The king at the summit
From Nepali Times, ISSUE #271 (04 NOV 2005 – 10 NOV 2005)
If he is going to go hes going to go
It looks like King Gyanendra will be attending the 13th SAARC Summit 12-13 November in Dhaka. Because the parties and civil society in open dissent are yet to gather sufficient steam to challenge him head-to-head to reverse the coup of 1 February, for the moment the king is in the driver’s seat even if few like the direction he is taking.
If he is going to go, he is going to go. But we have to be clear that when King Gyanendra attends the summit of Southasian leaders, he represents only the palace, some sections of the military, and the graceless squad that makes up his council of ministers.
King Gyanendra revels in pomp and ceremony, whether it is at religious rituals in debi temples, walking in military fatigues among the peasantry, acting gracious in investiture events, or seated regally at international gatherings. If limited to that, the country and people would have no problems with it.
Unfortunately, the king also clearly enjoys the exercise of power. The reason to attend the SAARC summit is to try to gain some regional and international credibility, and consolidate power at home on the rebound. And thereafter, the royal palace plans a two-week tour of African capitals at a time when the nation bleeds and desperately seeks a political release.
The king has yet to receive a formal invite and dates from countries he would actually like to visit (India, United States, China, or any of the European countries). Even the black-flag demonstrations planned by boisterous Nepalis in New York would not have kept him away in September: it was only the failure to secure an invitation at a reception given by George W Bush where everyone else would have been present (except a handful of totalitarians and dictators) that forced the palace into humiliating retreat.
According to reliable information, the takeover was itself rushed so the king could attend the SAARC Summit originally slated for 6-7 February and later cancelled. The plan was to ambush the international community and gain automatic recognition for the new authoritarian dispensation.
In the ensuing months since February, things haven’t been going well for the king. Internationally, there has been a solid wall of non-recognition of February First. Domestically, the Maoists rage in the countryside, the political parties are sullen but defiant, and a public opinion poll would probably show a dramatic shift in perception about the place of royalty.
The king heads a regime given to midnight raids on radio stations, elevating Panchayat-era hooligans to powerful positions, promulgating unprincipled ordinances on the eve of weeklong holidays, and allowing the country to run without fiscal discipline or accountability. Overall, it is a blot on the country’s image.
Since 1 February, King Gyanendra has gone to open-invitation international summits: the Non-Aligned Summit in Jakarta and the Boao Forum in April and the G-77 meeting in Doha in June. The same will hold true for SAARC in Dhaka. The right thing to do would be not to attend because each and every action, directive, ordinance and ruling by the royal palace is presently constitutionally unauthorised and so would a trip to Dhaka as a head-of-state and head-of-regime.
If he does attend, the king will be doing so under the sheer weight of power garnered through the military-backed takeover. That attendance will be without representational legitimacy. Nepal was already once a democracy and intends to go back to being one.
Attending the SAARC summit will be one more act by a monarch insensitive to the people’s political maturity: a willingness to rule over a shrunken kingdom where the citizens suffer economic stagnation and social regression. One must understand the craving, and the mindset from which it emanates.