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Modi in a royal quandary

- Gyanendra keen on appointment, Indian officials divided
Gyanendra

Kathmandu, Aug. 2: There was a time he was considered a deity by appointment to the heavens, the avatar of Vishnu Himself; today he is a mortal seeking appointments and getting spurned. Gyanendra is king no more and his kingdom has discarded that description.

That means Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister not to require a mandatory protocol date with the Palace on his visit itinerary. But that doesn’t mean Gyanendra’s shadow has been expunged from the animated atmospherics of Modi’s two-day trip commencing tomorrow.

Modi may not have a king to call on, but there is a certain Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev keen to go calling on him.

So keen, he is believed to have conveyed he is even willing to hop across to the five-star facility where Modi will camp: just the optics of the opportunity to be seen with Modi will do for him.

The Indian side isn’t convinced that would work as well for them, though. It has kept Gyanendra twisting in anticipation, the burden of opinion clearly biased towards the view that setting such a stage will be an unnecessary, if not also erroneous, enterprise.

Modi arrives with huge Nepali expectation focused on kick-starting economic and development initiatives. A meeting with Gyanendra, a top track II negotiator between New Delhi and Kathmandu said, “will not only take away from potential content to the visit, it could also mean a frivolous and grave miscalculation” on India’s part.

Even so, an intense, though off-press, debate on whether Modi should meet Nepal’s deposed king has preceded his arrival. Pushed by monarchist lobbyists camped in New Delhi through the offices of Sangh parivar elements, the argument over Gyanendra has resounded from the PMO to the Indian embassy here in Lazimpat.

A section of the PMO, nudged by conservative Nepali and Sangh actors, is learnt to have argued there is “no harm” in Modi having a “private” meeting with Gyanendra.

Ambassador Ranjit Rae is said to have countered loudly from Kathmandu that such a meeting cannot be deemed “private” and will inevitably send out a public message with unsettling consequences on Nepal’s efforts to give itself a new constitution.

Sources suggest that Rae has in fact strongly advocated the need for the visit to endorse a federal, democratic, republican (FDR) Nepal, a formulation that has found broad agreement among the mainstream political parties.

Whether Modi will specifically state New Delhi’s endorsement of FDR Nepal or stop short with a repetition of the “durable, inclusive, democratic” formula currently favoured by South Block remains a subject of vibrant speculation.

Fears on Indian embassy precincts that “wrong messaging” could disrupt constitution-writing --- a process India officially backs and wants speeded up --- and trigger fresh domestic chaos are informed by the fragile power equilibrium that obtains. It’s barely a surprise that Nepal’s fractious political formations have rowed over whether Modi should open an opportunity for Gyanendra.

The ruling Nepali Congress (NC)-UML combine, the Maoists and the Madhesi parties have vehemently petitioned the Indians not to allow Gyanendra a sniff of the delegation, public or private.

“He is a nobody commoner now, why should the Indian Prime Minister bother giving him credence?” argues Amresh Singh, NC member of parliament and key player behind Nepal’s protracted peace process. “It will amount to a setback to the democratic movement.”

Amresh was in New Delhi recently to impress upon NDA and government leaders the need to “assist the peace process by rejecting royalist revivalists and supporting a federal and republican” Nepal.

“We cannot have India convey any signal that encourages politics that the people of Nepal have rejected,” Amresh said.

Kamal Thapa, leader of the royalist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), on the other hand, can’t see anything wrong with the prospect of a Modi-Gyanendra meeting.

“Nepal needs both democracy and a monarch,” he told The Telegraph today. “Since some political parties conspired to remove our king, Nepal has moved from crisis to crisis.”

Thapa feigned neither knowledge of nor any role in behind-the-scenes efforts to arrange a Modi-Gyanendra powwow. But he was unequivocal the monarchist project should be revived with Gyanendra back on the throne.

“It will happen, I bet you,” he said, almost reassuring himself. “The people will want it soon.”

To that end, Thapa even issued a polite cautionary note to Modi’s arriving party, keen that the visit should not be seen as advocacy of his republican political adversaries.

“I don’t know what the Indian Prime Minister has in mind, but I would say it is for Nepalis to decide whether we want a royalist democracy or a republican one. India should keep away from this and say nothing on internal matters.”

Thapa knew as well as anyone in Nepal, he was airing the humid Kathmandu afternoon with a wasted burst of utopia.