Nepal’s palace holds key to nation’s history

June 1st, 2008 - 2:36 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 1 (IANS) Not just gems, rare artefacts and archaeological treasures from all over the world, Nepal’s palace under siege also contains priceless old documents that can throw light on the past events of history hitherto shrouded in secrecy and silence. Historians and members of civil society are concerned that hundreds of rare documents, including old treaties, could be destroyed. The fears are being voiced after deposed king Gyanendra was formally asked by Nepal’s newly elected lawmakers to vacate the Narayanhity royal palace, where he had been living since his coronation in June 2001.

It is believed that the palace treasury boasts of a “red box”, a repository for secret documents sealed with the red royal stamp of power in the past.

Not just documents related to the 239-year reign of the Shah dynasty of kings, the palace could also possess invaluable papers going back to the rule of earlier ruling dynasties, like the Malla kings, whom the founder of the Shah dynasty, Prithvi Narayan Shah, vanquished in the 18th century.

Though many of the documents were earlier with the foreign ministry and courts, the palace took them under its control under various pretexts, a Nepali daily said

In the past, the palace reportedly made an attempt to compile a book in memory of King Tribhuvan, whose flight to India in 1950 could have shaped the current dethroning of his grandson Gyanendra last week, and carted away many important papers to the palace, the Kantipur daily said Sunday.

They included documents related to Nepal’s earlier pro-democracy movement against its all-powerful Rana prime ministers nearly 70 years ago, including the state order to hang four pro-democracy fighters for “sedition”, and the depositions made by the four, whose death is commemorated even today.

Records of the 1950 flight, which resulted in three-year-old Gyanendra being crowned for a brief period and could have moulded his psychology, and its consequences are also in the palace as well as treaties with India and other secret pacts.

The palace archives can also contain documents related to the infamous massacre of King Birendra and his entire family during a banquet in the palace in 2001, a dark deed now regarded as sowing the seed of the destruction of monarchy in Nepal.

If records have been kept of Gyanendra’s 14-month direct rule, when most major decisions were taken in the palace, it would be a historian’s delight, revealing a past that was kept under wraps.

Last week, after Nepal’s newly elected constituent assembly voted overwhelmingly to end the line of Shah kings and the government announced that the palace would be turned into a national museum, the Madan Puraskar Guthi, a socio-cultural organisation that has instituted one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country, urged the government to ensure the protection of the rare records, saying they were a national heritage now.

It remains to be seen if the ruling parties, who have begun squabbling for power soon after the April election, will be able to rise to the occasion.

The parties, who lost the trust of the nation for misrule and mounting corruption since the 90s, have yet not been able to form a new government, choose a new head of state to replace deposed king Gyanendra or even nominate 26 more members to the constituent assembly, which they were supposed to do before May 28, when monarchy was abolished formally.

With all eyes on the palace in anticipation of the former royal family’s final exit, rumour mongers have been having a field day.

While criticism of the royal family was banned during the 14-month royal regime in 2005-6, now they are at the mercy of the media, who have the liberty to say what they want.

A tabloid created a furore last week, reporting that Gyanendra had abandoned the palace at midnight Thursday.

The same Naya Patrika daily Sunday alleged palace officials were destroying important documents.

“I think the media is acting in a biased manner,” an unidentified caller told a private television station. “The king has indicated he has accepted the verdict given by the (April 10) election and is ready to vacate the palace.”

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