Twice king, but never crowned, he is Nepal’s Macbeth (Lead)

May 28th, 2008 - 3:27 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 28 (IANS) In many ways, the life of His Majesty Shri Panch Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal can surpass the twists and turns of classic Greek tragedies, a king reduced to a commoner as the world’s only Hindu kingdom becomes a democratic federal secular republic. “He is Nepal’s Macbeth,” former minister Gopal Man Shrestha had said of the man who brought his and his dynasty’s downfall through unbridled ambition and poor judgement.

An impetuous ruler who however took important decisions only after consulting his battery of astrologers, Gyanendra’s own life has been a sombre blend of preternatural elements.

Not destined to be the ruler of Nepal he still ascended the throne twice, by a quirk of fate. Yet, ironically, he was never formally crowned king of Nepal.

Musician and author Peter J. Karthak remembers Gyanendra as an alumnus of India’s elite St Joseph’s College, Northpoint, Darjeeling where the latter was a student in the 60s along with his elder brother, Birendra who was crown prince at that time.

“This is the Crown Prince of Nepal,” Karthak remembers Gyanendra as introducing his brother. “And I am the former king.”

A trauma when he was only three probably moulded Gyanendra’s character and his destiny.

After being branded by astrologers as a child who would bring harm to his own family, the royal family kept the baby at an arm’s length, with his maternal uncles bringing him up.

Consequently, in 1950, when the then king Tribhuvan, Gyanendra’s grandfather, fled the country to India fearing for his safety, he took his son Mahendra and eldest grandson Birendra with him, leaving three-year-old Gyanendra behind.

The baby prince could have been killed by his family’s enemy, the then prime minister Mohan Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. However, Rana spared the child’s life and crowned him king of Nepal in a bid to become the regent.

Gyanendra’s reign as baby king ended after a revolt overthrew Rana and Tribhuvan returned to Nepal to repossess his crown.

As a young man, he turned to business, focussing on tea, tobacco and tourism. With the crown passing on to Mahendra and then to Birendra, his days as king would have become a faded memory had fate not decreed otherwise.

In 2001, Nepal was shocked by the news that the then crown prince Dipendra had gunned down his parents and other relatives and then shot himself over a quarrel.

With king Birendra’s family being wiped out, the crown once again landed on Gyanendra’s head. His days as king were uncannily reminiscent of his father Mahendra’s reign.

Like his father, he dismissed the government and seized power with an army-backed coup, then brought back his father’s old and publicly hated aides in positions of power and ruled Nepal with an iron hand for 14 months.

It was one of the worst periods in Nepal’s turbulent history with the Maoist insurgents stepping up guerrilla offensives, foreign governments distancing themselves from the royal regime and opposition mounting at home.

In April 2006, a secret pact between the Maoists and the opposition parties triggered a nationwide uprising that forced the king to step down. The new government removed him as head of the army, stripped him of his position as head of government and pledged to hold an election to decide his fate.

Exactly two years later, the constituent assembly election last month gave the thumbs down to the king, indicating the end of the road for the 61-year-old king as well as Nepal’s 239-year-old monarchy.

Ironically, the man who became king twice against all odds was never formally crowned the monarch of Nepal. The year he ascended the throne was also a year of mourning for the slain royals and therefore deemed inauspicious for such a celebration.

For four more years, royal astrologers failed to find an auspicious date. Though there were efforts in 2005, soon after he staged his coup, to hold a coronation, it could not take place due to the growing instability in the country.

Finally, in 2008, King Gyanendra is finally bowing out without having been crowned at all.

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