Though this article was written immediately after king’s first address, UWB has published it in order to bring the issue of monarchy for public debate.
By Mahesh Poudyal
Friday night’s talk – after the royal proclamation – was mainly about king Gyanendra trying to split the SPA-Maoist alliance by offering the post of PM to the SPA. However, people seemed to have realised his ploy as soon as his speech ended. We heard about the overnight demonstrations in Kathmandu and in a number of districts and cities outside Kathmandu – most notably those in Butwal area – rejecting palace’s offer. SPA leaders, after meeting on Saturday morning, had no choice but to follow the will of the public and they finally rejected palace’s offer officially late on Saturday morning. So it seems we’ll be seeing more demonstrations in days to come and it also seems Nepal is heading towards being a republic and not stay as a kingdom. The hot topic today in most of the online discussions, as well as in radio forums, has been whether or not we Nepalese will be better off keeping the white elephant in the form of monarchy – especially the current incarnation. So is this white elephant worth keeping? As a layman in my own country’s politics, I think this question should consider three main aspects of our society, namely economic, political, and cultural. Considering the pros and cons of keeping monarchy with regards to these aspects of our society should help us answer this question.
The economics of monarchy
This has to be the easiest point to consider. The task is simply to weigh the economic costs and benefits of having a monarchy in Nepal. Let us first consider the benefits – is there any economic benefits that our monarchy bring to the country? I am having as hard a time in saying YES as working on my other academic papers during these demonstrations in Nepal, seriously. We all know there is no direct income that monarchy brings to the treasury, in fact the treasury loses out as they (the monarch and his family) don’t even pay taxes. Now, if we look at the British monarchy, they bring in direct and indirect income from tourism, such as by opening up their palaces to the public.
In Nepal, the Shah dynasty does not have much to show really in terms of its legacy, but for a few exceptions like the palaces of Prithvi Narayan Shah (the legacy issue will be discussed more in cultural aspects of monarchy below). We very well know that the legacy of the Mallas and Lichchhivis – the durbar squares in Kathmandu valley and art/architecture in the towns and villages in and around Kathmandu valley – are still the major attractions to the visitors of our country, and thus benefit our economy. If given choice, which would you visit – old palaces in these durbar square or the Narayanhiti?
Any hope that the monarchy would bring economic benefits to the country must have extinguished especially during king Gyanendra’s reign.
The unceremonious circumstances in which he became monarch in 2001, his political meandering during these five years of his reign – especially the last 15 months or so – have brought about more suffering (politically as well as economically) to Nepalese people than any of his predecessors in about 250 years of Shah dynasty. Just looking at the official budget for the year 2005/06 of over 350 million rupees (US$ 5 million at $1=70 rupees rate) for the king and the royal palace affairs, it becomes clear what an elephant we are keeping here. For a country where nearly half the population still live below poverty line (using a dollar a day criteria of the World Bank), and where average per capita income still hovers around $200, that amount has to be nothing but a staggering waste of national treasury given virtually no economic benefits that this monarchy brings. The amount above is just an official budget however. We just have to look at king Gyanendra and his family’s lavish lifestyle, which is fully funded by the national treasury, to see the actual extent of costs to the people.
“… a staggering Rs 50 billion as been paid out from state coffers to fund purchases of royal limousines, organising royal weddings, handing stashes of cash to loyal royals and large mysterious payoffs to the Home and Defence Ministries. A detailed list of dates and amounts paid shows billions transferred from budget account heads to Contingency and Miscellaneous and then slipped across.” Nepali Times editorial, Issue 288 (03 March 06 – 09 March 06)
How clearer can it get as to what the king is up to during these few years of his reign? Is he really trying to address people’s suffering OR pile more misery on them by bankrupting the national treasury? If the above quote is not enough, some more details of misappropriation of the national treasury below should surely address any lingering doubts on how costly it really is to keep this monarchy.
“On the week when victims of the Myaglung fire were sent back empty handed in January 2003 because of “lack of budget” a sum of Rs 130.5 million from a disaster relief budgetline was transferred to another account and then sent to the palace. Rs 70.9 million from the ‘Integrated Development’ account was moved to Miscellaneous over a period of four days last month. In July 2002, Rs 20 million was transferred with unusual haste from a standard budgetline to a contingency account within four days of the national budget being passed and then used to purchase of two bullteproof Jaguars.” – Nepali Times editorial, Issue 288 (03 March 06 – 09 March 06)
So, aren’t Nepal and Nepalese people better off economically by getting rid of the monarchy than by keeping it? If the above points are to go by, there could only be one answer and that is – Nepal and Nepalese people are better off economically without the monarchy than with it.
UWB Note: Mahesh Poudyal writes his personal web log random jottings.
(The remaining two parts of this article will be published in the following days)