Nepal’s last king Gyanendra heads for Bhopal

February 25th, 2009 - 3:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 25 (IANS) Nepal’s last king Gyanendra, whose rash decision to seize absolute power with the help of the army four years ago resulted in the abolition of his 239-year-old crown, Wednesday began a nearly three-week-long private visit to India, his first trip abroad since stepping down as head of government in 2006.

Refused a diplomatic passport by the Maoist government of Nepal, the former king begins his first visit abroad as a commoner, accompanied by a shrunken entourage that includes his wife, former queen Komal, sister former princess Shova Shahi, and officials from his secretariat.

The 62-year-old will attend the wedding of a distant niece that is expected to bring former royals and politicians from India and Nepal together in Bhopal city in India’s Madhya Pradesh state.

King Tribhuvan, Gyanendra’s grandfather, had two queens who bore him three sons and four daughters. One of them, Princess Bharati, married the former king of Mayurbhanj in India’s Orissa state, Pradeep Chandra Bhanj Deo.

One of their daughters, the Kolkata-born Padma Manjari, married a scion of the former royal family of Kalahandi in Orissa and Janata Dal leader Udit Pratap Deo.

The pair’s daughter Shri Manjari will marry another former royal family member of India, Bhanwar Anant Vijay Singh, in a lavish ceremony in Bhopal from Feb 28 to March 1.

Gyanendra leaves Nepal by Jet Airways to reach New Delhi first. The departure, unmarked by any pomp or presence of officials, underscores the new changed status of the former king who was formally stripped of his crown by Nepal’s elected lawmakers in May 2008 and ordered to quit the royal palace.

The India visit will spare the last king of Nepal, who was regarded as the incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu and to be above law, the pangs of watching his former family residence be thrown open to the public Friday as a national museum when curious onlookers can saunter into his old bedroom and other forbidden areas, including the rubbles of an old mansion where the infamous massacre of 10 royal family members occurred in 2001.

The former king’s secretariat told IANS it would be a purely private visit during which the group will also go to Gujarat and visit the Somnath temple. Besides the wedding and meeting with relatives, the former king will also be on a pilgrimage.

However, Nepal’s media is agog with reports that the once over-ambitious monarch would also be meeting Indian leaders, including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, India’s former special representative to Nepal Karan Singh, who is also related to the former Nepal royals by marriage, and L.K. Advani, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party that had once supported monarchy in Nepal.

The royal coup of 2005 was criticised by India that subsequently played a major role in ending monarchy in Nepal.

New Delhi brought together the Maoist guerrillas, who were waging a civil war since 1996 to topple monarchy, and the political parties, whose united opposition ended the royal regime in April 2006.

Royalists have since then blamed India for the collapse of monarchy in what was once the world’s only Hindu kingdom.

After the king’s fall, Nepal’s parliament declared the nation a secular federal republic.

Following his exit from his ancestral Narayanhity palace in June 2008, the king said in a rare interview that he had angered India by proposing to include China in regional grouping SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation).

Almost a year after the abolition of monarchy, Nepal today has mixed feelings towards the last king.

Many still regard him as having been behind the palace massacre that killed then king Birendra and his entire family and paved the way for Gyanendra to ascend the throne.

On the day he left the palace for ever, the last king defended himself vigorously against the suspicion, calling it untrue.

With the new Maoist government unable to provide good governance and Nepal reeling under an unprecedented power crisis, inflation and insecurity, diehard royalists however are raising demands for the restoration of monarchy.

“It doesn’t have to be an omnipotent crown,” said Ghanshyam Giri, a royalist whose Nepal Deshbhakta Prajatantra Party has in the past contested elections. “But the king has always been a unifying force in Nepal and we need to have that cohesive force back.”

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