Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Tiger on an elephant, and online

Babble on.

So as it turns out, Mr. Please-Don't-Squeeze-The-Sharma is fording rivers in wildlife reserves on the back of an elephant, getting soused on local rice-liquor, and sending e-mails from internet cafes - although he complains they only have dial-up access. The horror!

Seeing how Ben seems to be having trouble posting to his own blog by e-mail, I'll give you his slightly-edited account of the goings-on in Nepal these days:

Dear friends and family,

Rest assured, I am well. Please don't spread this e-mail around to anyone of an official or media nature, as I'm using a connection that HM the King has not found out about and therefore not cut off. And I should hate to get the good people allowing me to send this short missive into trouble [Babbler - Too late, as apparently the Army burst in just after Ben logged off. According to a later missive recounting his adventures in the countryside, King Gyanedra "has figured out that cutting communications for too long will collapse what is left of the Nepalis economy" - hence the resumed communications.]

You will all have heard of the palace coup that took place on Feb. 1st -- the King has declared a state of emergency, locked up the politicians, and suspended all constitutional rights which were not already suspended except for habeas corpus, in declaring a national state of emergency. He has promised to restore multiparty democracy within three years, after having dealt with the Maoist insurgency and restored order in the kingdom.

Here is my take on it -- I've quizzed various people about what they think about it all, and distilled their opinions into a coherent narrative.

There are two questions for consideration:

1. Is King Gyanendra sincere?

I wonder -- he has always been hostile to liberal democracy -- he did not favour his late brother's decision to grant a constitution. Though he pledged to respect the constitution when he ascended to the throne, he dismissed Parliament in 2002 and has been unable (or unwilling -- not sure, given that there is no effective government control of the country outside the KTM Valley) to hold elections for a new one since then.

Given the state of the politicians -- they are corrupt, and have been unable to form a stable national government or war cabinet in the two and a half years they've had since Parliament was dismissed -- I tend to sympathize with the King. He has locked down all the bank accounts, too, in order to take back the money that various ministers have embezzled from the treasury.

2. Assuming that he is sincere in his statements, can he get the job done?

Of this, I'm also not sure. The Royal Nepalese Army, invaluable as they've been in keeping civil order in Kathmandu, is armed with WWII-era weaponry. HM will have to re-train his whole army, possibly with American assistance, in order to re-take his country. I fear that he may be going the way of Tsar Nicholas II, after he took
personal command of the army in 1915, in that he will be held personally responsible for any failures in future. Essentially, the King is gambling his throne on his ability to restore order and to restore the state. Whether he can get the job done is unknown.

The mood among the largely well-educated crowd I know is surprisingly upbeat. They value law and order, and think that the present situation could not go on. One effect: the Maoists called for a three-day bandh (gen'l strike) from 2-4 Feb, and nothing happened -- people went about their business as usual, instead of being cowed by threats from Maoist goons. So, this is a good thing in their minds.

BBC World and CNN International were restored by the evening of the 1st and so I got to watch some of the international coverage (and to see Pres. Bush's State of the Union address -- v. exciting stuff).

Went to a wedding on the 1st and 2nd -- and the reception is this evening -- for a childhood family friend of mine. (You know me from my year in Halifax -- "state of emergency" = "time to go out and party". Martial law a bit more serious than hurricane or big snowstorm, but the principle's the same.) Was very interesting -- the royal wedding was a Chetri (sp?) wedding, whereas this one was a Brahmin one. More or less similar, except that the Army "brass" band this time included two drummers, two saxophonists, two clarinet players, a guy with a tuba, and two bagpipers. (The pipes are quite popular in S. Asia -- I think there are more here than in the UK, actually. Saw some pipe band stuff on TV for celebrations of Republic Day in India, which I found rather humourous.)

Indian news stations are censored here right now, as are the Nepalese ones -- there apparently is an army major at every channel monitoring what can go out -- for six months, they say.

As much as I value order, though, I think that the extraordinary measures the King has taken will backfire on him. One simply cannot arrest all the politicians, no matter how corrupt they are, and the Constitution, though it should not be a suicide pact, should not simply be suspended at will. I mean, what's the point of having one, then? (But he didn't want it, of course.)

My travel plans will remain relatively unchanged -- I'm still planning to head to Pokhara and Jomsom, though I may have to ditch the safari at Chitwan (I'm v. sad at the prospect of missing out on the rhinos, tigers, and crocodiles, not to mention the elephant ride) [Babbler - as mentioned above, Ben did get to Chitwan in the end - lucky sod].

Anyway, though, I've had the opportunity to see a coup up close and live through it -- I've always wondered what it would have been like to be living in a St. Petersburg suburb in October 1917, so I guess that this is the closest I'll ever get to it.

All best, and stay well,

...proving the adage once again: God takes care of fools and small children.

Babble off.


At 3:52 p.m., Blogger Joel Fleming said...

Thanks Damian
Good to hear

At 5:33 p.m., Blogger Timmy the G said...

Hey, Ben's not a small child! Oh...:)

Glad to hear all is well with him. I am envious of the fantastic trip he is taking.


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