Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Slain king's ghost still haunts Nepal

Seven years after his shocking murder in the tightly guarded royal palace, the ghost of King Birendra continues to haunt Nepal with the new republic Sunday remembering the dark deed as the trigger that ended the nearly 240-year-old royal dynasty.

On June 1, 2001, the then King Birendra, who had survived a pro-democracy uprising in 1990 by pragmatically agreeing to revoke the ban on political parties and become a constitutional monarch without real powers, was gunned down during a banquet with his family and friends in the Narayanhity royal palace.

His son and heir, the then crown prince Dipendra, was regarded as having pulled the trigger, also killing his mother, queen Aishwarya, and seven other members of the family before turning the gun on himself in a fit of drink and drug-aggravated rage.

Three days after the national tragedy, that tarnished Nepal's image and dealt a severe blow to the economy, the slain king's younger brother Gyanendra was proclaimed king.

Within a year of his ascension, the new king began controlling the government, purportedly in a bid to check the escalating Maoist insurgency and in 2005, seized absolute power with the backing of the army.

The king's 14-month royal government fuelled another national uprising that saw the omnipotent monarch shorn of his power and on Wednesday, stripped of his crown as well with newly elected lawmakers formally abolishing Nepal's 239-year-old institution of monarchy.

On Sunday, the dark cloud that had begun descending on Nepal's once revered royal family spread with the palace, once out of bounds for the public or even government officials, opening to an inspection by a high-level delegation of bureaucrats.

Headed by defence secretary Umesh Chandra Mainali, the committee entrusted with the safekeeping of the palace inspected it Sunday morning and held talks with the palace secretariat.

The palace security officials had been summoned by the government Saturday to discuss the future of the nearly 2,000 soldiers deployed in the palace with the Central Security Council.

There was speculation that the former royal family, who were stripped of all their titles and last remaining privileges by the historic first meeting of the newly elected constituent assembly Wednesday, could leave the palace of their ancestors Sunday and hand it over to the government to be turned into a national museum.

Ironically, Wednesday's meet to abolish the crown was held in the capital's biggest convention centre built during King Birendra's time and named the Birendra International Convention Centre after him.

However, after King Gyanendra's experiment to rule the country failed and the royal family became the subject of public dislike, the centre dropped the dead king's name from that of the International Convention Centre.

In the past, Nepal's national tragedy used to be mourned with memorial meets held in honour of the slain royals.

On Sunday however, there was little mention of the assassinated king.

Instead, Nepal continued celebrating its transformation from a Hindu kingdom into a secular, federal republic.