Nepalese decry ‘royal privileges’ for sacked king (Lead)June 5th, 2008 - 4:00 pm ICT by IANS
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 5 (IANS) Ordinary Nepalese, cutting across party lines, have begun protesting the government’s decision to allow deposed king Gyanendra to move into a summer mansion from the Narayanhity Palace, saying it smacked of “royal privileges” and went against the spirit of the newly declared republic. The Democratic National Youth Federation, a sister organisation of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), staged a demonstration in the capital soon after the council of ministers announced Wednesday that the former royal family would be allowed to shift into the Nagarjuna Palace on the outskirts of Kathmandu valley till they found a suitable residence.
Demonstrators waved banners that said “Take back the regressive decision to allow Gyanendra to shift to Nagarjuna” and asked why the former king, with his wealth and clout, could not find his own residence.
“Why was a rich man like Gyanendra Shah allowed to stay in the palace?” said an enraged Thakur Gaire, chief of the student wing of the UML.
His question was repeated by other student organisations.
“How come they gave the Nagarjuna Palace to the merchant king who is so rich?” asked Pradip Poudel, who heads the student wing of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress party. “On the other hand, thousands of Nepalis have no roof over their heads. It’s objectionable.”
Lekhnath Neupane, chief of the Maoists’ student wing, said the decision would one day backfire on the government.
“Nagarjuna is strategically far more important than Narayanhity. Also, since the king has so much property, there was no need for the government to loan him a palace that has been already nationalised,” he said.
The former king told the government that he would vacate the palace by the June 12 deadline given to him by the newly elected lawmakers who formally abolished monarchy last month. However, he requested the state to help him find a suitable accommodation since his entourage also includes his 80-year-old stepmother Ratna and a 91-year-old woman, Sarala Tamang, who was the concubine of his grandfather Tribhuvan.
Balaram Baniya, a columnist with the popular Kantipur daily, Thursday wrote that since the deposed king already had two mansions of his own, the cabinet decision went against the law.
“If the king calls himself a pauper, the state should give him only the five katha (a land measure) of land it promises to give all shanty dwellers, no more than that,” he wrote.
Angry letters started pouring in at the offices of Nepal’s daily papers, flaying the cabinet decision.
“According to Nepal’s laws, an individual cannot hold more than 25 ropani of land (one ropani equals 0.13 acres),” Gambhir Singh Aiyer wrote in the Naya Patrika daily. “But Nagarjuna has 15,000 ropani. How can the government let Gyanendra enjoy all that property? Isn’t it a transgression against law?”
Though their top leaders had approved of the decision, the Maoists were equally scathing about it.
The Janadisha daily, the mouthpiece of the former rebels, said that while the council of ministers took the shameful decision, a 60-year-old woman died in a camp for the homeless as her shanty collapsed in torrential rain.
The victim, Subani Tharu, was a freed kamaiya, the daily wrote.
Though the kamaiya system or slavery was officially abolished in Nepal, the freed slaves are in dire straits due to the government’s failure to rehabilitate them.
The daily contrasted the luxurious residence given to the dethroned king with the camp in which over 12 kamaiya families are living in distress after their huts collapsed.
“People can’t feel they are in a republic since the last protagonist of monarchy was merely shifted from one palace to another,” the daily said. “Though Gyanendra was declared a commoner, the decision shows he is still enjoying royal privileges. Given his black past, he is not worthy of such honour.”