Breaking the silence

  • Gyanendra Shah’s press statement about past agreements raises multiple questions
- BHOJ RAJ POUDEL
Breaking the silence

Mar 11, 2015-

History is full of ironies. What the late Girija Prasad Koirala did to bring the Maoist rebels into mainstream politics in 2006 might have been more important than the Maoist movement that began in 1996 itself. Yet the doings of the Maoists in the decade long insurgency which shook the roots of Nepal’s feudal social structure was perhaps more important than what the Nepali Congress did in the 1990s. And now, what ex-king Gyanendra Shah is trying to do might turn into an even more powerful play than what political parties have been doing since the first Constitution Assembly (CA) elected in 2008.

Last month, issuing a press statement on the eve of the Democracy Day, Gyanendra Shah strongly urged political parties to implement all past agreements—without elaborating what they were—reached with him. The statement comes at a time when political polarisation among parties reflected badly on society. Political parties, who were the signatories of the 12-point agreement, have been postponing meaningful talks to reach consensus on major issues of state restructuring. In such a scenario, to what extent will the press statement affect the future course of Nepali politics? Is a new ‘political card’ being introduced in Nepali politics, which is shaped more or less by what India wants and China tries to avoid or vice versa?

These questions need to be understood in the context of the rise of Narendra Modi and his party—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—in India and China’s constant struggle to find a reliable force in Nepal to deal on numerous issues.

Indian intentions

Contary to popular belief, Narendra Modi is not merely a development-oriented BJP leader. His political career was built on the foundations of Hindu nationalism, along with slogans that promised prosperity to the Indian poor. Modi’s public appearances and his rhetoric send subtle hints about where his political spirit comes from. For instance, when Modi appealed to the Nepali government draft a constitution based on consensus among political parties last November, he was not only trying to indicate that the ruling parties get the Maoists on board, but was also reminding the Nepali leadership to rethink about giving space to the ex-king and other parties which are in favour of the monarchy.

His visit to the Pashupatinath temple and the media outcry which followed sent a symbolic message to all Hindus in South Asia and to Nepali people that the current leadership in India is in favour of the return of the kings, who are perceived to be the incarnations of the Hindu god Bishnu. The Indian prime minister’s visit to Nepal after 17 years was, of course, a sign of goodwill. But let us not be naïve. State visits carry symbolic messages and indicate the political direction of the leadership. However, it would be too early to speculate that India will openly work to revive the monarchy in Nepal. But India is ready to ‘secretly’ support Gyanendra Shah if he shows an interest to be active in national politics.

Chinese concerns

If we look carefully towards the northern frontier, it is not hard to see that China wants a stable Nepal, at least with one political force that it can fully rely on and work together on issues ranging from development to its own security-related concerns in Tibet. The emerging global powerhouse has certain interests in the whole of South Asia. For these

reasons, China wishes to see a legitimate and powerful political force in Nepal. However, as per China’s diplomatic policies, it will stay away from making any clear interventions in its neighbouring countries’ internal issues.

It is hard to see how China perceives the ex-king and its support for him at the moment. But let us not forget that it was Gyanendra Shah who was the first to second the proposal to give Observer status to China at the 2005 Saarc Summit. China would certainly not make the mistake of being open about supporting any force in Nepali politics. But it is true that the Chinese academia, policymakers and diplomats know more about monarchical Nepal and its royal family than about any other forces. Still, China might not lend support to the ex-king. But to be frank, China has not paid back its due to Gyanendra Shah, who was trying to annoy India by supporting to grant China Observer status in Saarc.  

Even though neither of Nepal’s neighbours showed any sympathy to its monarchy when Gyanendra Shah abdicated his throne, it is easier to show some sort of support now. And, if played well, the seeming indifference could turn out to be a strategic move.

By now, both China and India have understood very clearly that a federally restructured Nepal will be difficult to deal with. Both the neighbours have a common understanding—a centralised Nepal would be favourable for them—though their interests hardly complement each other.

State of chaos

On the domestic front, Nepal’s chaotic state of affairs has amplified voices that openly lobby in favour of the ex-king. For many, the only thing that has been  institutionalised after the abolishment of monarchy has been corruption. People had placed their hopes on the Maoists but they eventually repeated the Nepali Congress’s and CPN-UML’s follies committed in the 1990s.

Against this backdrop, the ex-king came out with a press statement on the same day when Maoist cadres were marching on the streets with lathis in Kathmandu. To many, this might have been regular politics. But sometimes, the truth takes time to reveal itself and the reality remains blurred until we stop avoiding it.

At the risk of sounding pessimistic, the country’s future looks uncertain for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the ex-king’s new card could be more powerful.

 

Poudel is a researcher at the Beijing-based ThinkIN China. Views expressed are personal

 

Published: 12-03-2015 09:27

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