This review is actually prompted by a book review attempt in a mainstream media where the reviewer used the now obviously hackneyed political terminology ‘Panchay’ on the author. To this scribe’s knowledge Khanal was a functionary in the erstwhile royal palace of Nepal who rose to assume the office of chief secretary to the king and later, after retirement, was nominated to the membership of the Raj Parishad. The ‘Pancha’ was more often than not a politician or a public representative under the political dispensation scrapped by the 1990 political movement and thereby displaced by the 1990 constitution. This was at least to the understanding of yours truly until upon perusing through the autobiographical account reviewed one is led to conclude that, in these desperate years of overall national nonperformance, any factual account of contemporary political history that cannot but make comparisons between now and then and even attempt at unraveling the reasons should not only be dismissed as reactionary but must be blemished as emanating from tarnished sources such as the pancha in contemporary Nepali intellectualdom.
In actual fact the bulk of the 302 pages vernacular account of Khanal’s life he has put to pen turned out to be an encapsulated version of modern Nepali political history with a fresh whiff of empirical analysis that is bound to irk propagandists and proponents of the state of affairs today. Regardless of the fact that autobiographical attempts of the sort cannot but concentrate on the individual’s own life, his experiences and conclusions as the title endorses, Khanal’s account of his early life, his Sanskrit beginnings, his early dabbling in Sanskrit student agitations and organizations, his reactions to the Fifties political development, his response and recruitment into the vortex of the opposition movement to the state of affairs then and the ultimate inculcation into the Royal Palace machinery of king Mahendra, his service there until retirement under king Birendra cannot but make the book a tremendous repository of knowledge on Nepal, Nepali luminaries, Nepali events and actions and reactions, thus, in general, important Nepali affairs. What makes this account actually a worthwhile read is the author’s legal background (adding to his Sanskrit mastery) and his journalistic and academic bent. This makes his conclusions on people, places and events—they are onerous indeed—valuable inputs into the minds of openminded readers thirsting for explanations on contemporary events glossed over by political myths and rhetoric that pass as intellectualism today.
From accounts of Rana days as set out to the author by none less than King Tribhuvan’s junior queen who also had valuable advise as to how palace functionaries should treat her new grandson king to king Mahendra’s assessment of choice personalities to the author’s comparisons of king Mahendra and his son king Birendra or that between Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Girija Prasad Koirala to his personal conclusions regarding events and actors in Nepali politics, Khanal should be congratulated for his undertaking for having served to help add to the growing volume of works on cotemporary Nepali developments gleaned from such well meaning personal undertakings. Of course, it will displease the political mainstream who would want political capital from the unreal disarray they seem to have manufactured for Nepal in the guise of modernism. The tragedy is that generations of Nepalis have been misled by and continue to feed from this information trap which one hopes efforts such as Khanal’s will help breakthrough.
A personal note though. The author has strong views on constitutional monarchy and how Nepal’s constitutional monarchy received derogatory political and unconstitutional treatment at the hands of our political masters as a result of which we face the current mess. His acknowledgement that development minded King Birendra’s major innovations in this direction went unsustained while that of his father’s received more permanence should have been better explored. While he has not said it outright, this reviewer would hark to another autobiography written by high placed Indian diplomat and politician K. Natwar Singh who concluded that Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had seasoned political experience backing their posts while Rajiv, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi merely inherited them. Much has been written on how King Mahendra’s sudden death left his democratic innovations incomplete since Sambhu Prasad Gyawali had been charged with undertakings on the constitution that would perhaps have preempted the ultimate inglorious demise of Mahendra’s Panchayat System. In any case, the Panchayat King Birendra inherited from his father at his death was a far cry from that which he had to abrogate nearly two decades later. Perhaps this explains why Marich Man Singh, as the author recalls, could not act on his own. The fact that the then Rashtriya Panchayat was supposed to be ideologically committed to the King’s leadership under the Panchayat was power squabbling as parliament does in current days while the King and the palace was left, through his prime minister, to tackle the treaty and embargo issue with India in 1990 compares poorly with the fact that an overwhelming parliamentary majority could not prevent King Mahendra from roping in Congress, Communist and other sources of support to reorganize the country into the Panchayat dispensation. Again, as much as Khanal’s recognition of the partisan persecution of Panchayat and other workers after the 1990 change to the extent of compelling the absorption of quite a few of them into the ranks of the newly emergent powers is a rare public disclosure, how much this served also to isolate as potent a political institution as the Nepali Monarchy for whom even fundamental constitutional support from powers that professed loyalty to constitutional monarchy whose participation actually undermined that institution repeatedly may have been touched upon significantly and could have been more extensively explored. Indeed, the exigencies of mass politics and organization seem to have ultimately overtaken an elitist approach to mass politics and politicians that nurtures not totally invalid reservations against the politician. Perhaps the political disaster of the past decades will have added to a more productive awareness of how mass values are better utilized for modernism regardless of the traditionalism imbibed in them. Not mere political awareness but the rebuilding of political confidence and trust is a prescription that Khanal will have, I am sure, in his repository of valuable Sanskrit sayings. Politics, after all, leaves no vacuum. That is why one needs the politician. (By Our Reviewer)