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Changing of the Guard at Narayanhity

Issue 24, June 15, 2008

By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

On June 11, 2008, former King Gyanendra Shah left the Narayanhity palace for another summer palace called Nagarjuna palace about eight kilometers to the northwest of Kathmandu. Quite a number of people and reporters gathered at the western entrance to the palace waiting to make sure that Gyanendra has left the palace. At about 9:00 P.M. Gyanendra’s car amid the security came out of the palace. People were jubilant to see him go and some jeered at him. Some people shouted the slogan: “It is the people’s victory.” The Nepal Police took over the security of the Narayanhity palace from the Nepali Army.

On May 28, 2008, the Constituent Assembly ordered Gyanendra to vacate the Narayanhity palace within 15 days. Since then it has been the talk of the nation when he would leave the palace. The Sagarmatha TV posted its field reporters around the Narayanhity palace throughout the day and night of May 29 and continued through midnight of May 30, and relayed live all the events from those areas. It even relayed a number of cars coming out of the northern gate of the palace on the midnight of May 30. At that time, it was almost sure that Gyanendra Shah left the palace but it became clear later on that his daughter-in-lam Hemani left the palace on that midnight. Thereafter, the Nepalese media made a number of speculations of Gyanendra Shah leaving the palace but they did not come true.

The Government of Nepal constituted two teams: one for taking over and turning over the palace assets and property, another for arranging the security of the Narayanhity palace and Gyanendra Shah after he would leave the palace.

The taking over and turning over team had a problem of receiving the crown studded with jewels and scepter until the last moment of the former king leaving the palace. The team leader publicly told that the former king was not cooperating with the team on turning over the crown and scepter. At the same time, local and international media speculated about the whereabouts of the crown. Some even wrote that it was auctioned somewhere in a foreign country. The government team had to tell again publicly that the team would accept the crown only after experts making it sure that it was a genuine.

The security team had hard time to negotiate with the palace officials for the security of the former king. Gyanendra Shah wanted more security people than what the government wanted to provide him. So, again negotiation went on between the government security officials and the former palace officials and agreed on providing the former king with 50 armed-police force and 25 army men.

Gyanendra wanted the state-owned TV to televise his press briefing but the Government flatly rejected the request and had to satisfied with the private TVs reporting his press briefing on June 11, 2008 just one day before the deadline set by the Constituent Assembly for him to leave the Narayanhity palace. Then, at about 9:00 P.M. he left the palace forever. People gathered at the entrance to the palace were jubilant to see him go and some even jeered at him.

In the press briefing, Gyanendra said that he was honoring the decision of the Constituent Assembly i.e. implementing the declaration of Nepal a federal democratic republic by the Interim Legislature-parliament and ordering him to leave the palace within 15 days, and the election for the Constituent Assembly, for the sake of peace in the country.

He said that circumstances had forced him to wear the crown twice. When he was an infant the crown was forced on his head without his sense of what had happened. Then in another circumstance, he had to accept the crown even not having time to shed the tears on the demise of his senior brother and sister-in-law. However, the then-television viewers could understand his body language when he visited the dead body of his elder brother Birendra dumped on the ground of the premises of the army hospital at Chhauni, Kathmandu without due honor to the dead king that he was not for shedding tears on the death of his brother and his family members. He did not allow performing the autopsy on anyone of the dead bodies, and hurriedly cremated dead bodies including that of the king disregarding the need for inviting foreign dignitaries to the cremation of the dead king, Birendra. He also kept the then-crown prince, Dipendra alive for performing various coronation rituals. Then, the Standing Committee of the Privy Council declared the crown prince, Dipendra in coma a king; and the then-prince Gyanendra Shah a crown prince. Then, he declared the newly crowned king dead paving the way for him to be a king. Thus, he became a king under unique circumstances probably he had created.

He then went on defending himself from the media report on his probable involvement in the palace massacre in which all the family members of his elder brother Birendra were destroyed. He gave his wife as the living witness of the palace massacre to counter the media charges of his circumstantial involvement in the palace carnage. He also referred to the high level commission on investigating the palace carnage.  However, he as the absolute king at that time over stepped the prerogative of the government to set up a commission on investigation into the palace crime, and set up his commission unconstitutionally. Into which he is subject to investigation in the future.

Thereafter, he attempted to justify his takeover on February 01, 2005 but accepted his failure, and apologetic to the people whose fundamental rights and privileges he had suspended for 15 months of his absolute rule.

He explained to the reporters and TV viewers that he had no assets and property in foreign countries. His entire property and assets are in Nepal. Whatever he had inherited as a king he did not kept in his name but tried to institutionalize them and safeguarded them. He said that he did not capture anybody’s property. He hoped that he would enjoy the rights to his private property and assets, as any citizen enjoys in Nepal.

Countering the media report on probably he was going into exile, he said that he was not going anywhere to live but would stay on in Nepal and whatever he could do would do for the good of the country in other words he would work for the sovereignty and unity of the country.

Finally, he said that he gave the crown and scepter to the government for safekeeping. The government team responsible for taking over the palace assets and property has not said anything about the receipt of those two items, yet. Probably, the team is trying to see whether they are genuine or not.

After about fifteen minute long press briefing, former king Gyanendra left the hall ignoring the questions put up by some reporters. The process of transforming the royal into a commoner was completed. Nepalese history has it that Nepalese kings and hereditary prime ministers were of the criminal background. With the end of the Shah dynasty ended the probability of any crown prince with a criminal background becoming a king.

Some reporters behaved rudely during the Gyanendra’s press briefing. Security had tough time to keep the reporters away from Gyanendra Shah while he was reading out his press-briefing note. Some even shouted slogans against Gyanendra disregarding the ethics of the reporters.

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