King of Nepal's god-like status shaken

Nepal’s King Gyanendra, who has pledged to “return sovereignty to the people” after massive and violent street protests, has seen his god-like status badly shaken.

Now, with demonstrators’ cries of “Hang the king” and “Leave the palace, we will run the country” still ringing in the air, the question remains whether the wily king can remain on the throne or even whether the monarchy as an institution will survive in the desperately poor nation.

King Gyanendra was vaulted to the throne in June 2001 in bizarre circumstances when his brother, King Birendra, and other royals were murdered at the palace in an attack blamed on a drunken crown prince who later shot himself.

But the unsmiling monarch never attained the popularity of his more genial, well-loved brother, who was seen as a symbol of unity in Nepal.

The monarch, traditionally revered as the incarnation of the Hindu god of protection, Lord Vishnu, sacked the government and seized power in February last year, saying the move was necessary to crush a deadly, decade-old Maoist revolt.

King Gyanendra gave himself three years to restore elected rule and end the insurgency. But instead he was forced on Friday to announce he was cutting short his absolute rule after just 14 months.

During that time, he became even more unpopular and the political parties formed a loose pro-democracy alliance with the Maoists.

Gyanendra was best known before he became king for the nightclub antics of his errant son Paras, who is now crown prince.

King Gyanendra had missed the 2001 massacre because he was away in the west of Nepal. Paras was present but escaped unscathed.

Maoist rebels accused the king of stage-managing the killings and at his coronation large crowds shouted slogans against him.
An official probe found that Crown Prince Dipendra was responsible for the massacre.

Some observers have compared King Gyanendra’s style to that of his autocratic father, King Mahendra, who staged a coup in 1960 against the then-elected government. Mahendra imposed a party-less system that remained in place until 1990.

King Gyanendra has a reputation as politically shrewd, but is believed to have opposed Birendra’s decision in 1990 to reduce the monarchy to a constitutional figurehead.

He was educated at a Jesuit school in Darjeeling, India, and graduated from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu in 1969.

King Gyanendra, the middle son of Mahendra, is said to be one of the world’s wealthiest royals, with substantial properties and investments abroad. He is known for his keen interest in poetry and the environment.

During political upheavals in 1950, he was declared monarch at the age of five after being left behind as insurance when King Tribhuvan—his grandfather—fled to India.

The crown reverted back to his grandfather when the family returned a year later and Birendra took over the throne in 1972.

Kapil Shrestha, an academic and one of hundreds of people detained during the protests, said earlier this month that while the majority of Nepalese want some form of monarchy, they do not want King Gyanendra.

“Whether he likes it or not, the country is heading towards a republic. People don’t want to abolish the monarchy, but he himself is hastening the process,” said Shrestha, a professor of politics at Tribhuvan University.

One disillusioned royal subject was Kathmandu shopkeeper Shiva Hari.

Despite rubber-bullet wounds on his face and arm received in an earlier protest, Hari returned to the streets this week, screaming anti-royal slogans, getting tear-gassed and stoning the police.

“The king is not thinking about the people. He is dominating people with power, with tear gas and bullets,” Hari said.—Sapa-AFP

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