After a break of three years, the 288th birthday of the founder of Nepal - King Prithivi Narayan Shah - was celebrated this Monday all over the country. This is the way things work in this beleaguered country of ours. Traditions are indiscriminately discarded in the name of the fabled "New Nepal". Then, after second thoughts, the powers that be realize their foolishness and sneak back in what was never meant to have been thrown away. So it was with "Prithivi Jayanti". This King created Nepal in 1769, consolidating a varied group of small principalities in the region. His birth anniversary was always a national holiday, celebrated as a Day of Unity. After Nepal became a secular republic, basically at the whim of the leaders of the three largest political parties, the founder of Nepal was ostracized as just another "feudal" and the national holiday was scrapped. It remains scrapped; the birth anniversary was observed sans holiday. That is all right. We have far too many forced-holidays as it is, due to the never-ending "bandhs".
Before the new constitution to be (perhaps) drafted by the Constituent Assembly can say anything about it, Nepal has been declared a "Federal Democratic Republic". Voices for a referendum on the monarchy, secularism and federalism are heard; but they are few, far-between and have no semblance of sustained organization. This year's celebration of Prithivi Jayanti, however, gives cause for some thought. Not optimism yet, just thought. The republicans - the revolutionary kind as well as the clueless kind - have been blaming Nepal's backwardness on the 240 years rule of the Shah dynasty. Right off, 104 years of those 240 can be taken off - the Rana oligarchy ruled Nepal for that period. Of the remaining 136 years, one only has to scrutinise history to see that most of the kings were enthroned as minors. The country was ruled by powerful prime ministers from clans such as the Thapas and Pande's. Except for Prithivi Narayan Shah himself, perhaps only King Tribhuvan and the kings that followed him did a bit of real "ruling", i.e. until 1990 when the monarchy became purely constitutional anyway. Including 2005-2006, it all boils down to 30-40 years of actual rule by the Shah dynasty. The political parties have been running this country for almost 20 years already.
Over the past few years, the monarchy has received a lot of "bad press", to put it mildly. But one thing it has never been accused of is being anti-nationalist. Had the monarchy had less regard for Nepali nationalism and the sovereignty of this country, it is doubtful that the republican forces would have received such decisive impetus from foreign quarters in their efforts to dislodge this institution. The argument here is not for a "ruling" monarchy such as that of, say, Saudi Arabia or some of the other oily non-democratic countries supported by the US. A constitutional, or even ceremonial, monarchy will be a symbol of national unity. And national unity is disintegrating all around us right now. The Maoists have "proclaimed" (symbolically only, they say) 13 federal states based on ethnic groups. Others have different formulas for a federal configuration. It is fashionable now to think of ourselves first by our ethnic heritage, to denigrate the traditional labeta suruwal men's outfit and put down the Nepali language. A "New Nepal" does not mean you destroy everything good in the Nepal that is. Marxist dialectics is passe' and obsolete; but we Nepalis don't realise this.
Let us therefore take the reinstatement of Prithivi Jayanti celebrations as an indication that (a) Nepal's unity must not be compromised; (b)past mistakes can and must be corrected; and (c) the Monarchy can contribute to the cohesiveness and sovereignty of Nepal.