Nepal ignores last king’s birthday

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s last king Gyanendra’s first birthday as a commoner Monday was a spectacularly low-key affair with the government and media ignoring the occasion and attempts by diehard royalists to celebrate the event fizzling out.

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Stripped of his ancestral crown in May and compelled to make his exit from the palace of his forefathers last month, Gyanendra’s 61st birthday had no effect on the capital, that remained engrossed in the deepening feud between the parties in the caretaker parliament.

“I was asked to go to the gate of the Nagarjuna palace to wish His Majesty,” said Bharat Bahadur Bisural, the Nepali wrestler known as the Himalayan Tiger. “But I refused. I have been invited to go to Qatar and I have to discuss the tour with the organisers.”

In the past, the hefty wrestler with flowing locks had been arranging wrestling matches on the occasion of the king’s birthday.

An aggrieved Bisural said he had approached the former crown prince Paras, projected as the patron of sports, to help promote wrestling in Nepal.

“But he didn’t do anything,” the Himalayan Tiger growled.

Nepal stopped observing July 7 as a public holiday from last year, after parliament had stripped Gyanendra of all powers and privileges to punish him for trying to take up the reins of government through an army-backed coup in 2005.

The black-tie gala party thrown by Queen Komal last year to celebrate the king’s 60th birthday turned out to be a damp squib with diplomats, ministers, top government officials and the who’s who of Nepal’s society staying away.

To add to the woes of the palace, the Maoists took out angry protest rallies in the capital, condemning what they said were the king’s attempts to still project himself as head of state.

The remoteness of the Nagarjuna summer palace, where the former royals have been staying since their departure from the Narayanhity palace, perhaps contributed to the dramatic drop in the number of visitors.

In the past, long lines snaked up at the Narayanhity with subjects offering the king best wishes as well as receiving his blessings.

However, now Narayanhity having been turned into a national museum and Nagarjuna being too far away, the number of wellwishers dwindled significantly.

Conspicuous by his absence from the celebrations was Paras, who left for Singapore last week, reportedly to find good schools for his three children.

On his return, the former king and queen would lose the solace of their grandchildren, who would live in Singapore with their mother, former crown princess Himani.