Ousted Nepal king likely to keep old palace

June 4th, 2008 - 11:55 am ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 4 (IANS) Stripped of his crown and asked to leave the Narayanhity palace here by next week, Nepal’s deposed king Gyanendra had fortune smile on him for the first time since the fall of his government with the ruling parties, including the Maoists, agreeing to let him move into another old palace. The former king is likely to take up residence as a commoner in the summer residence of the former royal family - the Nagarjuna palace amidst forested hills, about eight kilometres northwest of the capital.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress party is also sympathetic to the king-turned-commoner’s request that his 80-year-old stepmother, who had lived in the Narayanhity palace through the reign of four kings, be allowed to spend her last days there.

On Monday, when Koirala sent Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to the besieged palace to open dialogue with Gyanendra in a bid to ensure his safe exit, the former king said he had accepted the decision of the newly elected lawmakers to abolish the monarchy and would vacate the palace within the June 12 deadline given by them.

However, he had urged the government to help him find a suitable residence and also to allow his stepmother Ratna Shah to remain in Mahendra Manzil, the building in the Narayanhity to which she has an emotional attachment, saying it is steeped in the memory of her husband, the late king Mahendra.

The former queen mother entered the palace as the bride of the then crown prince Mahendra with his father Tribhuvan reigning as king.

She lived there as the queen of Mahendra and later as the queen mother as her stepson Birendra became king following his father’s death and then, after Birendra’s assassination, Gyanendra succeeded him.

Ratna had been acknowledged as one of the most powerful women in Nepal when it was a kingdom.

Till the fall of Gyanendra’s government in 2006, Nepal had been celebrating the queen mother’s birthday as Children’s Day.

The custom ended in 2007 after the king’s direct rule ended a year ago and the new government began divesting him of his power and privileges.

Ratna is also one of the few survivors of the infamous palace massacre in 2001 in which Birendra and nine more members of the royal family died.

She survived as she had left the hall where the family was having a banquet before the shooting - allegedly by Birendra’s son Dipendra - started.

The Nagarjuna palace was taken over by the government last year along with six more palaces, including the Narayanhity, which will now be turned into a museum.

However, the decision was never implemented and in his last days as the king of Nepal, Gyanendra had been flitting between Narayanhity and Nagarjuna.

Earlier, Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel had indicated that the government would be sympathetic if the former king wanted to live in any palace other than Narayanhity.

“After such a huge achievement (of republic) it would be churlish to bicker on trivial matters,” Poudel had said.

The Maoists, who held an emergency meeting with Koirala Tuesday, are also said to have agreed to the requests.

However, the official decision will come only after the council of ministers endorses it.

If the government gives its nod to Nagarjuna, it will pave the way for the former royal family’s historic last departure from the Narayanhity palace that had been the seat of power in Nepal for decades.

But even if the government agrees to allow the dethroned king to occupy the Nagarjuna palace, it will be for his lifetime only.

His son and heir, the former crown prince Paras, currently lives in Gyanendra’s old residence Nirmal Niwas in the capital and is not likely to be allowed the last few graces shown to his father.

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