27 April 2006

Nepal army chief helped convince Gyanendra

Kathmandu: What made King Gyanendra blink on Monday night? A combination of people power and pressure from the Royal Nepal Army. As the crowds in Kathmandu surged, the RNA chief realised things were spiralling out of control. He had two options: led things deteriorate to the point where there was a really possibility that his soldiers would disobey orders to fire on protestors. Or make sure the orders themselves were changed.

27 April 2006
The Hindu

Nepal Army chief helped convince Gyanendra

Siddharth Varadarajan

THE ROYAL Nepal Army's perception that the crisis in the country was fast escalating out of control played a decisive role in convincing King Gyanendra to step back from the brink on Monday night.

Beginning on Saturday afternoon — the day lakhs of demonstrators swarmed past police lines to enter downtown Kathmandu for the first time — the RNA brass began looking for a formula that would allow the Seven Party Alliance to take up the reins of government.

According to a number of sources who spoke to The Hindu on condition that they not be identified in any way and that certain details be left out, it was the Army chief, General Pyar Jung Thapa, who took the initiative to push the palace to settle on the SPA's terms.

A range of emissaries, including former jurists and diplomats, were pressed into action on Sunday and Monday to hammer out the terms on which King Gyanendra was to announce his humiliating surrender.

"One cannot wait for madness to overtake us and I am afraid we were very much on the verge of it," one of those involved in the mediation process said. "Had there been a delay of even 10 to 12 hours more, things would have taken a very different turn."

No option

"Early on in his consultations, General Thapa knew that Gyanendra really had no option other than to restore parliament and allow the Seven Party Alliance to implement their political roadmap," said a source.

Notwithstanding the praise the King had drawn from the international community for his earlier proclamation, the RNA chief knew that the offer to have the SPA nominate their candidate for Prime Minister had gone down badly with the people. "He said nothing about restoring parliament, a constituent assembly or the release of prisoners," said one of the emissaries. "The king had not even shown the grace to express his condolences for those who had died in the peoples' movement." Clearly much more was needed.

As the process of consultation went into high gear, it became apparent that the SPA would settle for nothing less than King Gyanendra's capitulation to their roadmap. "The key factor in all this was the unprecedented display of people power," a source said.

"This helped the parties stand firm. But it also enabled the army chief to convince the King to concede everything."

Unambiguous message

As an opening gambit to the SPA, curfew hours on Sunday and Monday were relaxed. But the parties' lack of trust in the King seemed unbridgeable. Finally, General Thapa sent a clear and unambiguous message to the SPA leadership: if you form the government, the RNA will be firmly behind you.

However, one sticking point remained till the end: how to get Gyanendra to announce his acceptance of a constituent assembly. The monarch's advisers took recourse to legal rhetoric, arguing that the king could hardly announce his support for something that the 1990 constitution did not envisage.

A compromise was finally reached: Gyanendra would invite the SPA to implement their political roadmap, in full knowledge, of course, that a constituent assembly was a key part of the parties' agenda.

As the final contours of his offer took shape, Gyanendra held consultations with a handful of foreign ambassadors. His concern was that if the parties sought outside advice on whether to accept the royal package, they should be encouraged to say yes. However, the king's request to at least one resident envoy to play the role of a go-between with the SPA was politely turned down.

Although General Thapa's persuasive skills helped tip the balance, sources say King Gyanendra himself was equally aware that his tactics had backfired. At the end of the day, allowing the SPA to follow its roadmap means postponing the day of reckoning for the monarchy. "The king knows that actual constitutional change, if it comes, is still many months away," said a source. "Please do not assume that he has had any change of heart. He remains the same old person. He will lie low for a while and try and manipulate things from behind. The SPA should be aware of this and not delay the implementation of their roadmap."

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