Nepal king leaves royal palace

Nepal’s besieged King Gyanendra has left the Narayanhity royal palace from where his ancestors had ruled for generations, probably his final exit as the last king of a nearly 250-year dynasty.

“The king left the palace for his summer residence Nagarjuna palace (about eight kilometres north of Kathmandu) around 9 p.m. Thursday,” said Kishore Shrestha, editor of the Nepali weekly Jana Aastha.

The tabloid, a close watcher of the royal family, had said Wednesday that the king, accompanied by his wife Queen Komal, would exit the palace Thursday in a bid to avoid an “undignified tussle with the rabble”.

The report led to a media siege of the palace gates, where reporters and photographers kept vigil till late Thursday in a vain bid to record what could be the last departure of the king from his palace.

But the royal entourage departed only after the media had packed up and left disappointed.

The once Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, whose kings were revered as incarnations of a Hindu god and considered above law, is rapidly moving towards a new chapter next week when an assembly elected by a historic poll last month is expected to ring the death knell of monarchy.  

On Wednesday, the 601-member constituent assembly will hold its first meeting, which, according to the Maoists who emerged as the biggest party in the poll, will transform Nepal into a republic, and ask the royal family to leave the palace.

To facilitate the radical change, the assembly members will be sworn in Tuesday.

Readying for the change, the government has started drafting an ordinance for the ceremony.

The king, who issued two statements last month, first urging his “beloved countrymen” to vote without fear in the April 10 constituent assembly election and then welcoming the results, has maintained an enigmatic silence since then.

The royal silence fed contradictory rumours.

A section of the Nepali media speculated that the strong-willed king would refuse to vacate the palace even after Wednesday and had instructed the large contingent of soldiers deployed inside the palace to defend it against “invading mobs”.

Others said that the Maoists, who are trying to form the next government, had assured the king that there would be no threat to his life and property, following which he was quitting the palace well before the deadline to avoid confrontation.

Still others said that the Maoist hardliners, who had warned that the king would be forcibly evicted from the palace after Wednesday, had been bringing in cadres to surround the palace and stage a show of force.

On Friday, Indian Ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood met Maoist chief Prachanda to inquire about the new government and the new head of state.

While the Maoists want an all-powerful president, the other major parties, however, are rooting for a ceremonial president with the prime minister to be the real source of power.

Once an omnipotent monarch, Nepal’s kings began losing their power in 1990 when a pro-democracy uprising forced the then king Birendra to lift the ban on political parties and become a constitutional monarch who remained the decorative head of state while an elected prime minister exercised the real power.

Nepalis feel monarchy would not have come to the present pass had the king and his entire family not perished in a mysterious massacre in the palace in 2001.

Birendra’s younger brother and successor Gyanendra stepped out of constitutional monarchy and began controlling the government.

In 2005, dispensing with all subterfuge, he seized power with an army-backed coup and began ruling the kingdom directly.

The 14-month authoritarian royal regime, marked by corruption and nepotism, stoked nationwide protests and forced the king to surrender power in April 2006.

The disenchanted nation then vowed to hold a first-time election to put the monarchy to vote.

The April 10 election saw 17.6 million voters choose change and welcome the Maoist guerrillas, who had fought a 10-year war trying to overthrow the royal family, while giving the thumbs-down to the king.

“As you sow, so you reap,” said Shrestha. “If the king had not engineered the coup, he would not be where he is today.”

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