BY AMEET DHAKAL
Three events that took place in three different districts in Nepal on Wednesday reflect the bizarre status and tragedy of Nepali politics.
King Gyanendra, accompanied by Queen Komal and surrounded by army men, busied himself in a state-orchestrated road show in Bhairawa. Protected by an umbrella held by security men to ward off the sweltering heat, the king signed autographs for school children while the queen looked on, her lips poised between a smile and curiosity.
In Kathmandu, things were diametrically opposite: It was open repression in the street. Journalists, lawyers, professors, doctors, engineers and political activists, merely exercising their civil and political rights, were brutally suppressed. Professionals were put under detention for a day without food and water; leaders were arrested from their houses in early morning raids; and students were kicked and baton-charged.
Late in the evening, the Maoist rebels launched yet another daring attack at a district headquarter, the second since they called off their unilateral ceasefire in early January. Malangawa, the district headquarters of Sarlahi was ravaged; about two dozen were killed and another two dozen police personnel, along with the CDO, abducted. The RNA men from the nearby Nawalpur barrack did not (possibly could not) manage to come to rescue the cops.
According to the RNA, a night-vision chopper that went to bomb the fighting rebels crashed, (gunned down according to rebels), killing all aboard, including the two pilots. One of the pilots who died, Major Subash Rai, was my classmate at Ananda Kuti Vidyapeeth, back in the mid-eighties. After hearing of his death, memories of our shared past came alive; his face flashing in front of my eyes every five minutes.
The Bhairawa road show, the repression in Kathmandu and the chopper crash in Malangawa are all intricately linked to the tapestry of our complex and unresolved polity. At the centre of this complicated polity is King Gyanendra.
The king seized power on February One, 2005, promising to put an end to the conflict and restore normalcy. One-and-a-half years have passed since he took the plunge. I wonder what he thinks when he looks back. For most of us, things have only gotten worse for the monarchy and the nation, to say the least.
Today, the rebels feel vindicated in their claim that monarchy is the main obstacle to peace and democracy. Their firepower has increased. The war that was confined to the rugged terrains of Nepal has spread to the plains of the Terai. I remember an international security expert’s comment that ‘you may bring the best of counter-insurgency forces from anywhere in the world and still you can’t defeat insurgency in Nepal’s rugged terrain.’ But the terrain no more seems to be the issue here. In the last two months, the rebels have struck in Nepalgunj, Dhangadi, Guleriya, Nawalparasi, Malangwa, Dharan, Birtamod -they can virtually hit anywhere along the highway.
Earlier, it was assumed that the rebels had an advantage only in the hilly districts since enforcement could not come over land. Now even that myth has been amply shattered. Army enforcement didn’t come in any of the above mentioned clashes though in each case, there was an army barracks nearby. If that’s how the army operates, the rebels will find it easy to choose the modus operandi of their attacks: Engage the military inside the barrack and massacre the ill-trained and ill-equipped policemen guarding district headquarters and ravage the headquarters. This means, the rebels can practically destroy any district headquarters they choose.
This, however, doesn’t mean that they have the capacity to overrun the state. Nor has the RNA the capacity to wipe out the rebels. This reality has been told by many people, for many times in many forums. Even the Maoist rebels and the RNA top brass have publicly admitted that there is no military victory. But the tragedy is, they have been fighting even after admitting the reality, and will continue to do so. The King’s roadmap — post-February one- is to finish them. That is why it is wrong-headed and has taken the monarchy to the brink.
I was awe-struck by a recent survey published in Himal Khabar Patrika, a reputed fortnightly magazine. When asked who they blame the most for the current state of the country, what the majority said was the king. During a similar survey by the magazine a few years back, they had pointed fingers at the political parties.
In a constitutional monarchy, political parties act as a buffer between the monarchy and any possible threat to it. Blind like a bat to his own interest, the king removed that buffer and exposed himself to the danger he failed to see. With political parties off the hot seat, the spotlight has shifted.
Now there is a slippery road ahead for the monarchy: As this war drags on, more and more people will think that the war is being fought just because of one person, or one family. Then, finally one day, the people will ready themselves to trade that person and that family, for peace. In royal
madness, surrounded by sycophants and security men, it’s easy to miss what is happening. But when it happens, it will be the end of a dynasty.
As published in today’s The Kathmandu Post. The author can be reached at ameet-at-kantipur.com.np .