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Royal flaws in focus at birth of Nepal's republic Witness Report PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 02 June 2008

Gopal Sharma

Gopal Sharma has been a correspondent in Nepal since 1995, covering the Maoist insurgency as well as the peace process which led to the fall of the monarchy. In the following story, he recounts the royal family's decline.

KATHMANDU, June 1 ( - Four people, clad in white mourning clothes, carried a dummy corpse in a bamboo coffin.

"Gyane is dead. We are carrying his body to the cremation grounds," they said, using an abusive shortened form of King Gyanendra's name.

Watching the crowds gathered to celebrate the birth of the republic of Nepal last Wednesday, it was clear to me they were not yet done protesting against the king.

I flashed back to 2001, when I was awoken by a midnight telephone call. An old friend was on the line, saying he had heard the Maoist insurgency had exploded a bomb in the royal palace.

The Maoists at that time were still classified as "low intensity", mainly confined to remote villages and valleys in this Himalayan nation and I thought they did not yet have the strength to do this. I was right.

As a helicopter hovered in the sky and after frantic telephone calls, it became clear: Crown Prince Dipendra had massacred his parents and seven other royals at a family dinner, then shot himself.

The reason? The heir to the throne was unhappy over his parents' refusal to let him marry his girlfriend.

I didn't know then that this massacre would be a watershed in Nepal's political history. Breaking the mystique of a once highly revered Hindu monarchy, it turned out to be the beginning of the end for the 239-year-old institution.


Over the next seven years, the king would slowly lose his grip on the royal office. He was criticized in 2005 for taking absolute power to battle the Maoists, and street protests were widespread the following year as political parties prepared to found a republic.

In Nepal the monarchy has traditionally been seen as a symbol of national unity, so much of the hatred against it was blamed on Gyanendra and his playboy son Paras -- known for reckless driving, nightclub brawls and wild living in one of the world's poorest countries.

In Gyanendra's early days as king, he once sat on a special gilded throne resembling a five-headed serpent god at a Buddhist ceremony.

Devout Buddhists sprinkled holy water and washed his feet.

As his power ebbed away, it was not easy covering Gyanendra's direct rule, worsening Maoist civil war and mounting street protests.

Waiting in my car near a protest two years ago, I was shaken by sudden gun shots -- soldiers were firing live bullets at protesters.

Gyanendra's perceived arrogant manner fuelled public anger.

He was once shown in the media proudly smiling when an army officer tied his shoe-laces in public.

"Gyanendra, thief, leave the country!" was the war cry of the 2006 protests that ended his short period of absolute rule and paved the way for the Maoists to join the peace process.

Once, I spent more than eight hours waiting with other journalists after being told Gyanendra would speak to the press during his tour of an old part of the city.

He smiled at us, but left without a word.

It was common knowledge that the flower garlands and bouquets Gyanendra was shown receiving in military uniform at many public meetings during his absolute rule were given to him by people many bussed in by royalists.


Then last week, I was at the site of a special assembly of political parties that voted to abolish the monarchy. The Maoists were now the biggest political party. I waited for hours with other journalists.

An explosion shattered our boredom.

We rushed out to chaos after suspected royalist militants had thrown a small bomb from a motorcycle outside the venue.

No one was hurt, and if the explosion was the work of royalists, it was fruitless. The show went on and the special assembly gave Gyanendra a fortnight to vacate the palace.

In some ways, he was already an outsider.

The last time I saw Gyanendra was outside a Kathmandu temple in March where he had gone to worship Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.

Death literally hung in the air. It was difficult to avoid breathing in ashes and smoke from corpses being cremated in a nearby holy river.

The king left the temple where thousands of curious onlookers waited for him in a narrow street.

Despite being stoned in the same place a year ago, he insisted on strolling for a few minutes down the street with his worried bodyguards rather than get into his car.

Police pushed back the crowd with batons. The unpopular king had walked in public, and this time avoided any stones.

It was perhaps his last, and futile, open act of defiance.

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