Those who are demanding that the country restore monarchy are hoping for the impossible. It is impossible for the outdated monarchy to make a comeback, in any shape or form. The supporters of monarchy seem to believe that as the institution has made successful comebacks in many countries (France, Spain and Serbia, to name a few), it can mount a similar comeback in Nepal. Such a claim is not just misleading but also extremely naïve.
Yes, in the first few years of republican Nepal, the support for monarchy was still strong. Some surveys put the level of support as high as 50 percent of the populace. Since then, however, the level of people’s political consciousness has gone up by leaps and bounds: once befuddling terms like ‘republic’ and ‘federalism’ are now hotly debated by common people across the country. One of the results of this debate has been people’s increased awareness on the importance of absolute sovereignty of the people. In other words, the vast majority of Nepalis refuse to be ruled by permanent, unaccountable power centers. Even those who enthusiastically supported King Gyanendra when he assumed executive powers in 2005 on the pretext of establishing ‘peace’ and ‘democracy’ were soon disillusioned, as the rampaging Maoist insurgency gained further momentum. Equally importantly, people got a firsthand taste of autocratic rule. They could no longer blame their representatives for galloping inflation, petro-product shortages, lack of connectivity and a legion of other troubles. Freedom of expression is at the heart of a vibrant democracy. As important as it is for the powers that be to act on people’s grievances, to be able to air such grievances is no lesser right.
The biggest threat of giving just about any kind of role to monarchy now is that the royal institution might once again start spreading its authoritarian tentacles, as happened in the time interval between King Gyanendra’s dismissal of the Deuba government in 2002 and his putsch in 2005. Some hold that the country was at least ‘united’ under monarchy. But again, it is easy to maintain a veil of unity when all dissident voices are suppressed. The overwhelming public support for the 2006 Jana Andolan was enough evidence that the utility of the institution for the country had run out—for good.
The challenges for Nepal in the days ahead are undoubtedly enormous. But the answer to these challenges cannot be reverting to status quo ante. Rather such an answer has to be found through deliberations between progressive forces. There are rumors—instigated by Gyanendra himself—that back in 2006 there was a written understanding between the then Seven Party Alliance and monarchy to retain constitutional monarchy. If so, first Gyanendra has to come up with solid evidence (where’s the agreement paper, one wonders). Second, the country has come a long way since April 24, 2006 (the date of the purported agreement). If some democratic parties had back then acquiesced to such an accord, it will be no more than one more document in the national archives. For such an agreement will, at the most, lay bare the dubious intent of some political leaders, rather than establish the complicity of the entire political class. Gyanendra Shah might as well give up his futile attempt if he is to retain even a semblance of respectability among Nepalis. If he does not mend his errant ways, even the little space now available to him might be further squeezed.