
Apart from obvious pro-monarchists such as those who make up the base for different incarnations of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, a number of people with reasonable public faces are seriously betting on the ‘project monarchy’. They include some ‘senior’ journalists, a group of tabloid-owners, cinema celebrities and businessmen, among others. Prakash Koirala, the elder son of iconic Nepali Congress (NC) leader BP Koirala, and his celebrity daughter Manisha are openly supportive of the ‘restore monarchy’ movement. Within his circle, Prakash often claims to have been an eye-witness to a letter handed over by Indian Congress leader Dr Karan Singh to Gyanendra on behalf of the Indian establishment that was in office in 2008, suggesting that Gyanendra should facilitate the process of change by abdicating ‘for some time’. Singh allegedly had promised at least some space for the monarchy, so Gyanendra would be something akin to a cultural king. The political leaders who called the shots then, Maoist Chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal in particular, had also agreed to this suggestion but went back on their word. To connect another dot, frequent pro-monarchy murmurs from incumbent NC general secretary Shashank Koirala, Prakash’s youngest brother, are not, therefore, mere one-off thoughts.
This betrayal story is serving as a double-edged sword for Gyanendra and his loyalists. To the current pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party government in India, they are selling it as an utter breach of commitment on the part of the Indian National Congress and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Back home, the monarchists take solace in the fact that they still have some documented basis to bargain with to gain power, as they can refer to the incumbent Nepali political class’ failure to deliver on the aforementioned promise.
The former king Gyanendra and his supporters take the emphatic rise of KP Oli to the power saddle as an opportunity for three main reasons. First, the potential mess that Oli’s half-hearted approach in implementing the federal policy could entail is construed as the vindication of appropriateness of the unitary rule, of which the monarchy has been at the centre stage. Second, Oli’s modus operandi of making a particular shade of jingoism the main springboard of politics remains directly analogous to the ‘politics of nationalism’ which the monarchy historically employed to establish the rationale for its very existence. Third, President Bidya Bhandari’s reported but antithetic soft-corner to discount the traditional duties of the head of state in favour of the cultural king to the extent that doesn’t impinge on the political authority of the institution of the Presidency is seen as a good launch pad.
A highly demoralised Nepali Congress is scrambling to find a new political narrative after a humiliating debacle in recent elections, and it could easily succumb to ‘project monarchy’. At least the royalists foresee this possibility, since NC under the current set of leaders is unlikely to come up with any instant or innovative approach to revive its influence.
In addition, pro-monarchists firmly believe that Nepal’s security apparatus, the army in particular, is highly receptive to the idea of re-establishing the monarchy. This prognosis is rooted in the fact that the entire security apparatus of the country is fed-up with the political leaders who, regardless of their party affiliations, invariably put petty interests above national interests.
Gyanendra has understood BJP’s Hindu Rastra agenda in Nepal’s context to be analogous to ‘a country ruled by a Hindu king.’ He is particularly encouraged by the rise of the political clout of Yogi Adityanath who for long has (or should have?) been ‘obliged’ by significant pecuniary contribution from Nepali monarchy in favour of the Gorakhpur Temple Trust.
Moreover, when the KP Oli government, for better or worse, has resolutely chosen to be seen as pro-Chinese and the NC ceases to be a credible force, there is no mainstream political force in Nepal left for the Indian establishment to work with. The royalists of Nepal hope to fill in that gap and exploit New Delhi’s compulsion to find a new friend in Kathmandu as a means to further their cause. Another putative advantage is that Nepal’s northern neighbour China has never acted against the interests of the Nepali monarchy.
What’s in store
Despite the rosy picture portrayed, time and resources expended and roadmaps charted, Gyanendra’s hope of returning to the throne, again, is nothing more than a sheer pipedream. But, what is absolutely certain is that, machinations, manoeuvres and muscle-flexing of this magnitude by the monarchists, coupled with the utter frustration of the masses, has already sown the seeds for another bout of political instability in the country. The geopolitical forces are, in some way or the other, sure to approach forces looking for recognition, be they the monarchists or anarchists (like the Biplab-led Maoist group). The only way to prevent the country from embarking on another costly political experiment is to turn federalism into a success story. But, unfortunately, the new government’s initial overtures to this end are more disappointing than the regal broth boiling in some unspecified corners, in and outside the country.