Royalists celebrate as Nepal’s last king conquers family curse

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Thousands of men, women and children, dressed in their finery, flocked to celebrate Nepal’s last king Gyanendra’s 62nd birthday as drummers rolled out thundering beats and dancers wearing traditional masks leapt up in the air, creating a carnival-like spectacle.

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One year after he was stripped of his crown and turned out of his ancestral palace, the deposed king looked relaxed and benign as he talked smilingly with followers who plied him with bouquets and khadas – traditional Buddhist scarves of silk – expressing their desire for the restoration of monarchy.

Attendants at Nirmal Niwas, the imposing red-brick mansion in Kathmandu where Gyanendra had lived before he became king in 2001 after the assassination of his elder brother Birendra, said the crowds had started pouring in at 10.30 a.m. braving first showers and then scorching heat.

The former king, gracious in adversity, would be receiving tributes from followers till late in the evening, officials said.

Though Nepal’s lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last year to abolish monarchy, it did not quench the ardour of royalists who said the rapidly deteriorating law and order situation and the growing skirmishes between the political parties proved that Nepal would not get peace by jettisoning its crown.

“When the pro-democracy movement started in 2006, everyone said that once the king was ousted, there would be peace and progress,” said Durga Shrestha, who had been appointed minister for women, children and social welfare after the king staged a coup with the help of the army in 2005 and declared himself head of government.

“Now it’s been a year since the king is gone. But where is peace and prosperity? Things are even worse with the parties fighting for power and not caring for the people.

“The Maoists, who abolished monarchy, formed the government after acquiring majority in the house. But look at how long their government lasted. Just nine months. And now, people have already begun counting the days, not even months, till the next government falls.”

The deposed king himself echoed the sentiments of his subjects in the message he issued on the occasion of his birthday.

“I am extremely perturbed, worried and shocked that even after (a year since I left the palace) there has been no improvement in the condition of the country and my beloved countrymen,” the message said.

“I remain committed to the ideals followed by my forefathers and uphold nationalism, unity and progressive democracy.

“My ancestors and Nepalis built this nation that is like a flower garland, comprising the Himalayan ranges, mountains and the Terai plains. I urge you not to let this be destroyed by internal strife and external animosity.”

There have been two governments since the formal abolition of monarchy last year and since the past two months, Nepal’s parliament lay under siege by the Maoists, raising fears that the new constitution would not be drafted within the deadline next May.

Though the former guerrillas Monday allowed the house to sit again, they have threatened to begin a blockade if their demands are not met within a month.

Besides the disarray among the political parties, who brought about his downfall, Gyanendra has another reason to rejoice on his 62nd birthday.

The former king now becomes the second-longest living male member of his dynasty.

Only his great-great-great-great grandfather Rajendra Bir Bikram Shah, who died at 68, had lived longer in the dynasty that was cursed by early mortality.

Gyanendra’s brother Birendra, whom he succeeded, was killed at the age of 56. Their father Mahendra died of a heart attack at 52 while grandfather Tribhuvan died when he was only 49.

But ironically, while Gyanendra outlived almost all the previous kings of Nepal and was the sole scion to have been crowned twice, his reign was the shortest: just 14 months.