Originally Published 2005-02-05 12:37:00 Published on Feb 05, 2005
FOR all those following the developments in Nepal, the King¿s coup, has not come as a surprise. Notable, however, is the sweep and sting of the King¿s action.
Royal coup and its implications
FOR all those following the developments in Nepal, the King's coup, has not come as a surprise. Notable, however, is the sweep and sting of the King's action. 

He has not only removed a "popular" Prime Minister, but has put all other political party leaders under house arrest, suspended fundamental freedoms of speech, expression and association and restricted the movement of people from within and outside the Kingdom. This is on lines of what his late father King Mahendra had done in December 1960 while dismissing a parliamentary system.

Gyanendra has always been nursing political ambitions. Somewhere at the back of mind, his illegitimate and short-lived crowning as a king when he was three years old in 1950 at the time of the anti-Rana revolution, has made him think that he was born to rule. He never politically approved of his brother, the late King Birendra's attempts to adjust with the constraints of Constitutional Monarchy and parliamentary governance. 

Since October 2002, when he dismissed Deuba, his political ambitions have been all the more clear. During the past six months, there have been carefully prompted statements asking for direct intervention of the King, aimed at creating the right atmosphere for this take over.

An important aspect of the King's takeover has been his lauding of the role of the security forces. He has even accused the political party leaders of not appreciating the sacrifices made by the security forces in the fight against "terrorism"; and has promised to give more powers to the Royal Nepal Army. 

Even on earlier occasions, under King Gyanendra, the Army Generals have been openly criticising the political parties and their leaders. If, therefore, the army has had any role to play in precipitating the coup, its future implications for democracy in Nepal are all the more serious.

The King's action brings him in direct clash with the popular forces in Nepal. He has pitted himself on the one side, against the armed Maoists who enjoy considerable control in the Nepali countryside and, on the other, the political parties who constitute the legitimate instruments of democratic system. He may want to win this battle against the popular forces, even through the use of ruthless force. 

However, everyone knows that the Royal Nepal Army has so far given no assuring indications that it is capable of dealing with the Maoist challenge. Any excessive use of force and oppression may in fact bring the Maoists and the political parties closer to each other. It may even force political mainstream parties like the Nepali Congress and the United Marxists Leninists to take up arms in defence of democracy. 

The Nepali Congress had done so during the sixties and the early seventies. In the process, Nepal would further drift into greater chaos and violence. No one can say how the Monarchy as an institution would emerge out of this chaos. There is also an option for the King to tactically open negotiations with the Maoists to diffuse the international and internal pressures on him. However, it is unlikely that any viable solution will emerge out of such talks unless the King is willing to curb his own powers. If that was possible, he would not have staged a coup.

In a situation of growing uncertainty and violence in Nepal, the international community has a critical role to put its weight in favour of order and democracy. India, in particular, may be seriously affected by the spill-over of instability and violence in Nepal. Naturally, therefore, India's reaction to the King's coup has been strong and immediate. 

The UK and the US, who during the fifties had stayed on the side of the infant King Gyanendra have this time reacted largely on India's lines. India has called the King's action as a "setback to democracy", the phrase that Nehru had used to decry King Mahendra's coup in 1960. India could easily avoid reiterating its commitment to the traditional two pillar policy of Constitutional Monarchy and the Multi-party democracy, because these two pillars have fallen completely apart from each other as a result of the King's action. 

The challenge before Indian diplomacy is to implement the spirit of its stated position. For this, it has to carry the international community, the US in particular, along, lest the US is, in the coming days and weeks, swayed by its anti-terrorism obsession. 

The support of the US and the UK for India's position is also critical because King Gynandra has already indicated his desire and willingness to use the China card in support of his action. Three days before his coup, he closed down the Dalai Lama's offices in Nepal to please the Chinese. He did not care about the US displeasure. 

China has called his action an internal matter in the interest of peace and people in Nepal. China is obviously happy at the ouster of the Deuba regime which was viewed as pro-US and pro-India. 

India also has to seriously reconsider its continued military and economic support to the Monarchy in Nepal. It has to engage with the political parties and even Maoists directly to send a clear message that India stands with the people and not the feudal vested interests. It is only through the mobilisation of popular and democratic forces that the Maoists movement can be soft-landed and the King can be shown his place.

Courtesy: Tribune, Chandigarh, February 3, 2005.

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