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Once a King, now a commoner

Source: PTI
June 11, 2008 21:53 IST
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Deposed king Gyanendra's exit from the Narayanhiti palace marks the sunset on Nepal's 240-year-old monarchy, completing the peaceful transition of the erstwhile Hindu kingdom to a secular republic.

The former king, who was once revered as demi-God, was dethroned on May 28 by a new Constituent Assembly dominated by former Maoist guerrillas, who had waged a decade-long war against the monarchy before joining the political mainstream.

Sixty-year-old Gyanendra, who assumed power in dramatic circumstances in 2001 after the killing of his elder brother Birendra in a palace massacre, has now become a commoner, three years after declaring himself an absolute ruler before the multi-party government clipped his wings following a massive mass movement against monarchy.

The former king leaves for Nagarjuna forest bungalow on the outskirts of Kathmandu a day before the expiry of a 15-day deadline set by the Constituent Assembly for him to vacate the royal palace. Gynendra has handed over the crown and other valuables before departing.

By dethroning Gyanendra, the historic meeting of the Constituent Assembly had accomplished the goal of the fiercely republican CPN-Maoist, set to rule the country after giving up their decade-long armed struggle in 2006 and inking a landmark pact with the mainstream parties later that year.

Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, born on July 7, 1947, ascended the throne after his brother King Birendra and his family were killed in the June 2001 massacre allegedly carried out by Crown Prince Dipendra at the royal palace.

Gyanendra's enthronement had intensified the three-way power struggle among Nepal's political parties, a spiralling violent Maoist movement and the King himself that finally culminated in the sacking of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government in October 2002.

A year later, Gyanendra declared a state of emergency and sent troops after the Maoist rebels when peace talks collapsed. He appointed a series of prime ministers -- Lokendra Bahadur Chand, Surya Bahadur Thapa and Deuba, who was sacked again in February 2005, after which the monarch assumed absolute power drawing international condemnation.

Gyanendra's ostensible reason for the royal coup, the first since Nepal had an elected prime minister in 1991, was that the government had failed to check Maoists led by Prachanda who was virtually running a parallel government in the country's rural areas.

The monarch insisted that he was still committed to democracy and multi-party rule and repeatedly pledged to hold general elections by 2007. Local elections, opposed by the rebels and political parties, took place in February 2006.

The King, traditionally believed by Nepalese as a reincarnation of Hindu deities, however, became increasingly unpopular following a crackdown on political parties, media and Maoists.

Nepal's seven main political parties and the Maoists teamed up to force Gyanendra give up dictatorial powers in April 2006.

The fiercely republican Maoists have been demanding the abolition of the monarchy since they ended their decade-long civil war after inking a peace deal in November 2006 with the government that took over from the King.

The interim Parliament stripped Gyanendra of all his powers in June last year, announced nationalisation of royal properties, removed the monarch's face from its currency and ended his mandatory presence at major national and religious functions.

The Maoists, led by Prachanda, however, were not satisfied and withdrew from the government in September 2007, demanding the immediate abolition of the monarchy.

Pushed by the Maoists, the interim parliament passed a resolution declaring Nepal a republic in December, subject to ratification by the first session of the Constituent Assembly, which happened on May 28.

Nepal's Supreme Court last month upheld the declaration of the parliament to strip the king of all his powers, dealing a major blow to the pro-monarchy supporters who had hoped to halt the expected abolition of the institution.

A surprise Maoist victory in the April 10 Constituent Assembly polls was the last nail in the coffin for the monarch as the former rebels with 220 seats emerged as the biggest party in the 601-member body that will rewrite the country's Constitution.

Maoist chief Prachanda has also opposed Gyanendra taking refuge in India or any other country saying he should stay in Nepal and manage his considerable business and wealth or join politics.

Gyanendra has had a tumultuous journey beginning from the age of three when he was made the king in November 1950 after the power tussle between his grandfather King Tribhuvan and his prime minister Mohan Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana escalated, and the monarch, fearful of his safety, fled to India.

King Tribhuvan's son, Crown Prince Mahendra and his eldest grandson Prince Birendra accompanied him while Gyanedra was left in the Narayanhiti palace.

Gyanendra was declared king by the then Prime Minister Rana till 7 January 1951. However, the Rana dynasty that had reduced the king to a figurehead while ruling the country through hereditary government positions was ousted following an uprising which led to the resignation of Mohan Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana, the last Rana premier and return of King Tribhuvan to Nepal.

Gyanendra studied in India at St. Josheph College in Darjeeling and graduated from Tribhuwan University in Kathmandu. He married Queen Komal in 1970 and had two children, Crown Prince Paras and Princess Prerana Rajya Laxmi Shah.

King Tribhuvan was succeeded in 1955 by his son Mahendra who gave Nepal its first taste of democracy 1959. However, King Mahendra in 1960 sacked the first elected government of B P Koirala, banned political parties and began absolute rule with the army's support.

Till 1990, Nepalese lived under a 'partlyless democracy' called the panchayat system. Mahendra was succeeded by son Birendra in 1974.

Sandwiched between giants India and China, Nepal's foreign policy involved a balancing act between these two Asian powers, though a ruling Hindu dynasty led to affinity with New Delhi.

A 'People's Movement' in 1990 by political parties led to Nepal being declared a constitutional monarchy with an elected government.

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