IN NEPAL, THE END OF MONARCHY IS NEAR
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
KATHMANDU, April 29, 2006 -- The anger against King Gyanendra is running so high in Nepal that many people don't even like to pronounce his name, associated as it is with ruthless dictatorial rule since he grabbed power by sacking the elected government and dissolving Nepal's parliament.
He was forced to back down and reinstate the parliament last week as tens of thousands of people marched in Kathmandu demanding the complete end of his rule.
"Exile or hand over power," was the only alternative offered to the king at the height of the peaceful demonstrations launched by an alliance of seven political parties and supported by Maoists and people from all walks of life.
The demonstrators defied a royal curfew and chanted slogans across the country, one of them translated as, "Thief Gyanendra, leave the country!" Gyanendra's ambition to be a dictator King is lost forever, and the continued existence of ceremonial monarchy is in doubt.
There is so much hatred, anger and distrust against the monarchy - which was revered as an incarnation of Hindu God Vishnu until a few years ago - that recovery of even a limited role for the King seems unlikely now.
The demonstrations against the King were the largest in the history of Nepal, and the first to target the King himself. For the first time in this small Himalayan nation landlocked between India and China, more than half a million people crowded the ancient streets of Kathmandu in the third week of April, determined to pull the King out of his palace.
Gyanendra never spoke a single word about the demonstrations against him until two weeks into the movement, when he suddenly made three speeches in one week in a desperate effort to cling to power with the support of army and security forces. They in turn are accused of gross violations of human rights for killing innocent people participating in the peaceful demonstrations for the cause of freedom.
Nepalese living around the world from America to Japan came to the streets to protested and demand in one voice ‘the end of monarchy rule in Nepal.'
King Gyanendra did not listen. Instead, he enjoyed a vacation in Pokhara, a resort town 120 miles west of Kathmandu, as if nothing had happened in Nepal even as demonstrations were held across the country and around the globe.
The international community, including the United States, India, the European Union, Japan and the United Nations urged the king to initiate a dialogue with the major political parties and restore democracy. He turned a deaf ear to all of them. Instead, his Security forces suppressed the demonstrators with bullets, tear gas shells and baton charges while the king and his companions enjoyed their days in the resort town and visited temples, signing autographs for small children like a film star.
Newspapers criticised him as King Nero, who supposedly played his fiddle while Rome burned. Gyanendra vacationed as gory photos of badly injured protestors were published around the world when security forces ruthlessly cracked down on pro-democracy supporters.
At least 16 persons were shot dead by the Royal Nepalese Army and police under control of the king, and more than 2,000 were injured - almost all of them were shot in the head. More than 100 were seriously wounded, and over 4,000 were detained across the country. The blood, tears and sorrow is not possible to describe in words.
The King's home minister sought to suppress the peaceful demonstrators in the name of the Maoists, who are outlawed and have engaged in many acts of terrorism during their decade-long armed struggle against the King. "There are Maoists in the demonstrations of the parties - this is not peaceful," the official charged.
That ploy did not work. A sea of people came down to the streets. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, journalists, teachers and even government employees working in the office of the Prime Minister protested that the king was not acceptable to the people. The king, who was known as hardliner even before he came to the throne, appeared to take little notice.
Even when Gyanendra finally relented, demonstrators chanted that "The new prime minister should not take oath of office with King Gyanendra at the Narayanhity Royal Palace" as they participated in the huge mass meeting held in Kathmandu last Thursday.
Large billboards bearing a message from King Gyanendra were destroyed across the country, including in the Ratnapark area just in front of the palace. Photographs of the King are no long sold in the markets, and there is more anger against the King and the royal family than could have been imagined a few monthsago.
"We do not accept King Gyanendra even if he becomes completely powerless and ceremonial," said the President of Nepal Bar Association, Shambhu Thapa, speaking at the mass meeting.
"[A] peoples' representatives should have the right to be President and be in the Narayanhity Royal Palace," said Bishnu Nishthuri, president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists.
Those are representative voices of Nepal.
Until he took power from the elected government, such remarks could be heard only from the Maoists, who have been struggling to end the King's rule since 1996 in a guerilla war that has claimed over 13,000 lives. But now, from the general public to the leaders of the political parties, a near-consensus of Nepalese leaders are expressing commitments to hold elections for the constituent assembly that seems certain to be the end of monarchy, which ruled the country for more than 237 years.
Meanwhile, prime minister designate Girija Prasad Koirala registered his proposal for a constituent assembly at the 205-member Lower House of Parliament. If the election of the assembly is held, the monarchy is certain to be abolished, said leader of the major leftist party, Bam Dev Gautam. "So is the wish of the people."
The king was compelled by the mass demonstrations of April to revive the House, which he had dissolved by royal decree in 2002. "Either he had to flee or revive the House; there was not any alternative," a diplomat from a Western country told the American Reporter. Ultimately, Gyanendra did the right thing even if it was too late, and saved the monarchy at least for the time being, he said.
Protestors tried some new approaches during the mass demonstations. Some held symbolic funeral processions for King Gyanendra, blowing conch shells - a Hindu symbol of death - and shaved their heads, as they traditionally do for the deasth of a king. Organizers endured that anti-monarchy demonstrations reached all the way from small villages to Nepalese living in major cities around the world, including New York and Washington, D.C. Ultimately, almost every country where Nepalese live saw demonstrations against Gyanendra's rule.
It was the first time in modern history that the King or any Nepalese official was so detested, independent political observers say.
AR Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal has contributed to our pages since 1999, when he visited the United States under the sponsorship of the U.S, Information Agency, and was the first reporter to warn of King Gyanendra's plan to dissolve Parliament in 2003. He is currently in London and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org