MADRAS, India — Recently Nepal’s King Gyanendra dismissed his democratically elected prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, and took over the Hindu kingdom’s administration. This was a dictatorial and primitive move.

Today, political parties serve not just as examples of pluralistic thought and action but also as conduits of popular aspirations. Gyanendra’s harsh criticism of Nepal’s parties, following Deuba’s dismissal, seems to demolish the pillars of free thinking, the very basis on which democratic ideals are built and sustained.

The king has never hidden his hostility toward political parties, but his latest act of completely sidelining them and taking over the helm of the kingdom puts Gyanendra directly in the firing line of rebel Maoists, who have been waging a class struggle for years while urging the administration to address poverty- and education-related issues in one of the world’s most backward countries.

The latest crisis in Nepal has raised three separate issues:

* Will the king be able to restore peace?

* Do Nepalis themselves want a solution to the wretched Maoist insurgency through unilateral, dictatorial means?

* What is India’s role as the bigger neighbor?

Certainly, if Gyanendra can end the turmoil in the his kingdom and bring about a sense of tranquillity, he will establish a modicum of respectability for the monarchy. But can that happen and, if so, how soon?

The institution of the monarchy lost much of its credibility in 2001 when nine members of the royal family, including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, died in a massacre that an official inquiry blamed on a 10th family member, Crown Prince Dipendra, who is said to have fatally shot himself. Some suspected Birenda’s brother, Gyanendra, in the killings. As the survivor next in the line of succession, Gyanendra became king.

At that point, it was unclear where the Maoists’ sympathy lay, but subsequently they said they would not negotiate with anybody other than the king. Are they still in a mood to do so? Will they lay down their arms and walk toward the negotiating table? Not likely, for they now have refused to talk even to Gyanendra.

The king has given himself three years time to tackle this menace, and he has been countering arguments against his recent action by highlighting the immense progress made during the earlier Shah dynasty. He reportedly said the people wanted him to rule.

Analysts point out that this radical way of thinking exposes his personal prejudices, especially toward democratic political system, and that Deuba’s removal may well turn the clock back in Nepal’s experiment with a more moderate form of government.

The king’s contention that his subjects approve of his recent action is not borne out by a survey carried out late in 2003 by a team of Nepali political scientists led by professor Krishna Hachhethu of the Center for Nepal and Asian Studies at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu.

According to the results, published in October, up to 62 percent of those surveyed felt that democracy was the best system of government despite the behavior of some politicians. A mere 10 percent preferred monarchy/authoritarianism. Most respondents said democracy was perfectly workable in Nepal.

Gyanendra may be trying to fool himself into believing that monarchy is the most acceptable route for his people.

India, meanwhile, is not content to just sit back and watch the situation. When India pulled out of the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in February (citing the disturbing conditions in Nepal), it sent a clear message to the world that it is intent on redefining its role in South Asia.

New Delhi has stated categorically that what happens in Nepal — or, for that matter, anywhere in the neighborhood — affects India. It is not willing to let chaos prevail in Nepal. It hopes to have its say in Nepal and has told the king that democracy must be restored and that the democratic process has little chance of succeeding if the Maoists continue to stay out of talks. India has suspended arms supplies to Nepal as well as major bilateral meetings.

Gyanendra thus finds himself under tremendous pressure, both from New Delhi and from Maoist insurgents, who now control large parts of the country and have systematically spread lawlessness.

Will China bail out Nepal? Not likely. Even in 1989-90, when India imposed a blockade on Nepal, Beijing stayed away. And Indo-Chinese relations are far better today than they were then. It appears that Kathmandu will have to put its house in order in keeping with the wishes of New Delhi and the world at large.

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