Collective memory is a contested terrain. Political actors play games to create premeditated forgetfulness and remembrance. King Gyanendra would like us to remember the necessity of the royal takeover but forget the unconstitutionality of his action. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba would like to forget the royal proclamation of that fateful Friday as a nightmare, but remember its implications for the premier of a constructive monarch.
Now that he has got it, Madhab Nepal would like to forget what he wanted two years ago: a coalition government dominated by his party. But he would like us to remember that the UML was the first to launch street protests against the royal takeover. By lobbing his Six Queries bomb at Singh Darbar, Prachanda has succeeded in raking up memories of October Fourth.
Two years later, the royal nominees in Singha Darbar have faded into insignificance. The Maoists' assessment is to a certain extent correct: we are indeed living under a rule of the reign, not the rule of law.
The rule of law has three facets: rule of law, rule in law, and rule under the law. The royal proclamation violated each one of these tenets of constitutionality. Rule of law ended the moment King Gyanendra referred to traditional royal powers and repeated the myth that the monarchy in Nepal has always been run according to the will of the people. Well.
The royal address quoted three articles, but based its operative part upon the 'spirit and intention' of the 1990 constitution. We have it from almost every living framer of that constitution that the spirit and intention interpreted by the king bear no resemblance to what they had intended to establish in this country: a constitutional monarchy that reigns and a parliamentary government that rules in law.
Admittedly, nobody from the government has even made the claim that rule under the law exists in Nepal. Parliament remains unformed, hence the royal proclamation has failed to get its endorsement. Since the courts in Nepal aren't empowered to examine royal activities, the legality of October Fourth is open to question. That leaves the media and civil society, the fourth and fifth pillars of democracy. The press and intelligentsia may differ upon options to disentangle the mess, but they agree in seeing the futility of royal rule by proxy.
Different political players have interpreted October Fourth in their own ways. "One makes mistakes, human beings make mistakes," Sher Bahadur Deuba had told The New York Times a day after his dismissal, adding forlornly, "I will do things differently in future." Deuba is certainly doing things differently this time. He has mastered the art of getting along by dancing to the palace's tune.
Madhab Nepal has learned to be a royal communist and scramble for the political crumbs from ruler's table. Prachanda has been the biggest beneficiary of the royal takeover-it has given his violent methods a certain legitimacy. As long as there was a democratic government in the country, his claims of fighting for the rights of the people sounded hollow. Now his political agenda of constitutional assembly has gained unprecedented currency.
The only person who has refused to budge an inch from his initial position is Girija Prasad Koirala. Right after the royal takeover, he had suggested that the king resurrect parliament, which could then form a government from within itself. It could have been a constitutional revolution to counter the Maoist revolution. King Gyanendra chose to go down the cul-de-sac of counter-revolution instead.
The consequences are for all to see: bandas, blockades, predators of press freedom, a world record holder in the number of disappeareds. No wonder, Koirala is being hounded by everyone in power. Wherever prostration is common, any attempt to stand tall becomes a crime.
But no matter what one thinks about Koirala the person or the politics of the Nepali Congress, a restoration of the lower house of the parliament is now the only exit route from the post-October Fourth quicksand. The other alternative is to risk sinking further into it and the unforeseeable consequences of an unconditional constituent assembly.
Two years after the royal takeover, King Gyanendra appears to be as unsure as he was then. Meanwhile, his kingdom is heading irrevocably down yet another uncertain path: the utter confusion of a constituent assembly.