Saturday, November 26, 2005


If one read Jonathan Gregson's excellent book Massacre at the Palace: The Doomed Royal Dynasty of Nepal, one would learn that the present King has long been prophesized to be the last in the Shah dynasty.

Political events in contemporary Nepal are seemingly in conspiracy with ancient prophecy.

Having overturned democracy, the King has not only alienated his own people but also India, UK, and the US (the troika). Fighting for his survival, per Indian Express, he's now turned to China for arms.

There will be some Indians who'll see this as a threat to our influence in Kathmandu. Consequently, they might argue India dilute its adamant pro-democracy stance and re-engage militarily with the King.

In our judgment, this would be a myopic mistake. The King is increasingly irrelevant to Nepal's affairs. Betting on him, as China is, is betting against his people. Such a bet is not only bogus on principle, it lacks pragmatism too.

Our key focus ought to be on the attitude of Nepal's army to its King. Yes, the army -- long-time ally of India's own -- is waging a vicious war on the Maoists, and probably feels vulnerable without Indian and British support. On the other hand, their loyalty to the King over the people is not clear. If the King were to be somehow removed from the scene in favor of a troika-supported democratic order, we suspect the army would go along.

If we were the King, this would make us very nervous. His overtures to China should likely be seen in this context. It's hard for us to believe that China is ready to commit troops to Nepal (if it came to that) for propping up an unpopular King. Given its economic arc and the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, China surely does not need a bellicose confrontation with the leading democracies of the world.

If China were to be foolish enough to get involved here, it'll tie down a great many of its troops in a Hindu land that doesn't really like invaders too much. This ain't going to be Tibet, but more like Afghanistan was for USSR. We might even see Beijing boycotted in 2008 like Moscow was in 1980. Is the Shah dynasty really worth such a high price for China?

The King probably knows this too. All he's got left, therefore, are desperate threats that everyone knows are empty. Too bad he overplayed his cards against democracy, and by construction, India. Gorakhnath's 18th century prophesy might well come true now in very short order.


Jaffna said...

Primary Red,

Fascinating. I must get hold of the book you mention. I only hope that the idea of a constitutional monarchy prevails. The King will need to come to terms with that and perhaps abdicate to allow someone else more acceptable in his family to take over. The constitutional monarchy would be a symbol of unity in a multi-ethnic and heterogenous land.

This said, Nepal's political parties have been as dysfunctional as the absolute monarchy. This had made Maoism so attractive in the first place. All three parties to the equation i.e. the dictatorial monarch, the inept political parties and the Maoists form a fateful triangle that spells disaster. India will need to do more to mediate an honorable peace. I hope it can rise to the occasion.

I will order that book you mention.


nukh said...

I am tad unfamiliar with complexties of the current crisis in Nepal.
would i be correct to infer from your post that China offers no support material or otherwise to the maoists?

If the Chinese are hedging and are playing both sides...then it would bode well for India to mitigate her stand and become more proactive in the Nepal imbroglio...even if it means compromising her democratic principles.

Primary Red said...


The maoists are likely being played by all sides. That leaves both China & India slightly dirty, but quite even.

Nepal's destiny will be decided, in the end, by its people. India better stand with them without any hesitation now, or we'll lose all credibility for the future. Let China embrace the walking dead royalty.

Best regards.

Badri said...

Very interesting analysis.

Also, the Nepal pro-democracy leaders have a long standing relationship with Indian political leadership. That is not the case with the Chinese.

It is worthwhile for India to openly side with the political parties in Nepal and simultaneously oppose the King and the maoists, and for this reason also provide arms to the Nepal Army for fighting the maoists.

The King has to give way - sooner.

Jaffna said...


I am not sure whether siding with the political parties in Nepal is a good idea. They are an unprincipled corrupt lot that failed to deliver in the days of democracy. The Nepali Congress is a prime example despite the links with the Indian National Congress.

What is needed is a national compact (hopefully facilitated with India's proactive mediation that is currently lacking - and has generally been so since the days of Indira Gandhi)to ensure the king's abdication, the continuation of the constitutional monarchy with someone else in the family, the return of parliamentary democracy and the creation of institutions that would ensure accountability. The Maoists could then choose to participate in the national compact, failing which they will need to be crushed given their appalling human rights record and destructive potential. I had done a posting on this topic on October 1 - my very first on blogosphere.

Best regards

libertarian said...

Jaffna, the good thing about a democratic system is it's ability to self-correct. So while the Nepali Congress is currently corrupt, there's always hope that it will alter course per the dictates of the people. A monarchy is essentially a crap-shoot - you could get a Lee Kuan Yew, or you could get an Idi Amin.
Agree with PR - the moral high-ground and pragmatic policy happily coincide in this case.

Santosh said...

I don't know whether anyone here in this blog passed his class 12 exams from the ICSE/ISc board. In our Enlish Lit class we had a book-a collection of short stories. In that particular book, they was a short story by Amitava Ghosh-The Imam and the Indian. In that story, there is a dictum" Pakistanis are obsessed with Indians and Indians are obsessed with themselves" This particular blog is a perfect example of that.

Jaffna said...

Hola Santosh,

Your feedback is welcome and taken in the right spirit.

Quick correction though. Not everyone on the team here is Indian. But we do share an interest in current affairs, international relations and topical ideas from an Indian perspective. After all, the 21st century is increasingly an Asian century and we need to debate views from that perspective. Nothing wrong in that.

A PhD candidate who had met my colleague Primary Red in DC had remarked that this blog was too American and un-Indian. I guess we fit in somewhere in between :-)

This said, you are right that several Indians are frequently insular. Naipaul had also remarked on the pre-occupation with self. Gandhi in South Africa demonstrated that.

Best regards

doubtinggaurav said...


I think the problem is not as much India is obsessed with itself as it does it for wrong reason,
Indian are still rediscovering themselves and their civilization, in my mind this is a noble persuit, but to do so as a excercise in one-up-manship with western civilization defeats the purpose for this.

Hence we have well meaning people insisting that caste was an imagination of british and Indian society was egalitarian.

On the other hand we have equally well meaning people who want to see India as great but think that it is only possible by rejecting India's past and by accepting western civilization in toto.
The underlying assumption is without doubt that our past was nothing but ignorance and oppression and western civilazition is the only way forward for humanity.

Both approaches in my opinion are incorrect.

We should rediscover past in order to bring back the ideas in my view define the indic civilazation, on the same time we should be able to accept whatever is worthy in any civilization.

But criteria for acceptance or rejection should be knowledge, not customs or novelty.

It is ideas which matter, rest is just shell


Primary Red said...

Very well stated, DG!

Anonymous said...

The fact that Indian Communists are taking a lead in facilitating the alliance between the Nepali Maoists & the discredited politicians is ominous. It seems the Indian govt has let the Left run the Nepal foreign policy. I think this is playing into the hands of the Maoists who have absolutely no respect for democracy - but for whom this presents a good opportunity. The Indian govt at the least, should have continued arms supply to the RNA to fight Maoists. The King would not harm India as much as the Maoists will - in league with their comrades in India


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