June 17, 2021
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Drifting Into Anarchy

The king's prolonged and ruthless repression will only bring his monarchy closer to a violent end in a manner and at a time that may even take India and the international community by surprise, if the latter continue to hesitate in responding to the

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Drifting Into Anarchy
One year of king Gyanendra’s direct rule in Nepal has been an unmitigated disaster, both for the country and the institution of monarchy that he personifies. Violence and disorder have remained unabated, except during the brief four-month unilateral ceasefire declared by the Maoists. During this ceasefire, however, the king’s army continued to kill. Even vigilante groups were unleashed on innocent citizens to punish them both for their suspected sympathies for Maoists and their aspirations for democracy. 

Besides violence, corruption and non-governance have registered significant growth during direct rule, a fact borne out both by Transparency International and the ordinary Nepali citizens who met the king during his visits to various regions. The institution of monarchy has never been as unpopular as it is today, with the king, his cronies and his desperate attempts to legitimize his direct rule through the elections for local bodies, now being lampooned and insultingly caricatured in the Nepalese media. 

The monarch and his political antics have distanced him farther not only from the common people but also from his erstwhile loyalists as well as the international community, save China and Pakistan. If anyone deserves credit for bringing the political parties closer to the Maoists in their movement for the restoration of democracy, it is the king and his obduracy.

With the Maoists withdrawing their ceasefire on January 2, 2006, violence has escalated and the security situation has deteriorated further, pushing Nepal each day into the dark pit of anarchy and chaos. Yet the king has not hesitated to pat his own back on the first anniversary of his direct rule. Camouflaged under the rhetoric of dubious ‘achievements’, the king nevertheless admitted that, wherever he went in the country, people were asking for peace. Where then are the signs of ‘improvement’ in the situation?

The king’s continued confidence in the merits of direct rule, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, comes from three sources: First, his control over the army and a firm faith in the efficacy of force and repression in securing his desired political goals; many Nepali watchers of Palace politics recall his displeasure with his slain brother, king Birendra, during the 1989-90 crisis when the latter ‘surrendered’ the Panchayat system when confronted with the democracy agitation, without resorting to strong methods and ruthless use of force. 

Gyanendra is trying to demonstrate that the use of force can deliver his political ambitions. Secondly, he is taking advantage of the weak and indecisive political leadership of the democratic parties, which have still not been able to build a formidable popular resistance to his direct rule. And thirdly, the king knows that, despite their displeasure with his rule, the international community stands divided on specific aspects of the Nepalese situation, where key countries like India and the US have not been able to reconcile to a republican political order in Nepal in which the Maoists may emerge as major shareholders in the post-monarchy power structure.

The indecision of the political parties emerges from two concerns. One is that even if the Maoists may not use force during the proposed elections for the Constituent Assembly, who will force them to surrender arms for eventual political mainstreaming, when the Royal Nepalese army is demoralized in the event of the collapse of monarchy? Who will protect the political parties from the Maoists’ arms, and possibly influence, in a situation where the king is removed from the scene? The truth, however, is that such fears and concerns are untenable, inspired (by the king’s cronies) and highly exaggerated. 

The Maoists have accepted to follow the lead of the political parties and committed themselves to having their arms monitored by independent international agencies such as the UN. They have also agreed to merge their armed cadres into the army, when it comes under the control of the representative Government. Thus a reformed Nepalese national army would be capable of dealing with recalcitrant Maoist sub-groups, if any, under the leadership of a multi-party dominated interim or full fledged Government. There would also be international support in this respect, to ensure that Maoists did not violate their commitments. A fact that the political leadership needs to understand is that the Maoists have forged a joint front with them only after being convinced that they cannot overwhelm the Nepali state by themselves and militarily.

The second of the political parties’ concerns is the more serious, though far less acknowledged. The political agenda of the present anti-monarchy movement is the restructuring of the Nepali state where marginalized and excluded groups like the janjaties (tribal and ethnic groups) and the Terai dwellers (madheshis) are given their appropriate place and share in the new power structure. The prevailing organizational structures of the political parties are not conducive to even internal inclusive democracy. They have no consensus yet on the road map to an inclusive democracy either internally, within their respective organizations, or for the country as a whole. That is why these marginalized groups, while they are alienated from the Monarch, remain, at the same time, skeptical of being led by the present party leadership in their struggle against the king’s direct rule and his ‘Hindu kingdom’. The political parties have to come to terms with the challenge of an inclusive democracy and a truly representative political order. They can avoid this question only at the cost of their struggle against an ambitious and autocratic king, and must fully understand that this king has no respect either for their leadership or democratic institutions and practices.

The international community, though united on the issue of democracy, faces a dilemma on the future of democratic institutions. India and the US, in particularly, are concerned about sorting out the political vacuum and chaos that would result from the sudden and violent collapse of the monarchy. Their preferred course is to have a negotiated resolution of the Nepalese crisis in favour of democratic governance under a benign or constitutional monarchy, but king Gyananedra is not willing to oblige. The Americans, alarmed by the rise of popular extremist forces in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Palestine (Hamas) are worried by the prospects of an assertive Maoist presence in Nepal’s political order. The fear of the Maoists has been a persistent theme in the US approach towards Nepal in recent years and this was again evident during the latest visit of the US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Fallone. Notwithstanding its stated preference for democracy, there is a degree of discomfort in the US approach towards the rise of independent grass-root popular forces in Asia.

India seems to share some of the American concerns in this respect. More so because a section of the security agencies (including the premier intelligence organizations) apprehend the link-up between the Nepal Maoists and the Indian Naxalite (Maoist) groups to the detriment of India’s internal security. King Gyanendra is exploiting these apprehensions in the Indian decision-making core and has also mobilized many of the diverse but influential constituencies within the Indian political space, including Hindu fundamentalist groups and Indian ‘royal families’, to ensure that India’s indecision on his fate persists. 

He has also been flashing the China and Pakistan cards to deter India and its defense establishments from taking any precipitate action against his political survival. There are also reports that the Indian defense forces are apprehensive of too much isolation of king Gyanendra, lest he drives Nepal fully into China’s and Pakistan’s lap in his pursuit of political survival. Consequently, while India’s stated policy stands in favour of democracy, there is a serious and persisting dilemma on the role to be assigned to monarchy. This dilemma has sustained the king in his obduracy, since the US, UK and EU also steadily await a clear and firm Indian initiative on Nepal.

Notwithstanding the dilemmas of the Nepali political parties, the international community and India, the popular support for a republican democracy is spreading through Nepal, slowly but surely. Nepali youth and grass-root cadres of the political parties are increasingly committed to a republican Nepal. The king will, of course, continue to focus his energies and attention on diffusing and dispersing this momentum through the use of force and political maneuvers to keep the parties and the international community confused. His prolonged and ruthless repression however, will only bring his monarchy closer to a violent end in a manner and at a time that may even take India and the international community by surprise, if the latter continue to hesitate in responding to the unfolding situation constructively and decisively.

S.D. Muni is Advisor, Observer Research Foundation and Editor, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

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