EVENTS IN THE 2000s
In June 2001, the former Crown Prince Dipendra Bir Bikram murdered most of the royal family, including his father, King Birendra, his mother, Queen Aishwarya, his sister, Princess Sruti, his brother, Prince Nirajan, and five others. He then shot himself. Although there were many theories as to why the tragedy occurred, the most generally accepted one that the prince he turned against his family because his mother disapproved of woman he wanted to marry. Dipendra’s uncle, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, was named king.
In November 2001, a state of emergency was declared after more than 100 people were killed in four days of violence. King Gyanendra ordered the army to take direct action for the first time to crush the Maoist rebels. Many hundreds are killed in rebel and government operations in the following months. [Source: BBC, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
In March 2000, Girija Prasad Koirala became prime minister, holding the office for the fourth time. In July, 2001, Koirala resigned and Sher Bahadur Deuba, also of the Nepali Congress party, became prime minister. In May 2002, parliament was dissolved, fresh elections called amid political confrontation over extending the state of emergency. Sher Bahadur Deuba was named head of the interim government and renews emergency. In October 2002, King Gyanendra dismissed Deuba and indefinitely puts off elections set for November. In 2003 January, the Maoist rebels and declared a ceasefire. In 2003, a new government was formed under Surya Bahadur Thapa. Thapa was appointed prime minister by King Gyanendra. He replaced Lokendra Bahadur Chand, who had resigned after serving as head of an interim administration since October 2002.
In 2003, elections were held and Surya Bahadur Thapa became prime minister. In 2004, former Prime Minister Deuba was reinstated as prime minister.In 2004 a cease-fire that had existed between the Maoist rebels and the government collapsed and killings increased on both sides. The government officially invited the Maoists to negotiate again in 2004, but the rebels refused. In February 2005, the King dismissed Prime Minister Deuba (again), dissolved the Cabinet, restored an absolute monarchy and declared a state of emergency, citing the need to defeat Maoist rebels. In April 2005 King Gyanendra bowed to international pressure and lifted state of emergency but maintained direct royal rule.
November 2005, the Maoist rebels and main opposition parties agree on a plan intended to restore democracy. In April 2006, after weeks of violent strikes and protests against direct royal rule, King Gyanendra reinstate parliament and the Maoist rebels called a three-month ceasefire. In May 2006, parliament voted unanimously to curb the king's political powers and government held peace talks with the Maoist rebels.
November 2006, the government sign a peace deal with the Maoists — the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) — formally ending the decade-long insurgency. In January 2007, Maoist leaders entered parliament under the terms of a temporary constitution. In April 2007 April, the Maoists join an interim government, a move which brings them into the political mainstream.
In December 2007, parliament approves the abolition of monarchy as part of peace deal with Maoists, who agree to rejoin government after they quit the interim government in September 2007, demanding the abolition of the monarchy.
In May 2008, Nepal became a republic. In April 2008, former Maoist rebels won the largest bloc of seats in elections to the new Constituent Assembly (CA), but fail to achieve an outright majority. In June 2008, Maoist ministers resigned from the cabinet in a row over who should be the next head of state. In July 2008, Ram Baran Yadav became Nepal's first president.In August 2008, Maoist leader Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) forms coalition government, with Nepali Congress going into opposition.
King Gyanendra Bir Bikrm Shah Dev (born 1947) was king of Nepal from June 2001, when his brother King Birendra was assassinated by his son Prince Dipendra, until the Nepalese monrach was abolished in May 2008. After the killing of King Birendra, Prince Gyanendra was named regent for the comatose Prince Dipendra. When Prince Dipendra was pronounced dead two days after the palace massacre, Prince Gyanendra became king.
King Gyanendra was regarded as a dour, remote figure. He often appeared in a military uniform with oversized dark glasses. He was regarded as smart, intellectual, firm — a no nonsense sort of guy. Gyanendra, unlike Birenda, had opposed the 1990 constitution, which significantly reformed the Nepalese monarchy and made Nepal more democratic.
King Gyanendra had never been very popular with the Nepalese. In 1950-1951, when he was three years old, he was installed as king for about three months by the Rana clan after King Tribhuvan was forced to flee to India after joining a people's revolution against the Rana clan, who were then the rulers behind the throne. It didn't help matters that Gyanendra issued statement that the royal family was killed in June 2001 by "an accidental firing of an automatic weapon."
King Gyanendra’s Life
Prince Gyanendra as born in 1948. He was educated at the St. Joseph School in Darjeeling, like his borther King Birendra, and Nepal's Tribhuwan University. He spent most of his adult life looking after the business interests of the royal family, which include holdings in tea and tobacco estates and ownership of a Kathmandu five-star hotel. In the 1970s he was suspected of being involved in drug and antiquities smuggling with his younger brother Dhirendra.
Prince Gyanendra was also known as a soft-spoken conservationist. He largely shunned the public spotlight and devoted his time to environmental causes. After 1994 he has headed the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation and was involved in a number World Wildlife Fund projects. He was also chairman of the Lumbini Development Trust, from 1986 to 1991, which oversaw the preservation of Buddha's birthplace.
King Gyanendra had a reputation for meticulousness. When the leaders of seven South Asian countries came to Nepal in 2002 for a series of meetings at the Club Himalaya resort, King Gyanendra went to every room, inspecting the bathrooms, to make sure everything was okay. King Gyanendra’s wife Queen Komal’s was struck with bullets during the palace attack in June 2001 and required three weeks of hospitalization. The couple has two children Crown Prince Paras and Princess Prerana.
King Gyanendra as King
The Nepalese people never really warmed to King Gyanendra. Many blamed him for masterminding the killing of King Birendra and his family, an assertion made by the Maoist rebels. ing Gyanendra made no secret of his antipathy towards Nepal’s ruling politicians. One of his first moves was to bypass parliament and declare a state of emergency in November 2001 and call in the army to the fight against the Maoist rebels. He disbanded parliament and fired prime ministers on several occasions and in the end was ousted him
Randeep Ramesh wrote in the Guardian: Birendra's younger brother Gyanendra, a chain-smoking royal with a penchant for astrology and expensive cars, ascended to the throne and made no secret of his disdain for the parliament. He sacked the government first in 2002 and then seized absolute power three years later, saying only a strong leader could end the Maoist insurgency raging in the countryside. "Trying to restore the absolute monarchy was a disastrous error of judgment, instead of negotiating with the Maoists and bringing them into the peace process," said Lieutenant General Vivek Shah, King Gyanendra's former military secretary. "This was his arrogance. He did not listen to views he disagreed with." [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, May 28, 2008]
King Gyanendra adopted a relatively firmer approach to political issues than King Birendra. When cease-fire talks with the Maoists ended in November 2001, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency and sent the army into the conflict. This action had the unintended effect of intensifying the conflict. When most political parties were unwilling to extend the state of emergency, Prime Minister Deuba requested and received the dissolution of parliament by the king in May 2002. In October 2002, the king unconstitutionally released Deuba’s government and assumed executive powers. After two successive prime ministers resigned, the king reinstated Deuba as prime minister but then dismissed Deuba’s government and suspended the constitution in February 2005, citing the worsening civil conflict. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005]
As time went on he became more and more unpopular. In February 2007, crowd hurled stones at his motorcade as he drove to a Kathmandu pilgrimage site to attend a Hindu festival. Reuters reported: “He escaped unhurt. The heavily guarded convoy made it to the temple, and the crowd shouted, “Gyanendra, thief, leave the country!” as a power shutdown plunged the area into darkness, a witness said. The police said the crowd was charged with batons before the king was safely driven back to his palace.” [Source: Reuters, February 17, 2007]
Prince Paras Shad, the Crown Prince
King Gyanendra's son, Prince Paras Shad, was next in line for the throne. He had a reputation for violent behavior. He reportedly had beaten up people, including police officer, and had killed people and injured many others while driving drunk. He slapped a traffic inspector, fired shots at policemen and reportedly spied on girls he thought were attractive and gave orders to have the girls delivered to him.
Prince Paras Shad was a suspect in a hit-and-run fatality of a famous sitar player,Praveen Gurung, but was never charged. According to diplomatic and government sources Prince Paras got into an argument with Gurung after the prince tried to pick up a waitress at a nightclub and the Gurung tried to protect her. The prince followed Gurung in his car and knocked him off his motorbike and then put his vehicle in reverse and ran over and killed him. More than 600,000 Nepalese signed a petition demanding Paras be brought to justice but he was never touched.
Prince Paras Shad was so unpopular that King Gyanendra delayed naming him as crown prince. According to news reports, Paras rammed the butt of a gun into the eye of a policeman who stopped his car in 1999; fired several shots airborne at a nightclub during an argument with his wife in 2004; and assaulted a policeman after rocks were thrown at the king's motorcade in 2005. Even so the prince reportedly played a heroic role during the murder of King Birendra in 2001. He helped protect some teenagers by hiding them behind a sofa and arranged for a truck to take the wounded to a hospital.
Henry Chu wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In this Himalayan nation, the man who would be king probably is the man who would be in jail if many of his subjects had their way... whose drunken brawls are well-known and whose security detail had an entire wedding party detained for questioning after the prince's car hit their bus.” Prince Paras was widely known as “a bad-tempered layabout who roared around on the kingdom's only Harley-Davidson and considered himself above the law.” In August 2000 “after crashing into Gurung in his father's official car, apparently accidentally, Paras immediately sped over to the police station — not to report the incident but to warn the officer on duty, at gunpoint, against doing so. Public outrage ensued. But royal immunity kept the prince from being punished. It also had protected him a year earlier when he slammed the butt of a gun into the eye of a police officer who had dared to stop his car during a general strike... In April 2006, only days after pro-democracy protests forced his father to relinquish total power, Paras made news again when his car ran into the wedding bus.” [Source: Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2007]
Government Crises Under King Gyanendra
After the killing of King Birendra’s in June 2001, Nepal’s political scene was defined by a three-way power struggle between King Gyanendra, the political parties and the Maoist rebels. Political protests were a fixture of daily life, often snarling traffic, through much of 2003 and 2004.
In May 1999, the Nepali Congress Party won 113 or 205 seats in parliament. Power struggles within the party led to three prime ministers in three years. The struggles was primarily between Sher Bahadar Deuba and G.P. Koirala, each of whom controlled about half of the Nepali Congress Party seats and each of whom served as prime minister.
In May 2002, King Gyanendra dissolved parliament in a dispute over the extension of emergency rule (the king wanted to extend it but parliament didn’t). In October 2002, he sacked Prime Minister Deuba and claimed executive power himself and postponed elections indefinitely, provoking a constitutional crisis. The king and prime minister Deuba had fought over the timing of the election.
Deuba had wanted to delay the elections, blaming threats from the Maoist rebels. Deauba was described as incompetent and was unpopular both with the king and with factions in his party. The Nepali Congress refused to join Deuba’s new government. The king fired him and delayed elections. Elected officials were replaced with government appointees in an interim government. Assertions that the king’s moves were unconstitutional fell on deaf ears. The Nepali Congress Party expelled Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba from its ranks.
After that the government was largely viewed as a puppet of the king. None of the prime ministers selected by the king were taken seriously, respected or considered legitmate. Monarchist prime minister Lokendra Bahudur Chand resigned after only eight month in office, following protests that his appointment was unconstitutional. Chand was Deauba’s replacement. In May 2004, the Monarchist Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa resigned after large, sometimes violent, street demonstrations. He never much had respect and was never regarded as legitimate. In the street protest against him more than 1,000 people were arrested, including former Prime Minister Deuba.
Under Chand's premiership, the government and Maoists declared a cease-fire in January 2003. This marked the second cease-fire with the Maoists; the first, in 2001, had been broken by the Maoists. The 2003 cease-fire included an agreement to undertake initiatives to resolve the Maoist problem through dialogue and bring the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) back into mainstream politics. Peace talks were held in April-May 2003 and August 2003 but they failed because political instability failed to secure the support of the leading political parties. fighting between government troops and rebel forces soon resumed. Neither the army nor the Maoists gained full control of the countryside, parliament remained dissolved, and there were increasing public protests against the king. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook, Gale, 2009]
In June 2004, the king formed a multiparty government in an efforts to end a political crisis. The king reappointed Sher Bahadar Deuba as prime minister, the same man he sacked in 2002, and he formed a coalition government. The move came weeks after the royalist prime minister resigned after daily street protests organized by opposition parties calling for a return to multiparty democracy. The Nepali Congress refused to join the new government but the Unified Marxist-Leninists did. Elections were promised within a year. Despite government offensives against the rebels, they remained strong enough to enforce their will. In August and December the rebels staged successful blockades of Kathmandu and began forcing the closure of a number of businesses.
King Gyanendra Grabs Power in 2005
In February 2005, King Gyanendra grabbed power, citing deterioration of conditions in the country and declaring that the cabinet had failed to address these conditions. He fired the government, suspended civil liberties and gagged the press. Mobile phone service was cut off, the Internet and telephone services were shut down and the cabinet was fired as he seized absolute power and appointed a cabinet of loyalists. Emergency rule was declared. Criticism of the government and the military was banned. Soldiers took up positions in news rooms and television studios.
The king said that country’s political leaders had failed to prepare adequately for parliamentary elections or quell the Maoist insurgency. A leading general told the Washington Post that fights between politician and demonstration had distracted security forces from the primary matter at hand: battling the Maoists.
More than 3,000 political prisoners were detained. On one single day in March 2005 more than 14,700 people were arrested for taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations. Among those detained for “their own personal safety” were top human rights advocates, Madhav Kumare Nepal and Amrit Bohara of the Communist Part of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) Nepal’s largest communist party and more than 1,000 members of the Nepalese Congress, Nepal’s largest political party. Prime Minister Deuba was placed under house arrest.
A number of journalist were detained. Those who criticized the king were arrested. The press was heavily censored. Some newspapers protested by printing the empty spaces of the articles that they were ordered to pull. Even before the crackdown the Paris-based group Reporters without Borders labeled Nepal as the world’s largest jailer of reporters.
Response to King Gyanendra Power Grab in 2005
King Gyanendra was roundly criticized at home and by foreign governments and called upon to restore democracy. Britain and India suspended military aid. India, the United States and the European Union recalled their ambassadors In March 2005, a group of donor nations, including the United States. announced: “Insecurity, armed activity and Maoist blockades are pushing Nepal towards the abyss of a humanitarian crisis.”
A few pro-democracy demonstrations were held. Turn out was slight. Many of those who participated were arrested and detained. Many politicians went underground. An eery quiet descended on Kathmandu. People who shouted political slogans or unfurled banners in support of a political party were rounded up by police and thrown in a van. There were reports of an increasing number of extrajudicial killings and shooting of students protestors by helicopters. People didn’t know what was going on because of the restrictions on the press and the shit down of phone and Internet service..
King Gyanendra promised to announce a plan on how he was going to restore law and order. A couple of months after the power grab no plan had been offered. As time went on oppression seemed more entrenched and faith in the monarchy declined. Many people wanted to get rid of the monarchy but were no sure what it would be replaced with.
The Maoist rebels took the moral high ground and portrayed themselves as advocates of democracy (one of their basis demands was an elected assembly under their terms) and called the king a dictator. They called for a general strike. Their calls was only partly observed. They also asked other political parties to join them and work together to fight th monarchy. The other parties rejected their offer.
Some ordinary Nepalese welcomed the Maoists’ efforts, saying they could bring stability. According to an editorial in the Nepali Times: “It must be said that outside the capital’s intellectual, activist and media circles there was general approval. There is cautious hope that this could be a way out of long years of instability, anarchy and violence.”
Easing or Emergency Rule in 2005
Telephone service was restored after about a week after the February 2005 power grab after airlines complained they couldn’t make reservations properly, banks said their ATMs wouldn’t work and businessmen said they couldn’t conduct business. The cell phone ban stayed in effect longer. In late February 2005, King Gyanendra promised to restore democracy within three years and insisted he was a believer in democratic values and said he welcomed peace talks with the Maoists.
Over time people that were detained were released. In March 2005, former Prime Minister Deuba was freed from house arrest and journalist staged a rally and weren’t arrested for participating in it. Journalists were able to sidestep the restrictions on the press by using blogs, Sites like “United We Biog.” and “Radio Free Blog”scored thousands of hits, many from over seas computer users.
In April 2005, the deputy prime minister was freed from house arrest. In May 2005, emergency rule was lifted and the last political leaders — Madhav Kumare Nepal and Amrit Bohara of the Communist Part of Nepal — were freed but 175 others were still detained.
The emergency was ended in May 2005, but the king retained the powers he had assumed. In July, 2005, Deuba and several others were convicted and sentenced on corruption charges by an anticorruption commission established by the king. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook, Gale, 2009]
Protests Against the Monarchy in 2006
Large protests against the monarchy were staged in 2006. In January the New York Times reported: “With thousands of pro-democracy protesters fighting running battles with the police on the streets of the capital and a bloody gun battle south of the city, the main Nepali political parties vowed that they would continue to protest until King Gyanendra steps down as absolute ruler of Nepal. The government released three top opposition leaders from house arrest. Troops vacated the houses of the three, former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, president of the Nepali Congress Party, Khadga Prasad Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal and Narayan Man Bijuchche of the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party. "The policemen left this evening and now I think I am free to move out," Oli said by telephone. [Source: New York Times, January 22, 2006]
“Maoist rebels and government forces clashed in a village in southern Nepal, leaving 20 people dead, the Royal Nepalese Army. The gun battle began at night when the insurgents attacked a security patrol in Phapar Badi village, 160 kilometers, or 100 miles, south of the capital, an army official said. Five of the dead were soldiers, one was a police officer and 14 were rebels, the official said.
“Hundreds of police officers on Saturday fired tear gas and beat pro-democracy activists who defied a ban on rallies in Kathmandu. The police arrested at least 300 protesters, who chanted "Down with autocracy, we want democracy!" At least 50 demonstrators were injured in the clashes, which continued for several hours. Many of the demonstrators hurled stones and scuffled with the police, who used bamboo batons to beat the protesters. About six police officers were also wounded. The crackdown on the protest followed a series of raids in recent days in which security forces detained senior politicians, student leaders and rights activists. Several opposition leaders were placed under house arrest and more than 200 activists were detained in an attempt to thwart protests against the king, who sacked the government and seized power last February.”
In April, Reuters reported: King Gyanendra battles pro-democracy protesters who want him to cede power to a representative government, many are wondering if he can remain on the throne at all. "Gyanendra, thief, leave the country" is the warcry of the tens of thousands campaigning against his rule, a slogan that would have been heretical just a few years ago when the Shahs were worshipped by the Himalayan nation as reincarnations of the Hindu Lord Vishnu. "That kind of traditional respect is over," says Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the local weekly Samay. "A kind of momentum is building up." [Source: Reuters, April 16, 2006]
“Deuba said he saw chaos, riots and violence continuing perhaps for years. At least four people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the current uprising, and hundreds of others have been arrested. He said the only way to end King Gyanendra's rule would involve the support of the army, which currently gives him full backing. "I don't want the army to be used as a political weapon against the king," Deuba said. "But after all they are accountable to the people."
“Many say the army is tired of battling the Maoist rebels. Now, King Gyanendra relies on a government composed of retired army generals and other appointees to help him run the nation. "He is strong-willed and he is a realist," said former army chief Satchit Shamsher Rana, a member of a privy council that advises the king. "His brother was somewhat of an idealist. The present king is more practical." Rana laughed off the widespread belief that the king was aloof even by the standards of the secretive Shahs. "He is very informal and very gregarious," the former general said. "He wants to hold elections and go back to being a constitutional monarch."
King Gyanendra Returns Power to Parliament and Elections in 2006
In mid 2005, Nepal's two largest parties, the Congress and the Communist (United Marxist-Leninist) ended their support for a constitutional monarchy. In September the Maoist rebels declared a three-month cease-fire. Nepal's opposition parties and the rebels agreed in November 2005 to jointly support the reestablisment of constitutional democracy in Nepal and the rebels then extended their cease-fire for a month. In January 2006, however, the rebels announced the cease-fire would end because the government had continued its operations against them. By April, when the king offered to restore a democratic government, the situation in Nepal was very unstable. There were prodemocracy demonstrations and the government response to them became increasingly confrontational and violent.
Growing frustration with King Gyanendra’s rule and pressure from the rebel groups led to street protests in April 2006, prompting the palace to cede power to the last elected government. Elections were held and a seven-party coalition name G.P. Koirala, leader of the Nepali Congress party, to serve as prime minister. The king appointed Koirala to the post, making it official. This was the fourth time Koirala had served as prime minister since 1991. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]
The reinstatement of parliament in April ushered in a rapid series of governmental changes. Koirala’s government responded to the rebels' three-month cease-fire with an indefinite cease fire. The monarchy was stripped of its powers and privileges, although not abolished, and Nepal was declared a secular nation. The government began talks with the rebels, who in June agreed in principle to join an interim government. Some 16,000 people are believed to have died in the country's decade-long civil war. [Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., The Columbia University Press]
Peace Deal with the Maoists and End of the King’s Powers
In November 2006, a peace accord was agreed to by the Maoist rebels and the parliamentary government, which called for the rebels to join the government and assemble in camps and place their weapons under UN supervision. The following month an interim constitution under which the monarch was no longer the head of state was agreed to. The question of the ultimate abolition of the monarchy was left to a constituent assembly that would be elected in 2007. Human-rights groups accused the rebels, however, of continuing to engage in extortion and conscription. [Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., The Columbia University Press]
In January 2007, the Maoist rebels joined the interim parliament and the interim constitution came into effect. In April the rebels joined a new interim government. Although some 31,000 rebels were in camps by late February, far fewer numbers of weapons had been turned in. Also in January, long-simmering resentment of the native peoples of the Terai, known as Madhesis, led to protests and violence in southern Nepal as the Madhesis pressed their demands for autonomy for the Terai. Although the government subsequently reached an agreement with the Madhesis, violence in the region continued throughout the year.
In December 2007, Parliament voted to declare Nepal a federal democratic republic, meaning among other things that the king was required to pay taxes like everyone else, though at Hindu funerals mourners must still offer prayers to his ancestors.
Maoists Win Election in April 2008
In April 2008, the former Maoist rebels won the largest bloc of seats in elections to the new 601-sear Constituent Assembly (CA), but failed to achieve an outright majority. The general election for the Constituent Assembly was finally held after having been postponed from earlier dates in June 2007 November 2007. The Nepalese Constituent Assembly was set up for two years to draft a new constitution that amongst other things decided the issues of federalism and the future of the monarchy. [Source: Wikipedia]
The Maoists — the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), or CPN (M) — won 220 out of the 575 elected seats, and became the largest party in the Constituent Assembly. The Nepali Congress was second with 110 seats and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) was third with 103 seats.
One of the first orders of business of the Constituent Assembly was to decide the future of the monarchy. In May 2008, delegates voted 560 to 4 in favour of abolishing the monarchy at a special assembly to rewrite the Constitution. At that point the vote was largely seen a formality as many aspects and symbols of the monarchy had already been eliminated.
Reporting on the mood in the country at the time the elections took place, Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: A public opinion poll conducted in January 2008 by a private firm called Interdisciplinary Analysts found Gyanendra’s personal ratings to be lower than those of the country’s main political leaders: 2, on a 1-to-10 scale. Even so, 49 percent of Nepalese said they favored retaining the institution of the monarchy, according to the same poll, which surveyed some 3,000 Nepalese and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percentage points. Critics questioned the poll results, describing the polling firm as pro-palace. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 3, 2008]
“The wild card is the extent to which the king has loyalists in the Nepalese Army, and if they will act to save the monarchy. Madhav Bhattarai, the chief priest at Narayanhiti Palace, the king’s headquarters in Kathmandu, was not ready to write off the monarchy either. After all, he said, the election date was auspicious according to the Hindu calendar, and the king of Nepal was endowed with divine powers. “I don’t know what he will do to save his throne,” said Mr. Bhattarai, 56. “I know Nepal needs the king’s role in some form, ceremonial, symbolic; we need the king one way or the other.”
Getting Rid of Symbols of the Nepalese Monarchy
Reporting from Gorkha, 100 kilometers west of Kathmandu, Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “This is the cradle of the kingdom, from where, more than 250 years ago, a shrewd and ambitious king named Prithvi Narayan Shah set off to conquer faraway lands and create the nation now known as Nepal. Here today stands a gleaming white marble memorial in his honor, except that on the pedestal where his likeness once stood, His Majesty’s name inscribed below, there is now something decidedly less majestic: a pot of pink geraniums. The king’s statue was toppled by Maoist insurgents last year. They dragged the head through the narrow cobblestone lanes of Gorkha, smashing it until it broke into pieces and singing, “Long Live the Maoists.” [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 3, 2008]
“As it happens, the royal past is being dismembered day by day across this onetime Hindu kingdom. Partly it is the handiwork of the decade-long leftist insurgency to overthrow the monarchy. Partly it is the result of public disaffection stemming from the intervention of the current king, Gyanendra, into government. A new national anthem makes no reference of allegiance to the king. He no longer heads the army. Pictures of Gyanendra, which once hung in every government office, now gather cobwebs in dank warehouses. The word “Royal” has been dropped from the name of the national airline. Several palaces have been taken over by the government...A statue of Gyanendra’s father, Mahendra, whose decapitated likeness, eerily draped with a gray cloth, stands in the lobby of the Nepal Academy...The statue’s head was lopped off during anti-palace protests two years ago. It was later found in a dirty river.”
But “in a society where the king was once regarded as an avatar of a Hindu god, erasing the royal past is not always easy. Consider Nepal’s new currency. Shortly after the king gave up power in 2006, the government ordered the printing of money, starting with the 500-rupee note, free of the king’s portrait. In the new design, developed by the central bank, King Gyanendra’s image was replaced by that of the noncontroversial Mt. Everest. But the paper on which the new bills are printed, having been ordered long ago, still bears a watermark of the king’s face. Unable to afford new currency paper, bank officials took creative license. They slapped a dark-pink rhododendron on top of the watermark. The king and his bird-of-paradise plumed crown can be seen only if the bill is held up to the light.”
In 2007, in anticipation of the eventual abolishment or alterationof the monarchy, Nepali authorities confiscated seven royal palaces, including King Gyanendra’s residence. A government spokesman said at the time: Nepal’s king and his family however “may stay there till the government’s next decision". The other six properties were Hanumandhoka Palace in Kathmandu, Patan Palace in Lalitpur (5 kilometers south-west of Kathmandu), Bhaktapur Palace (15 kilometers south), Gorkha Palace (200 kilometers west), Lamjung Palace (300 kilometers west) and Nuwakot Palace (60 kilometers north). They were turned over to the Nepali Department of Archaeology. Patan, Hanumandhoka and Gorkha Palaces are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. [Source: Kalpit Parajuli, Asia News, August 27, 2007]
Nepal Ends the Monarchy and Becomes a Republic
In May 2008, Nepal's newly sworn in, Maoist-controlled assembly voted to abolish the 240-year-old monarchy and declare Nepal a republic, fulfilling a key demand of the former Maoist rebels. Reuters reported: “Delegates voted 560 to 4 in favour of abolishing the monarchy. Hours before, suspected royalists threw three small, homemade bombs in Nepal's capital, wounding one person. The government has told unpopular King Gyanendra to vacate his pink pagoda-roofed palace in Kathmandu within a fortnight, or be forced out. He has made few comments on his future plans, except to say he wanted to remain in Nepal. [Source: Reuters, May 28, 2008]
“All through the day, thousands of Nepalis gathered in the historic parts of Kathmandu and near the site of the assembly, ringed by riot police, to celebrate the end of a monarchy seen by many of its inhabitants as out of touch. "Let's celebrate the dawn of a republic in a grand manner," one loudspeaker blared from the top of a taxi. Thousands of Maoists, now members of the assembly's biggest political party after joining the political mainstream, marched in the capital carrying hammer and sickle flags and pumping their fists in the air as they shouted "Down with the monarchy!".
“It has been a dramatic decline and fall for a king once waited upon by thousands of retainers. Many Nepalis revered the monarch in majority-Hindu Nepal as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the god of protection. Now, his portrait has been wiped off bank notes and his name has disappeared from the national anthem. He has been asked to pay his own electricity bills. "The king will be given 15 days to leave the palace and the palace will be turned into a historical museum after he leaves," Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel said.
Although some royalists may oppose the move, they are heavily outnumbered by mainstream political groups and Maoist former rebels, who emerged as the largest party in elections to the 601-member assembly. "This is the people's victory," said Kamal Dahal, a 22 year-old former Maoist guerrilla. "With today's declaration of a republic we have achieved what we fought for." Activists of the royalist militant group Ranabir Sena threw pamphlets at the site of one of Wednesday's blasts, demanding that Nepal remain a Hindu kingdom, police said. Two bombs exploded only meters away from the heavily guarded venue for the assembly while another went off in a city park.
King Gyanendra: A God Thrown Out of His Own Temple
Randeep Ramesh wrote in he Guardian: “Smearing red sandalwood paste on a line of worshippers gathered outside the main pagoda of the Nepali capital's imposing Pashupatinath temple complex, Hindu priest Raju Baje explains that the 400-odd shrines contain all but one of the religion's 330,000 deities. Through the smoke of funeral pyres are stone statues of roaring lions, a giant bronze cow, endless wooden images of the divine and framed pictures of the 11 monarchs from the Shah dynasty that ruled Nepal in the last 240 years — except the current king, Gyanendra. The present ruler, says Baje, is a god who has been thrown out of his own temple. "We consider the king a divine figure. He is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. But if we put a picture of him up it will be ripped down. The people don't love him." [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, May 28, 2008]
“The Maoists say that the monarch will have an "honourable exit", but the fall of King Gyanendra and the disappearance of the world's last Hindu monarchy has been dramatic. In the past few months the word "Royal" has been dropped from the army...The royal family, consisting of the king, the queen, the queen mother, the crown prince and his wife and children, left their pink-hued palace in the center of the capital for the last time. There is little doubt that royal belts will have to be tightened. The monarch's state salary of $3m (£1.5m) has been revoked...The queen was forced to give up her retinue of beauticians.”
After the Constituent Assembly voted to abolish the monarchy, “the king, who once ruled by divine right,” was reduced “to a commoner — albeit an extremely wealthy one with tea estates and tobacco holdings in the 12th poorest country in the world. The transformation from kingdom to republic still leaves unanswered the questions of what an ex-royal will be allowed to do. The king still enjoys support from Hindu extremists and elements in the armed forces, a small fringe perhaps, but enough for the politicians not to go too far in humiliating the palace. A previously unknown Hindu nationalist group, angry with the removal of royalty, said it was responsible for a series of pipe-bomb explosions that rocked the capital.
“Bhekh Thapa, a former foreign minister under the king, says the royal family will have to be "guarded" and probably have a "privy purse". "This is a poor country with an large, uneducated population for whom the institution of monarchy is a symbol of unity. You have to tread carefully in dismantling it," he said. The Nepalese Maoists, said Mr Thapa, cannot replicate what their ideological mentor Chairman Mao did to China's last emperor, Puyi, whom he met in the mid 60s as a young diplomat. "I was introduced to this tall man in a plain cotton suit sweeping the leaves in a palace in Beijing. The last emperor had been a keen gardener and so Chairman Mao let him stay on to prune trees and plant flowers. That could not happen in Nepal which is why our Maoists have been calling for a dignified exit."
Fall of King Gyanendra
Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “The ambivalence toward the king is fed by the circumstances under which he inherited the throne. In 2001, his brother, King Birendra, and most of the royal family, were slain in a gruesome palace massacre. In what many here and abroad considered a suspicious turn of fate, only Gyanendra and his family survived. In 2005, declaring emergency rule, Gyanendra fired the elected government, suspended basic freedoms and vowed to crush the Maoist insurgents. He did not succeed.” [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 3, 2008]
According to Reuters: “Despite a somewhat unsavory reputation as a hard-nosed businessman with interests in tobacco and gambling — he owned part of what was the country's biggest hotel and casino at the time — King Gyanendra's countrymen appeared ready to give him a chance to restore the prestige of the monarchy” when he became king in 2001. “Instead, within four years, he sacked the government and assumed full power, saying it had failed to put down a raging Maoist rebellion. The move reversed his brother's decision to allow multiparty democracy and a constitutional monarchy in 1990 after a campaign in which up to 300 people were killed. [Source: Reuters, April 16, 2006]
“The resulting public anger against King Gyanendra was fueled by nagging suspicions many harbored about why he was away from Kathmandu when Dipendra killed most of the royal family, and how his son, now Crown Prince Paras, survived the shooting. "It was a missed opportunity," says Ghimire of King Gyanendra. "He was a royal but he didn't expect to be king, so he was also a commoner. He could have given a new thrust to the monarchy." The prime minister he sacked, Sher Bahadur Deuba, doesn't have much good to say about him. "By nature, he is not a democrat," Deuba said of the king and his promises to hold elections by April next year. "He says one thing and does something else. I tried very hard but his plan was not to be just a constitutional monarch."”
“Randeep Ramesh wrote in the Guardian: “The sudden collapse of the monarchy in the span of a few years, say even former royalists, is not a victory for communism but a failure of the 60-year-old King Gyanendra. He was unable to win over his subjects, suspicious of a monarch enthroned after the worst royal slaughter since the Romanovs were murdered during the Russian civil war. The popular dissent with his rule was exacerbated by the perception the king was interested in enriching himself rather than his subjects. This was a fatal flaw in a country that presents a striking picture of contrast between extreme poverty and vast wealth. "I used to suggest to the king: 'Why not convert a few of the royal residences into hospitals and schools?' I thought it would improve the palace's image," said Gen Shah. "But he took no notice. Instead he brought a Daimler limousine for 50m rupees (£365,000)." [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, May 28, 2008]
“While the king's high-handedness never won the hearts of Nepalis, it was the behaviour of his playboy son, Paras, which infuriated the public. The crown prince was a regular on the Kathmandu party circuit, carrying a gun and a bad attitude. He allegedly killed a popular singer in a hit-and-run accident but was never charged. "I once had to rescue him when he shot up a nightclub and attacked some members of the public," said Gen Shah. "I arranged military training to instil some discipline in him but he just never showed up to the classes."
Sreeram Chaulia wrote in the Strait Times: “Gyanendra committed a fatal error by displeasing India, the pre-eminent power of South Asia, by openly siding with China. For long, India was viewed in Nepal as a bulwark of the Shah dynasty that would rush in to prevent any loss of ground for the monarchs. Once Gyanendra misplayed his diplomatic cards, he lost appeal in New Delhi, emboldening his detractors at home to deliver the coup de grace... Gyanendra lost the game when the mainstream bourgeois parties shed their ambivalent or pro-royal sloughs and allied with the Maoist guerrillas waging violent insurrection. A Center-Left alliance in which the Left includes armed revolutionaries is a king’s nightmare.Gyanendra’s fall in Nepal owed a great deal to his failure to mobilise the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) on his side at a crucial juncture in 2006. The moment the RNA assumed a neutral non-interventionist stance and its top General advised the king to desist from his aggrandising path, the die was cast for Gyanendra. [Source: Sreeram Chaulia, Strait Times, June 11, 2008]
Deposed King Gyanendra Surrenders Crown and Moves Out of His Palace
In mid June 2008, Gyanendra left the salmon-pink Narayanhity royal palace in Kathamandu for good, relinquished his crown and moved to one of his former summer palaces on a forested hill in the outskirts of Kathmandu.. Randeep Ramesh wrote in The Guardian: “In a speech to the nation followed by his first ever press conference, Gyanendra said he accepted the decision of the country's newly elected assembly to end his reign. Wearing a traditional white, black and red Nepalese cap and black jacket, the former monarch said he had given the new legislators the Shah dynasty's symbols of power: the diamond-studded crown and a peacock-feather and yak-hair ceremonial scepter. "I have assisted in and respected the verdict of the people," Gyanendra said. He vowed not to go into exile, saying: "I will stay in the country to help establish peace." [Source: Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, June 11, 2008]
“The move is a symbolic but significant step. The monarchy was abolished two weeks ago under a deal between politicians and Maoist rebels to end a civil war that had raged for a decade. The price of peace was the creation of a republic, ending the rule of the Shah dynasty, which had been in charge of the country for 239 years. Flanked by hunting trophies — two stuffed tigers and a rhino head — Gyanendra dismissed suggestions he had anything to do with the palace bloodbath that led to his coronation in June 2001. The killings shattered the mystique surrounding the royal line, revered as reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu. "In 2001, I did not even get to mourn the deaths of my brother and sister-in-law and my nephews and nieces," Gyanendra said in the address. "The accusations that were targeted against us were inhuman."
Although he has lost the royal palaces and seen his state salary cut, Gyanendra remains a wealthy businessman with interests in tourism, tea and tobacco. "There was also an accusation that I have lots of property and money abroad," he said. "All my properties are in Nepal. All the properties I have are nationalised. In the last seven years I have not gathered any money or property."
According to the Los Angeles Times: “The boxy 1960s-era palace hints at the life the wannabe royals hope to recapture. Among the royal personal effects on display include numerous Hummel-style porcelain figurines of happy Swiss peasants, smiling Bo Peeps (with their sheep) and a naked woman (petting a dog), along with such self-educational classics as "1001 Wonderful Things" and "World's Greatest Paintings."”
Associated Press reported: “Gyanendra's departure closed the final chapter on the world's last Hindu monarchy, but a remnant stayed behind: the 94-year-old mistress of the deposed monarch's grandfather, who died more than a half-century ago. Few Nepalis knew of the mysterious elderly woman's existence until authorities announced that she would be allowed to continue living in the palace . The reason: the youngest mistress of King Tribhuwan, who ruled the Himalayan kingdom from 1911 until his death in 1955, has no house to move to or relatives to take her in. [Source: Associated Press, June 11, 2008]
“Gyanendra is to live as something akin to an ordinary citizen, albeit an incredibly wealthy one, protected by police. "I have no intention or thoughts to leave the country," Gyanendra said. "I will stay in the country to help establish peace." The former king and his wife pulled out of the palace gates in an armored black Mercedes at about 8: 45 p.m., followed by a police and army escort. A few loyalist onlookers shouted for Gyanendra to stay on the throne, but most of the several hundred people gathered were happy to see him go. "I came to see the end of a dark era," said Gopal Shakya, a shopkeeper in Kathmandu who watched the king leave the palace. "Tomorrow it will be a brand new beginning for Nepal."
Gyanendra Told He Has to Pay $1 Million Electricity Bill
In October 2008, Nepal’s State-owned electricity firm gave King Gyanendra 15 days to settle a $1 million electricity bill covering 22 properties and threatened to cut off the electricity if he and his relatives didn’t pay up. Associated Press reported: Gyanendra and his relatives have not paid the state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority since he seized absolute power in 2005. Arjun Karki, chief of the company, said 22 buildings and compounds are covered by the bills. Many are private residences of the ex-king and homes belonging to his daughter, sisters and cousins. Some of the buildings on the list, like the royal palaces, have since been nationalized by the government. [Source: Associated Press, October 23, 2008]
The company has given a 15-day deadline for the bills to be paid, Karki said. If they remain unpaid, the electricity will be cut off, he said. Karki said the electric company has asked the government for help clearing the bills. Gyanendra has been living in a summer retreat on the hills bordering Kathmandu. He is expected to move back to his old house where he lived before becoming king in 2001 after his brother's death in a palace massacre. Both of those homes are on the list of places where power will be shut off if the bills are not paid.
Nepal Palace Becomes a Museum
Narayanhiti Palace, the last place Gyanendra lived, was turned into a museum soon after he left. The palace contains the former king's crown and sceptre. Charles Haviland of the BBC wrote: “Four days after the former king of Nepal moved out of his palace forever, the government of Nepal has held its first public function in the building and has declared it a museum. Senior members of the Maoist former rebel party were present, thereby openly setting foot in the palace building for the first time. The authorities have wasted no time in moving to transform the huge former royal palace. They have even placed a board at the building reading "Narayanhiti Palace Museum". [Source: Charles Haviland, BBC News, June 16, 2008]
“One of its main attractions will be a 1939 Mercedes Benz given to former King Gyanendra's grandfather, King Tribhuvan, by Adolf Hitler. Like other cars at the time, it had to be carried to Kathmandu because rural Nepal had no roads. It is now rusting and derelict. Also likely to be on display are the priceless crown and sceptre which Gyanendra handed to the government.
As of 2012 the crown and sceptre were still not displayed. “We are keeping the crown and the ceremonial sceptre in a safe room in the palace as there are not enough security arrangements in place at the museum right now,” Lekh Bahadur Karki, chief of the Narayanhiti palace museum, told Reuters. “The government has decided to display them for public viewing. We’ll prepare a bullet-proof show case for the crown which will be put up at the Surkhet Baithak,” Karki said, referring to the room where former kings received their foreign guests. Nepal’s leading jewelers had been unable to put a monetary value on the crown, saying only it was “priceless”, Karki said. “Its security and safety is our prime concern. Our goal is to exhibit the crown in mid-July when the current fiscal year ends,” he added. [Source: Gopal Sharma, Reuters, March 19, 2012]
Gopal Sharma of Reuters wrote: The 1939 Mercedes Benz from Hitler was still “rusting in a dusty palace garage after an engineering college in Kathmandu, which used it to train mechanics, said it did not have enough money and spare parts to restore the antique car to its original form. In addition, authorities say they plan to rebuild the house in the same royal compound where the then-Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down his popular father King Birendra and eight other royals before turning the gun to himself in 2001, according to an official investigation. Only a six-inch brick outline remains of the building now.
The palace has become a popular tourist attraction. “It was nice to visit the rooms where the kings once lived and see some of their possessions,” 45-year-old housewife Poonam Bhandari, emerging from a room where two stuffed tigers were on show, told Reuters. “It is unbelievable that we can walk into what was once the king’s bedroom...I will come again to see the crown after it is displayed.”
View of the Monarchy in Modern Nepal
Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “Exactly how Nepalese regard the monarchy is hard to divine. In a spirited defense of the monarchy, a priest at a hilltop temple here said he prayed for the survival of a Hindu kingdom and urged Gyanendra to come and seek the blessings of the sage, Baba Goraknath, after whom this temple is named, to save his throne. “I don’t know if Baba likes Gyanendra or not,” said the priest, Ishwar Nath Yogi.” [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 3, 2008
Earlier in 2008, “Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoists’ second in command, climbed the steep stone steps to this temple and, bizarrely, offered prayers with his parents. The brothers Yogi gave their blessings, albeit reluctantly.
“In the shadow of the temple, a porter named Krishna Prasad Neupane, 48, carried backpacks for foreign tourists. “The king is very rich, and the poor are the ones who carry these loads,” he said. “We don’t need monarchy any more.” Dhanamaya Shrestha, 53, walking home uphill with a sack of vegetables, said she revered the slain king, Birendra, but not his brother. Even her 4-year-old grandson, she recounted, climbed a stool and tore down a picture of Gyanendra that had once hung at home.
“A glimpse into the king’s own wishes came from Tika Dhamala, a retired army general and the king’s former aide-de-camp. Politicians had misunderstood and maligned the king, he said. Nepalese, whom he called “innocent” and wedded to tradition, were not prepared for the instability of a Nepal without a king. “I’m feeling very uneasy,” he said. “Our society is not in a position to accept a complete type of republic.”“
More Trouble for Former Prince Paras Shah Makes
A few years after Nepalese monarchy was abolished, Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In a fit of pique, wannabe-crown prince Paras Shah fired into the air at a hotel dinner, embarrassing the family after months of carefully scripted appearances by father and son. "The resort incident has once again reminded the Nepali people that their former crown prince is still a trigger-happy guy, someone who cannot control himself once he is under the influence," the Republica newspaper wrote. "Happy hibernation ahead, Paras!" After the shot heard round Kathmandu, the prince issued a statement justifying on the grounds of patriotism his showdown with relatives of a deputy prime minister, a family he reportedly blames for introducing democracy. "I could not bear the insult of myself and the country," Paras said. No one expects him to serve time for allegedly firing an unregistered weapon and threatening people in a public place. But the fact he was even questioned — after renting a helicopter to travel to his brief detention — is seen as progress.” [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2010]
In 2012, Paras Shah was arrested for smashing property at a luxury apartment in Bangkok just a week after facing drug charges in Phuket. "The incident occurred during an argument with his Thai girlfriend. The property's owner estimated that 900,000 baht [US$30,000] of damage was done," said local police superintendent Colonel Chumpol Pumpuang. He said Shah, who denies the charges, had been bailed. Shah was flown to Bangkok for questioning after being seized in the tourist island of Phuket, where he was earlier arrested for drug possession. He was detained along with a Thai woman after the management of his condominium complained about his unruly behaviour. Police found roughly three grams of marijuana. Shah denied the drug charge and was freed on bail. [Source: AFP, December 7, 2012]
In 2019, Paras Shah suffered his third heart attack. The Himalayan Times reported: “Former Crown Prince Paras Shah suffered another heart attack, his third, today. Shah was taken to Norvic International Hospital at around 4: 00 pm after he experienced discomfort in his chest while attending a religious event in Patan. According to hospital sources, a team of cardiologists are involved in the former Prince’s treatment. His condition is said to have improved but there still are certain complications. Shah had survived a massive heart-attack in 2013 while he was residing in Thailand on his own, his recovery from which was considered to be medical miracle of sorts. The 2013 heart-attack was followed by another one in 2015.” [Source: Himalayan Times, January 28, 2019]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022