Birthday blues for dethroned Nepal king

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s dethroned king Gyanendra’s 61st birthday falls Monday and this time it will be a sombre occasion – the first ever as a commoner outside the Narayanhity palace since he was stripped of his crown and compelled to leave the royal premises.

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It will be exactly 39 days since the formal abolition of his 239-year-old crown by Nepal’s newly elected lawmakers and 25 days since he left the palace where five kings of the Shah dynasty had lived to go into virtual exile on the outskirts of the capital.

Since an unprecedented press conference in the palace on June 11, hours before his final exit, in which the deposed king said he would remain in Nepal and work for the benefit of the people, Gyanendra has been keeping a low profile, attracting almost no media attention.

A former royalist minister, Kamal Thapa, ruled out the possibility of Gyanendra launching a political party of his own, pointing out that royalist parties already exist, including his own Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal.

Besides the stunning change in his fortune, the ex-king’s birthday would also be saddened by the departure of his son and heir, former crown prince Paras, for Singapore last week.

The 37-year-old is said to have disregarded his father’s advice and gone abroad in search of an appropriate school for his three young children. Once he decides on a school in Singapore, the three would also fly out with their mother, the former crown princess Himani.

Besides his son’s children, the former king could also have to say farewell to his daughter and her family.

Gyanendra’s son-in-law, commoner Raj Bahadur Singh who exploited his father-in-law’s clout during the royal regime to expand his businesses, has accompanied Paras to Singpaore. It is anticipated that Singh would try to leave the country along with his wife, former princess Prerana, and their school-going son.

Determined to treat the former king as a commoner who enjoys no special privileges, the government has not formed a special committee, as in the past, to celebrate his birthday. Nor would Prime Miniser Girija Prasad Koirala issue any public greetings.

Till last year, it was the custom for royalists to queue up at the Narayanhity royal palace to offer best wishes to the king. However, now with the palace having been turned into a national museum, it is out of bounds for former royalty as well as royalists.

It remains to be seen if there will be the same turnout Monday at the Nagarjuna summer palace, that has been temporarily loaned to the former king by the government.

But some diehard followers of the crown publicly proclaimed their plan to celebrate the birthday Monday.

The Dharmapath Youth Club, a little-known organisation in Kathmandu, began postering walls around the palace, wishing the former king a long life.

However, the dethroned king would have some solace. More than a month after his ouster, the political instability and violence continue to worsen in Nepal.

The Maoists, who won the April election that signalled the end of monarchy, have not been able to form the new government due to wrangling between the ruling parties and fresh protests from Nepal’s Terai parties in support of an autonomous state in south Nepal have continued to paralyse the caretaker parliament for nearly a fortnight.

The ruling parties have also not been able to elect the first president of republic Nepal, who would succeed the king as head of state and there is growing disenchantment with the squabbling political leaders, even within their own parties.

Three years ago, a similar situation had helped Gyanendra seize power with the help of the army without immediate public opposition. If the public disenchantment with the parties grows, some analysts say the restoration of monarchy in future can’t be ruled out.