The decision of the king of Nepal to dismiss his prime minister, declare a state of emergency and take over all executive powers at the beginning of February shocked many Nepalis and external commentators alike.
The royal coup came as little surprise, however, to those who have watched the evolution of the political crisis in Nepal over recent years, and warned of the likelihood of a political comeback by the palace.
It was October 2002 when the king first seized power, after 12 years of multi-party “democracy”.
Since then, there has been no elected government—only a series of ineffective “interim governments”, appointed by the king and without any real support from the main political parties.
The justification for the recent royal coup is the failure of previous governments, and of the political parties, to respond effectively to the Maoist insurgency which has gained ground over the last nine years, to the point where the Maoists control some 80 percent of the country.
In 1990 a popular movement, Jana Andolan, led to the restoration of multi-party politics after a 30 year period during which political parties were formally banned. But the Maoists remained sceptical.
By the mid-1990s they had decided, in view of the failure of successive governments to deal with the deep-seated problems of poverty, inequality and social injustice in Nepal, to launch a People’s War.
This they did in February 1996, with a view to overthrowing the monarchy and replacing the corrupt and inadequate regime dominated by the ruling elites of the mainstream parties with a popular democratic republic representing the workers and peasants of Nepal.
The Maoists have proved very successful in their armed struggle over the past nine years, pinning the government forces for the most part to the urban areas.
As the People’s War became more successful and more widespread, it began to threaten the king’s regime.
Both the palace and those foreign powers with vested interests in Nepal’s stability—notably India, the US and the UK—became increasingly concerned.
After 9/11 and the first declaration of a state of emergency in November 2001, the Maoist threat was increasingly represented as part of “the rising tide of international terrorism”.
All three major foreign powers provided substantial support—weapons, technical assistance and “aid”—to the government and the palace to contain the threat.
None of these efforts have been able to counter the progress of the Maoist insurrection, and the king’s intervention is intended to increase the pressure for a decisive solution to the crisis.
While the royal coup is likely, at least in the short term, to undermine efforts to find a political rather than a military solution, in the longer term it may be that the monarchy has succeeded only in hastening its own demise.
Even the previously belligerent foreign powers now have more serious reservations about the possibility of a military solution, at least of the kind they seek.
David Seddon is a professor of development studies at the University of East Anglia. He is the editor, with Arjun Karki, of The People’s War in Nepal: Left Perspectives, published by Adroit Press, New Delhi