Erasing the 'royal' in Nepal
by Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu
http://news.bbc.co.uk/ May 19,
The declaration issued by Nepal's reinstated
House of Representatives this week on the future of the country
is much more than a piece of paper.
"I physically feel something has
been lifted from my shoulders," said one leading commentator
He meant the removal of all political
powers from King Gyanendra, whose Shah dynasty has ruled Nepal
for the past 238 years.
Nor is this change in mood confined to
Kathmandu. In the most far-flung districts, people were glued
to their radios on Thursday, witnessing the dismantling of ancient,
Parliament's foremost target has been
the monarchy. The institution has received a battering; the king
reduced to a figurehead and placed, in many ways, on the level
of ordinary Nepalis.
Most strikingly, parliament has taken
on the right to make and change laws regarding the royal succession
- if, indeed, there is still a monarchy under the new constitution
to be drawn up in due course by an elected assembly.
This is a clear sign of the unpopularity
of the heir apparent, Crown Prince Paras, a playboy infamous for
his reckless driving.
The king - an extraordinarily rich monarch
in an exceptionally poor country - is to be taxed and his spending
controlled, while his acts will be open to scrutiny in court or
Then there is the symbolism. Already,
the expressions "His Majesty's Government of Nepal"
and "Royal Nepalese Army" have been consigned to history.
The national anthem, whose first line
reads "May glory crown you, courageous Sovereign", is
to be changed.
Moves like this may slowly chip away at
the deference usually accorded to the king, who hitherto has tended
to commandeer Nepal's entire civil aviation fleet when travelling
abroad and whose local visits in luxury limousines bring road
traffic to a standstill for hours.
There is another kind of deference, too.
Since before the Shah dynasty took power, kings here have been
regarded as incarnations of the Hindu god, Vishnu. Many still
But factors such as the 2001 royal massacre
have undermined the belief, and now parliament has abolished Nepal's
status as a Hindu kingdom, making it secular.
This move has long been wanted by many
Nepalis in a country with a tradition of religious tolerance,
where Hinduism and Buddhism coexist and freely mix.
The other institution being reined in
is the army - now simply the Nepalese Army. Analysts point out
that 15 months ago, the army went against the constitution by
doing the bidding of the king, arresting the then prime minister
and other leaders.
The military - the most powerful of the
security force branches here - is now being placed more firmly
under the cabinet and a newly constituted top body, and the monarch's
link with it completely severed.
Until Thursday, King Gyanendra - rather
like the US president - was supreme commander of the army. That
post no longer exists.
The signs are that, despite some consternation,
the generals are going along with the change. Indeed, it was reportedly
the army that told the king to make major concessions late last
But there's also a growing chorus demanding
the dismissal of the current army chief, General Pyar Jung Thapa,
given the military's role in suppressing last month's demonstrations
and the fact that other security force chiefs have been sacked.
Another powerful organ of state, too,
has been dissolved - the privy council, a powerful advisory body
thought to have urged the king to take direct power last year.
There are some small moves to address
the concerns of Nepal's indigenous ethnic groups, who constitute
some 40% of the population but have always been excluded from
One is secularisation - a cause important
to many indigenous people. It is also stated that the army - hitherto
ruled by top Hindu castes - will now be "inclusive and national"
Also marginalised in Nepal are two million
stateless people living in areas bordering India: the new declaration
says they will get citizenship.
The text mentions the "sacrifices"
some people made during April's mass demonstrations against palace
Indeed, underlying this whole proclamation
is the sense that these are the changes the ordinary people want,
and that the elected body - parliament - is sovereign.
It is being predicted that this sense
- of the popular will - will prevent the king trying to challenge
the new order. He has made no public pronouncement since retreating
from direct rule on 24 April.
The politicians' next urgent move will
be to address the question of peace. The Maoist rebels have already
complained that the new declaration makes no mention of peace
But, having moved quickly on the issue
of royal powers, parliament is likely to return to the peace agenda
The monarchy's long-term future is unclear.
There is a widespread sense here that - despite the growing republican
sentiment in the streets - parliament has, for now, saved the
institution from the man who seemed most likely to undermine it,
namely King Gyanendra.
But all these new measures, radical as
they are, may be superseded once a promised constituent assembly
And the fine words must be made into deeds.
Apart from violence, Nepal has one most pressing problem: poverty.
As the Himalayan Times newspaper puts
it: "Unless the [new] political power is exercised exclusively
in the interest of the deprived and marginalised, the sacrifices
of the martyrs will be in vain".
As Nepal's mainly peaceful revolution
continues, plenty of Nepalis will keep reminding the politicians