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The first college strike I knew caused a sensation as a few of our friends got arrested. Politics was not our concern then. Subjects ranging from the first man on the moon to the comeback of Ali, from the latest filmi gossip to the music of Santana and Deep Purple were in vogue. We treated ourselves to Time Magazine and Newsweek hitherto forbidden during the cloistered days at our missionary school. Hollywood movies courtesy the American Club in Phora Durbar was probably the highlight of the week.

King Mahendra's Panchayat system of governance did not leave much public debate to the streets. A rubber stamp parliament elected through political patronage approved laws created by the rulers. The axiom rulers could do no wrong permeated through society. Lack of exposure to the outside world made the common person lead a life of blissful ignorance. China's periodic upheavals and the havoc created by the Cultural Revolution made Panchayat polity safe and predictable. A few muted voices of the "anti-nationals" operating from India were drowned out by the loud nationalistic rhetoric of the Panchas, aimed more for the king's consumption than his subjects' welfare.

King Mahendra and BP Koirala in happier times
In the sixties and seventies of Nepal we were spared the cataclysm of the nineties and the first decade of the 21st century. But we were probably then living in a fool's paradise. King Mahendra had taken power in his own hands in a military coup d'etat of 1960 A.D. from an elected Parliament by arresting the prime minister B. P. Koirala, banning political parties and starting a unique one-party Panchayat System of governance. Lack of opposition meant major issues of national importance could be resolved without debate or discourse. Unfortunately we had short-sighted therapy instead of far-sighted cure.

We were also going against time. The current state of anarchy would likely have prevailed in the sixties had it not been for King Mahendra's intervention. We would have seen strikes galore. Politics would have been the parlour talk in all our homes. Schools and colleges might be endlessly closed due to strikes. Hammers and sickles would fly. Jana Gana Mana would be sung by a few. But within the decade politics would have settled down to a pluralistic, democratic, Westminster style of governance with a constitutional monarch as head of state. Grievances would have been addressed and redressed in time. The cacophony of the demands of various nationalities would have petered down to a rhythmic fusion of hope and delivery.

Nepal would be stable today. Elected governments would be ruling within secured boundaries, people would have rights and responsibilities, an empowered judiciary would not have to bend to political winds. Nepal would still be a Hindu Kingdom for the ages. What have we got now? A country being torn apart by ethnic strife, a political credo discarded by their own children ruling the roost, a secular country that does not have any firm root to yield fruit and malevolent youth wings of parliamentary parties wrecking havoc on safety and security of the common people.

A king's decision made on that fateful day of 15 December 1960 A.D. , regardless of merit, wilted a nascent democracy before it could flower. We are all bearing its consequences now.


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