Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Himalayan Blunder

The King of Nepal, Gyanendra, who came to power after the royal massacre three years ago, has sacked his hand-picked government, stifled the nascent democracy in the Himalayan kingdom and cut off access to Nepal. Oh, and he has assumed absolute power for three years.

The Royal Nepal Army has laid siege to the television stations, radio stations and shut down air traffic, stranding hundreds. Phone lines are dead and Internet connectivity snapped, with web sites blacked out. The Army has taken up position on the border at Birganj, checking all vehicles entering the kingdom.

Nepal has been grappling with a Maoist insurgency for many years, with a few districts under the suzerainty of the Maoist guerrillas. The King's statement expresses the opinion that the government has failed to achieve breakthroughs with the Maoists.

The monarch, in a televised address to the nation, accused the government of failing to restore peace and not taking steps for the conduct of parliamentary elections.

"I have decided to dissolve the government because it has failed to make necessary arrangements to hold elections by April and protect democracy, the sovereignty of the people and life and property," the king said.

"I have exercised the rights given to the crown under the present constitution and dissolved the government for the larger interests of the people, country and protection of sovereignty," he said.

Accusing political parties of 'indulging in factional fighting', the monarch said, "In fact, all the democratic forces and political leaders should have united to protect the country's democracy, national sovereignty, people's life and property and also protect the country's economic infrastructure.

"Innocent children were found massacred and the government could not achieve any important and effective results. The crown traditionally is held responsible for the protection of national sovereignty, democracy and also people's right to live peacefully.

"It is the duty of the crown to protect all these segments of society," he said.

Interesting thought - authoritarianism in the defence of democracy

The UN, the United States and big brother India have all expressed concern and displeasure over these developments. Nepal has long had strong authoritarian tendencies. I blogged briefly about this last year.
Long perceived as a crucial buffer state between the elephant and the dragon, the Hindu kingdom of Nepal has acutely felt the pressures. Pre-independence, the British did not push too hard for annexation of the kingdom, preferring to retain a resident for economic and political purposes. The capital, Kathmandu, became a nexus in the Great Game between the colonial powers. Just post-independence, India encouraged a long-suppressed desire by the King of Nepal to escape from the de facto rule of the Ranas, providing a safe haven and transit to King Tribhuvan, until the Ranas capitulated and ceded governing authority to the titular monarch. In more recent times, India has been more interested in preserving access to Nepalese trade and maintaining the status quo against the Maoist rebels, who have been propped up by China. The massacre of most of the Nepalese royal family in 2001 is still shrouded in mystery, and allegations of collusion by everyone from the CIA to India, and China.

King Gyanendra is perhaps the only king in history to have reigned twice - separated by a span of fifty years. When King Tribhuvan escaped to India, the young child Gyanendra was crowned in his stead.

More details on events in Nepal here

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