Nepal king calls for reconciliation


Kathmandu : Pushing aside attempts by Maoists to prevent him from playing any significant public role, Nepal’s embattled King Gyanendra Sunday issued a message for the nation, calling for unity and reconciliation.

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Though the government has tried to strip the king of all political, cultural and religious roles since last year in retaliation for his having tried to rule the country through an army-backed coup, the king Sunday refused to stop issuing the traditional message to the nation delivered each year on the occasion of Vijaya Dashami, the 10th day of Nepal’s biggest Hindu festival Dashain.

“Beloved countrymen,” the short message said, “On the occasion of our joyous festival that is a vehicle for nurturing dignity, good thoughts, cooperation and affection, we express our good wishes for the happiness, peace and prosperity of all Nepalis at home and abroad.

“We pray to Goddess Navadurga Bhavani that the country progresses through unity and reconciliation and sees lasting peace.”

Officials said the Narayanhity Palace would be open to the public from the afternoon for the traditional tika ceremony – when elders bless youngsters by smearing vermilion on their forehead.

In the past, when the king was the constitutional head of state, it was the custom for the prime minister, his cabinet and heads of other constitutional bodies to gather at the palace and receive the king’s blessings.

However, the king’s attempt to impose a royal regime triggered a public uprising last year and forced him to surrender power. The new government said it would hold an election to let people decide if they wanted a monarchy or a republic, and suspended monarchy till the election.

Though the king’s privileges as head of state went to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, conservative Hindus still remain loyal to the monarch.

Analysts say that while the king has allowed Koirala to take over his role as chief of the army and the government, he is battling to retain his position as a key player in Hindu festivals, which conservatives say are incomplete without the crown.

Earlier this year, the king issued another traditional message on Democracy Day, defending his takeover.

It created a furore, and parliament asked the government to punish him for the act of defiance.

However, like most punitive actions announced against the palace, it too was swept under the carpet after the hullabaloo died down.

On Sunday, Koirala also issued an official message, promising fresh election dates soon.

The government had agreed to hold the election in November but postponed it indefinitely, for the second time, after the Maoists quit the cabinet last month and waged war on the polls.

Since then, differences between the rebels and the prime minister have been deepening, paralysing Nepal’s fragile peace process.

The rebels called a special session of parliament to address their demand for the immediate abolition of monarchy and a proportional election system.

When parliament convenes after the long Dashain holidays, the debate will resume. If the Maoists lose the debate, they have threatened to start a new revolt.

As the ruling parties and the rebels squabble, the economy lies in a shambles, the security situation is fast deteriorating, and there is an acute fuel crisis.

The delay in deciding the fate of the country’s over two centuries-old monarchy could be strengthening the king’s hand with people forgetting the hardship imposed by the royal regime and growing increasingly disillusioned with the new government.