September 11, 2010


[Four years after his attempt to rule the country directly with the help of the army misfired, people have begun to forget the atrocities committed by the royal regime, thanks to the failure of the deposed king's successors. The political parties' inability to put selfish interests before national ones and give people good governance has alienated them while the recurring failure to elect a new prime minister has made them the butt of ridicule.]

The Gorkha Durbar,  where King Prithivi Narayan Shah
was born in 1723  to unite small principalities into present Nepal.
This House of Gurkhas was founded by Drabya 
Shah in 1559
KATHMANDU: Defying a demand by the Maoists to cancel his public programme in eastern Nepal on Saturday, deposed king Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah reached Biratnagar, the home town of pro-democracy leader Girija Prasad Koirala, to inaugurate a religious festival amidst tight security and calls by royalists for the restoration of monarchy.

The 63-year-old's visit to the industrial town on the border with 
India to inaugurate the Ganapati Chaturthi festival in honour of the elephant-headed god of success had become controversial after the local Maoist cadres opposed his participation and the Maoist mouthpiece Janadisha daily reported earlier during the week that it had been called off.

Though the once all-powerful king became a commoner in 2008 and today, claims his right to attend all the public programmes he wants to, the sudden spurt in these attendances has caused his former archenemy, the Maoists, wariness. Less than a week earlier, on Monday, Gyanendra had inaugurated a Saptarisheshwar Mahadev temple in Futung. Since March, when he attended a mahayajna on the Pashupatinath temple grounds calling for the reinstatement of a Hindu state in Nepal, the last king of Nepal has been especially heading for towns in the southern plains, a region once neglected by his dynasty for generations but now turning out to be the staunchest bastion of Hinduism.

Not just the former king, even his son Paras, who was a target of public dislike during his days as a prince and crown prince, has also begun foraying in the Terai plains, inaugurating a temple, a school and even a community eye hospital. Call it a coincidence or part of the new strategy, even Paras' wife, the former crown princess Himani, last month inaugurated a drinking water project in Dolakha in northern Nepal.

The frequency of these programmes is now worrying the Maoists, cornered by the failure of their chief, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, to win the prime ministerial race seven times in a row. Last month, the local Maoist cadre tried to disrupt Himani's programme, calling it a ploy to campaign for the restoration of monarchy.

Four years after his attempt to rule the country directly with the help of the army misfired, people have begun to forget the atrocities committed by the royal regime, thanks to the failure of the deposed king's successors. The political parties' inability to put selfish interests before national ones and give people good governance has alienated them while the recurring failure to elect a new prime minister has made them the butt of ridicule.

Though the parties had pledged to promulgate a new constitution in May, they failed to keep their commitment and plunged the country into an unprecedented crisis. While the crisis was averted for a year with parliament giving them another 12 months to accomplish the deed, more than four months have elapsed since then with the task of constitution-drafting coming to a standstill. The failure to deliver a new constitution in May 2011 will bolster royalists, who are already calling for a referendum to decide if monarchy should be given a second chance.

The Times of India
[King Gyanendra came to the Nepalese throne after the heir, Crown Prince Dipendra, shot his father King Birendra, his mother Queen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family before killing himself at Kathmandu's Narayanhity Royal Palace on June 1, 2001. In Gyanendra's first foreign-media interview, TIME's Alex Perry met him in his palace office.]

TIME: Where is Nepal heading?

Gyanendra: The future of Nepal, yes, lies in constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. Economically, it lies in openness and competition, and in joining the WTO [World Trade Organization]. Socially, we are in a difficult phase: some infrastructure, some of the basic things that were gelling the country together, have been trampled. There has been a lot of injury to much of rural Nepal, which needs to be addressed.

TIME: Why did you sack the elected government 16 months ago?

Gyanendra: I did not dismiss the government on Oct 4, 2002, out of my own free will. Are you saying I liked doing what I did, what I had to do? The compulsions of those days made me do what I had to. I was given a written request by the Prime Minister [Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was acting] on the advice of all the parties to invoke the last clause of the constitution [which, as a last resort in a national crisis, allows the King to take "appropriate measures" to safeguard the country]. So I was surprised when the parties accused us of regression. I had become regressive on their advice.

Now, we can go on debating forever whether it was the correct thing to do. I thought it was my constitutional obligation, otherwise the constitution was as good as dead. Don't forget I am the constitution's custodian: as long as it is there, I am going to pull everyone within its ambit. And had I not acted as I did, I think that Nepal would be in a worse situation that it is today.

TIME: What's the way out of the impasse that has developed?

Gyanendra: Even at that time, I asked the parties to come with a consensus government. Recently, I also met all the political leaders and I have asked them to put the nation and people first, to come to me with a government made up of all the parties. That is my roadmap, my agenda. I personally believe there is nothing that cannot be solved by dialogue and there is no issue that cannot be addressed within the ambit of the constitution.

But for that, the government of the day and the political leadership of Nepal must be pro-nation, pro-people. Everyone talks about the impasse between the "triangle" of the Maoists, the political parties and the palace. But this country is not a triangle. They are forgetting the most important component of any nation: the people. Who is going to talk for the people? If the Maoists are not, if the political parties are not, if they don't want to, then shouldn't the King? Someone must.

TIME: I've heard that a lot, that many people wish the parties could just put personal ambition aside, forget the competition to be Prime Minister and the rivalry and the corrupt rewards of office, and plain grow up.

Gyanendra: Well, you said it, not me. But I wish the political leadership would understand this and speak more often about the people rather than issues which are irrelevant, which only concern their own betterment.

You see, I see myself as accountable to the people. If they don't want to be, then I'm sorry. Much of the ill we have suffered is not because of the democratic political system, it's because of the actors in the system. All I'm saying is stop saying 'me.' Say 'us.' Stop saying 'party.' Say 'people.' We do have our own characteristics, culture and value systems in Nepal and democracy must be, if you like, tuned into these. But if the parties start viewing issues from that point of view, I see no problem in the democratic system functioning in Nepal.

TIME: Are you worried about recent student protests demanding a republic?

Gyanendra: Should it concern me? Is that public sentiment? Yes I agree the monarchy in Nepal does conduct itself according to the aspirations and hopes of the people. It reflects those. But my government has advised me that these protests might be only pressure tactics [by political opponents]. And anyway, the government has a job to uphold the law of the land. Does the law allow them to say things like this?

TIME: What do you say to the parties' accusations that you're essentially an autocrat only interested in restoring power to the palace?

Gyanendra: If some people do not understand me, if there is mistrust and a crisis of confidence, let's do something about it. In a democracy, the street might be the place to do something, yes, but there are other ways of solving the issue: quiet diplomacy is also an accepted form of dialogue.

And, they are right, it should not be my role to point the way out of this crisis. I should not have any active responsibilities [in government]. As a constitutional monarch what I should be doing, on any issue that effects the betterment of the people, [is to] either make suggestions or warnings, or simply keep myself informed. And yet on the other hand, the reality is: the people of Nepal want to see their King, they want to hear from him. The days of royalty being seen and not heard are over. We're in the 21st century. It's not that I am taking an active role. I see it as a constructive role. If I step on some people's toes, I'm sorry. But I can assure you this: the monarchy is not going to allow anyone to usurp the fundamental rights of the people, and those who say they represent the people must learn to lead the people, not be led by them and have the courage to have a vision of prosperity for the people and the nation.

TIME: People see you as very different to your late brother, King Birendra.

Gyanendra: Too many people misunderstood my brother too. They took his kindness for weakness and they exploited that. I know many people realize how peace-loving and how development-oriented he was, but I ask them to realize how close we were. His role was very, very constructive too and I think mine is just an extension of that. The circumstances I face are slightly different so our styles are slightly different. But just because I have spelled out what I want to do does not make me any better or any worse.

TIME: What if the parties continue to refuse your demands?

Gyanendra: That means they want to carry on playing musical chairs in government. [Nepal has had 12 governments since the arrival of parliamentary democracy in 1990.] But is that what we really want? And I think they are realizing that I am serious.

TIME: How close is Nepal to becoming, as many have warned, a failed state?

Gyanendra: It's not happening. It's a cliché that you all love. There is a vacuum, yes, a political vacuum. And whatever efforts the security agencies are making will come to little unless this is filled. Previous governments did not have the foresight, the tactfulness to address the issues, the poverty of the common man. Or they addressed in such an inhuman way that those areas developed into the hot spots we have today.