It was a hot and sultry evening, thunderstorms were brewing and the mountains to the west were silhouetted by flashing clouds beyond. There was the deep, dull boom of distant thunder.
At the Nepali Times, we took Fridays easy after the paper came out. That morning's edition featured the unending political bickering in a country paralysed by strikes. Then, as now, it was the NC and UML jostling for advantage with the Maoists on the other side.
Given what was to follow that night, the editorial was eerily titled 'God Save the King' and critiqued the Maoist campaign to ban the national anthem in schools.
In the From the Nepali Press section on p 15 was a translated article by Kishore Nepal from Naya Sadak, titled 'A Suitable Prince'. The Crown Prince was now 31, and needed to get married, Nepal wrote, hinting at disagreement within the royal family about Dipendra's choice of bride, a factor in the tragedy that was soon about to unfold. Royal matters were not discussed so openly in those days, and an article like that was fairly rare.
The first phone call came at 9:30 pm from a friend asking if I had heard that the king had a heart attack and was in hospital. King Birendra had heart problems, so this was plausible. People in Lazimpat had heard gunshots, and rumours spread that the Maoists had attacked the palace. Cell phones had been introduced just two years previously, and they started going off all over town. Hospital personnel started calling friends and relatives, they in turn called others.
Like Chinese whispers, lot of the information got distorted as it spread. But the broad outlines of the ghastly events began to take shape as the night wore on. The story that emerged was so shocking and unbelievable that many rejected it as gossip and went to sleep. But the phones didn't stop ringing. 'King Birendra dead, Queen Aiswarya dead, Princess Shruti wounded, Prince Nirajan dead, Crown Prince Dipendra in coma' the SMSs read. At 11 pm, three hours after the shooting, we had to decide whether to put the news up online. We hesitated. What if all the sources we heard from had all got it from the same rumour?
The storm was closing in, and mixed with the thunder was the sound of a helicopter overhead. This was the royal Super Puma that had tried to fly out to Pokhara to fetch Prince Gyanendra turning back because of bad weather. At 1:30 AM we put up the first item of news up on our website relating what we knew till then: that at least six members of the royal family were dead, there were rumours the crown prince had shot everyone and then shot himself.
"I stick by what I said about the massacre ten years ago. Without a well-planned political conspiracy, the whole family of King Birendra could not have been wiped out while Gyanendra's family remained unharmed. The country has now become a democratic republic and we should dare to appoint a powerful enquiry commission to unravel the truth behind the massacre." Baburam Bhattarai
"As an editor, I don't regret giving space to a differing opinion. The arrest was proposed by Ram Chandra Poudel, the PM's office endorsed it and it was later defended by Chakra Bastola in front of the international media in Delhi. Nobody in the government opposed it. Girija Prasad Koirala, then PM had sent word to Kailash Sirohiya and Binod Gyawali, in detention that cases against them would be withdrawn if I was removed from my post but they refused." Yubaraj Ghimire
The nation woke up the next morning, stunned by the news. People gathered at street corners reading the only two newspapers that carried the news. Some editors played it safe and just ignored the story. The government immediately clamped down on news on the state media, radio and tv were allowed to broadcast only mourning music. The editor of Kantipur, Yubaraj Ghimire (see left), was jailed for publishing an op-ed by Baburam Bhattarai (see right) in which he alleged the hand of Indian and American intelligence in the massacre.
By morning at Chhauni Hospital seven members of the royal family were dead, King Birendra's brother Dhirendra was struggling for life and Dipendra was in a coma. The helicopter with Gyanendra finally made it and landed at the hospital. Rules of royal succession meant that Dipendra was declared king even though he was brain dead.
The government was in disarray, no one knew who was in charge: the prime minister, the palace, the comatose king or Gyanendra? An official announcement finally came in the afternoon of 2 June that said King Birendra and Queen Aiswarya were dead, it didn't say how they died. It proclaimed Dipendra king, and Gyanendra regent. A senior palace official told CNN that the royal family was killed by the "accidental discharge of an automatic weapon". An information blackout and statements like that meant rumours ran rife, media mishandling lead to wild conspiracy theories.
After Dipendra's funeral, Gyanendra was named king and he addressed the nation on television promising the people a "thorough investigation". Nepal had three kings in four days. The funerals and Gyanendra's enthronement happened as protests raged through the capital despite curfews.
The probe team finally came out with its preliminary findings two weeks later, saying Dipendra was responsible. But the people, lied to and denied correct information, didn't believe the government when it finally told the truth.
Baburam Bhattarai writing in Kantipur on 6 June 2001. Kantipur's editor, Yubaraj Ghimire was jailed for ten days following the publication of this article on the charge of sedition.
Ever since the Sugauli Treaty of 1846, all the political changes that have taken place in Nepal have been orchestrated by first British and then Indian imperialists. The new 'Kot Massacre' that transpired in Narayanhiti is another episode in this series. Why were King Birendra and his family killed at this time? Even during the Indian embargo and the subsequent revolt in 1990, King Birendra had preferred to bow down to the people's wishes than give in to foreign pressures, and lately he had refused to mobilise the army against the Maoists. This was possibly his biggest fault in the eyes of the Indian and American expansionists. In many national issues, we and the king had similar views leading us to have an undeclared working solidarity, a fact that had alarmed imperialist powers.
King Birendra's softer stance towards the Maoists and the growing closeness to China did not endear him to India and America. The old Indian dream of turning Nepal into Sikkim now turned into another grand design whereby Nepal would be Bhutanised before it could be made into another Sikkim. RAW (Research an Analysis Wing) formulated a strategy for this design in consultation with the CIA (through FBI whose branch was opened in Delhi). RAW infiltrated into the palace by generating a false fear of ISI and chose the new 'Jigme Singye' for the Bhutanisation of Nepal. It was through this 'Jigme Singye' that another Kot massacre was enacted in the palace. There is no doubt now that RAW which had already found a 'Lendup Dorje' in the form of Girija had used the new alliance between 'Lendup Dorje' and 'Jigme Singye' to enable the Bhutanisation and ultimately the Sikkimisation of Nepal as per its larger strategy.
But this is 2001, not 1846, and a lot of blood and water has flown down Nepal's rivers. King Birendra's and Prithvi Narayan Shah's contribution to the nation would always be remembered by the Nepali people but in no way would they accept the emergence of the new 'Jigme Singye' . The army which was unable to save the King should now work to save the nation and refuse to serve the puppets of imperialism in the palace. The country is in a grave condition; all patriotic forces should join hands at this moment.
As a foreigner I may be understimating the significance of this 10 year anniversary for Nepalis generally and Kunda Dixit personally.
But with so much focus on an anniversary at a time when another "crisis" is supposed to be imminent. I cannot help wondering whether there is some connection.
Is it just that NT knows it has run out of anything at all to say about the current situation?
Or does this mean that Kunda Dixit really does believe his fears about royalists taking advantage of a crisis to establish military rule? Is he reminding readers how completely hopeless that would be?
Anyway its interesting that the articles tend to confirm Baburam Bhatterai's analysis at the time, by providing eye witness evidence that Dipendra's actions were planned rather than resulting from a drunken or drugged rage.
Given that, it would be difficult to believe that picking a day when Gyanendra was absent was a coincidence (whether or not Gyanendra knew).
Likewise it would be difficult to believe this was not encouraged by those who had an interest in ensuring Nepal had a King more willing to serve foreign interests by going to war with Maoists.
As suggested by one of the witnesses, Dipendra might have wanted to be that King and could have hoped killing his father would be accepted and/or hushed up as typical Nepali elite behaviour.
But he obviously did not regard Gyanendra (or Paras) as a potential threat to his ambitions so he presumably had some discussions about the need for a more anti-Maoist King and knew where they stood.
27 MAY 2011 | 2:15 PM NST
Typical of commies to see conspiracies and shadows everywhere. Thanks to Kunda Dixit for taking a very objective journalist approach at a time when people have the tendency to bend the facts to suit their version of the truth.
27 MAY 2011 | 6:35 PM NST
Arthur, it would give Gyanendra far too much credit to say that he had somehow planned it. Also, eyewitness evidence confirms that Dipendra's actions were not planned but were, indeed, the actions of a drunken and drugged rage fueled by an over-sized feeling of entitlement coupled with incredible hatred towards his mother. That Dipendra was spoiled was widely known and being prevented for the first time in his life to do something he really wanted to do (marry Devyani), he lost it. Conspiracy theories are normally discussed by the less sophisticated which is why I find it somewhat surprising that you would support one Arthur.
27 MAY 2011 | 12:52 AM NST
4. Arthur hange #3, I said "whether or not Gyanendra knew" so I did not say he planned it.
I agree with you about conspiracy theories but it is hard to avoid when a crime is blamed on somebody who is also supposed to have killed himself. It is natural to think it more likely that somebody else killed Dipendra, presumably a military guard at the palace. Then it is natural to wonder why this guard could not stop him earlier.
I am only speculating but it seems reasonable to imagine that the guard who killed Dipendra had orders not to intervene until at least the King was dead.
Such orders could be given from somebody who was aware of Dipendra's intentions or inclinations and preferred Gyanendra to end up King rather than Dipendra.
India and the military leadership would certainly have had such motivations because they wanted a viable King who would support a more vigorous war against the Maoists. The previous King was reluctant and Dipendra, especially after having killed his father, would not have been viable.
It turned out that Gyanendra wasn't viable either. But he did try to support a more vigorous war against the Maoists, which is why he still has supporters.
I would not be discussing such conspiracy theories if it was not the main subject of this issue of Nepali Times. I haven't given it much thought before and am not particularly interested in it.
28 MAY 2011 | 11:11 AM NST
The Baburam Bhattarai op-ed was ridiculous but it was also brilliant. It takes the loss of a much loved king, spins it with Mahendra style nationalism, sprinkles some communist style anti-imperialism and creates a case for sympathy for his own party. The manner in which the GPK government bungled the aftermath only led credence to Bhattarai's opinion.
As a very naive and scared fourteen year old I remember agreeing with every word of that piece. So much so that when the Maoist student's union came to my school and brandished that article asking true Nepali patriots to unite against a conspiracy against Nepal,I paid the two rupee dues to get membership. This was happening all over the country. The Maoists used the tragedy as a very effective propaganda and recruiting tool.
In the op-ed, the part about RAW designing a conspiracy against Nepal in consultation with the CIA (through FBI!) is well, absurd. Bhattari knew his audience well. He would not have written the op-ed if he did not expect a lot of fearful Nepalis would believe every word of it.
28 MAY 2011 | 8:11 PM NST
Totally agree with battisputali.
While people do not believe Chester and the ADC guy who were first hand witnesses. People do believe the "conspiracy theory" floated by Baburam. How absurd.
Also, in his article he does not even mention Gayanendra once. He blames it on foreign forces. Now, he is attacking Gayanendra. That is absurd.
However, although I am not convinced, because India always plays a role in Nepal's politics, a blend of both theories still forms a persuasive account.
Lets start, 1. Foreign powers wanted to murder Birendra because of closeness to China. 2. Dipendra's fragile and ambitious personality and attitude (which can be identified by foreign powers). A person as fragile and ambitious can easily be manipulated, it seems, to kill his father. Conclusion: Massacre took place to serve the interests of foreign powers, but through the crown prince himself.
Also, there is a case to believe that Dipendra did not kill himself.
30 MAY 2011 | 7:55 AM NST
7. Arthur Biru #6, I do not understand how you can say it is absurd to agree with Bhattarai who blamed foreign forces and did not mention Gyanendra and then agree with precisely that view.
30 MAY 2011 | 1:19 PM NST
8. John M. Kelleher
Full marks to Battisputali [#5]. What happened on June 1, 2001 is far from being an enigma. There are more than a half-dozen witnesses alive today who saw what transpired in that room, and none of their accounts mention masked assassins, RAW or CIA operatives, or Gyanendra or Paras.
I fully agree with Battisputali's characterization of Baburam's notorious op-ed piece as "ridiculous yet brilliant." The substantive content of Baburam's argument was, of course, purely imaginary and predicated on absolutely no evidence or first-hand knowledge of what had transpired. Yet, it represented an ingenious effort by the Maoists to deploy the popularity of the late King against the institution that he had served with such aplomb his entire life.
The Maoists, lest we forget, launched their campaign against the Crown, Nation, and Constitution in 1996, when Birendra was still the King. Their avowed intent was to depose him and do away with the monarchy entirely. Yet, with the King's untimely death, the Maoists appropriated for their own use the iconic image of the very same King they had been endeavoring to overthrow, and cloaked themselves in the mantle of nationalism which the King and monarchy had historically embodied.
It was a subtle, devious, hypocritical and utterly repugnant effort by the Maoists to exploit a national tragedy for their own benefit. It is all the more odious for the fact that the gambit worked, and far too many Nepalis still believe the transparent lies peddled by this rat-faced sociopath.
I must say, more than the article itself, I very much enjoyed the links to those old back-issues of the Nepali Times from 2001. What a delight the Times was to read in those days! Well-written, respectful towards the sentiment of the nation, and with some truly memorable columnists on the roster. A far cry from the "Boutique Left" silliness and analytical deficiency which clogs the Times' editorial columns these days.
One more reason for some of us to be nostalgic for better days than these!
30 MAY 2011 | 2:18 PM NST
9. Arthur John M Kelleher #8,
"There are more than a half-dozen witnesses alive today who saw what transpired in that room,..."
There are another 9 witnesses who saw what transpired in that room and in the garden outside and who are dead today.
It seems that nobody who was allowed to live saw Dipendra being killed (whether by himself or by a guard as would seem more plausible).
"...far too many Nepalis still believe the transparent lies peddled by this rat-faced sociopath."
Hmm, I had thought the tendency of Nepalese monarchists (and other virulent anti-Maoists) to use extravagently childish abuse against their opponents was related to specific aspects of Nepal's semi-feudal culture.
But I haven't noticed them commenting on physical or facial appearance as blatantly as that. I guess the virulent language goes with the royalist love of uniforms, pomp, cermony and psychopathic violence. Nepal's dynasty must be held in awe by foreign monarchists yearning nostalgically for the real thing.
Crown Prince Dipendra and his charming but now now mainly dead family was a shining example of monarchy in action.
I think that is why the local nepali monarchists who are usually rather noisy in these comment threads haven't wanted to say much in response to these articles.
It takes a foreign monarchist to think these articles would be a suitable occasion to illustrate being "nostalgic for better days than these".
30 MAY 2011 | 6:07 PM NST
10. John M. Kelleher
>> "There are another 9 witnesses who saw what transpired in that room and in the garden outside and who are dead today. It seems that nobody who was allowed to live saw Dipendra being killed (whether by himself or by a guard as would seem more plausible). " --Arthur
You are indulging in nothing more than Baburam-esque speculation here. Either bring evidence for what you deem to be "more plausible," or else kindly admit that you don't know what the bloody hell you are talking about.
>> "Hmm, I had thought the tendency of Nepalese monarchists (and other virulent anti-Maoists) to use extravagently childish abuse against their opponents was related to specific aspects of Nepal's semi-feudal culture." --Arthur
Goodness Arthur, I'm so sorry my seething antipathy for this glorified terrorist offends you so viscerally! Far be it for me to judge a man solely on his (distinctly unprepossessing) appearance, of course, but in Baburam's case his external appearance mirrors quite accurately who, and what, he is beneath the skin.
Please, give me one reason why I should hold this man in anything but contempt. He is not only an unapologetic communist, but an adherent of the most militant, violent, and dogmatically rigid strains of communism, of the sort that reduces nations to slag. He played an active guiding role in the formation of the CPN-M, and a prominent leadership role in the unprovoked and completely unjustifiable campaign of treasonable insurrection against a lawful, democratic, and constitutional government of Nepal.
He published this nauseating and libellous pack of lies in 2001, in a regrettably successful effort to exploit a national tragedy for his, and his party's, own political benefit. He remains unapologetic about this, despite the fact that his theories are transparent fantasies and politically-motivated polemics. He played a maladroit role in the Dahal cabinet, helping to bring his own government down with his blustering and idiotic threats against the Army and Courts.
>> "Extravagently childish abuse " --Arthur
Funny, coming from you. And your unprovoked attacks on people who have the temerity to disagree with you, calling them "stupid," "warmongers" or "ignorant," would be...... ?
>> " I guess the virulent language goes with the royalist love of uniforms, pomp, cermony and psychopathic violence. " --Arthur
No, not sure where that odd little tangent came from. And again, that "psychopathic violence" bit is quite funny, coming from a man who unashamedly prostrates himself at the altar of revolutionary communism. "Psychopathic violence" is o.k., I guess, as long as it's cloaked with a suitable level of far-left ideological blather. Is that about right?
I have no love for violence, Arthur - neither do any of my Nepali friends who happen to be favorably disposed towards the monarchy. My appreciation for the institution - and theirs - is predicated on the role that it can play as a stabilizing "ballast" in a slowly-maturing multiparty parliamentary democracy [not an argument I expect to resonate with you of course, since you would be quick to decry this same brand of democracy as "bourgeois"!].
Lest we forget, it was a democratic and constitutional settlement that the Maoists launched their campaign of "psychopathic violence" against, not the Panchayat system. I've yet to hear your rationalizations for that.
>> "Nepal's dynasty must be held in awe by foreign monarchists yearning nostalgically for the real thing. " --Arthur
.... As opposed to a foreign communist, who holds the Maobadis in awe because he knows quite well that he will never, ever, ever see the types of people he supports take power in any country that he would actually live in?
>> "It takes a foreign monarchist to think these articles would be a suitable occasion to illustrate being "nostalgic for better days than these". " --Arthur
You are, of course, fully aware that this comment was a reference to the links to those back-issues of the Times from 2001, and not to this account of the massacre itself. And yes, the difference in tone between those older issues and the Times' current editorial policy is quite palpable.
It is not mere sentimentality that would lead me, and others, to be "nostalgic" for the sane and reasonable constitutional settlement that existed in the 1990's and the earlier half of the past decade. Compare the state of the nation then with its circumstances now: teetering on the edge of "failed-state" status, a constitution-making organ that seems eager to waste its illegal term extensions on everything but writing a new constitution, a law and order problem that is cutting heavily into tourism and commerce, runaway militancy by ethnic activists and the far left, and a political culture which has come to be dominated by the shrillest and most unreasoning voices of populism and fringe leftism.
Can you please tell me what anyone should be grateful for, in this "New Nepal" that your spree-killing heroes have midwifed?
30 MAY 2011 | 4:50 AM NST
Terror leader Baburam clearly knew his audience--conspiracy-theory loving Nepalis, who would blindly follow ill-conceived rationale that foreigners were behind the massacre. How can we forget the eyewitness account, who have lost all their loved ones and are now living in nightmares full of pain and sufferings? Nepalis should at least have some compassion and sympathy to those who are now living hellish life. If there had been a setup, now monarchy gone, why wouldn't any one from among the eyewitness come forward with the fact to support the never ending absurd conspiracy theory?
31 MAY 2011 | 6:21 AM NST
12. Arthur John M. Kelleher #10,
"...bring evidence for what you deem to be "more plausible,..."
It is obviously more plausible that an armed mass murderer who has just killed the King and most of his family would be shot by palace guards than that he would conveniently shoot himself in the garden where nobody actually saw him doing it.
In addition it has been mentioned in para 4 of #21 in another thread that Dipendra was right handed and is supposed to have shot himself with his left hand.
"Can you please tell me what anyone should be grateful for, in this "New Nepal"..."
This is not yet the new Nepal, although people seem very glad that they are now at least allowed to say and write what they like instead of only writing in a tone that people like yourself are nostalgic for.
[Pointless spluttering ignored]
01 JUNE 2011 | 9:14 PM NST
My comment is not about the article itself, but about the comments herein: Some commentators have been qualifying the Nepalese people as those who blindly follow conspiracy theories. But what would you expect when the facts have not been established, and the the true drama of that fateful night has not yet been recounted by an independent and trustworthy group of investigators? Moreover, when officially examined events like 9/11 that have been subject to scientific investigations can't still answer cross-questions set forth in "conspiracy theories", what would you expect for the Royal massacre where even the facts are not straight, let alone the scientific evidence?
02 JUNE 2011 | 5:15 AM NST
14. Laxman karki
King is an institution not a person . Everything done under King's name is actually done by council of ministers that's how the West-minister style Government functions.Unfortunately, in Nepal pro democratic leaders were completely failed to deliver as per the peoples' mandate, they were busy in forming and breaking the coalitions. Due to such practice corruption prevailed good governance gone.King tried to handle the situation but by becoming the Chairman of Council of minister he made mistake & he was late to handover politics to Mainstream Political Parties .Maoist emerged as a big force.King could't handle Foreign policy properly he lost the balance by playing China Card, then India became an active player in Nepalese Politics & polarized Political players.Nepal became a Republic but Constituent Assembly's declaration lacks legitimacy i challenge them to go for a referendum & ratify it from People.I totally oppose Dr.BR Bhattrai's opinion about Royal massacre which is totally baseless as their party is running government who stops them to punish the culprit ?
02 JUNE 2011 | 7:42 AM NST
Still there is a delima that who did & how all these happened. There should be proper inquary and investigation by the government but un
fortunately we, Nepalese people are far away from such kind of institution for the last couple of years. All the main political parties are busy to play the political game .I think the truth will be known by our grand son & daughter after 2-3 generation as we can learn the history of "kot -Parva" now. How unlucky we are that all this unfortune happened in our era but we are dying without the truth.
02 JUNE 2011 | 5:34 PM NST
16. John M. Kelleher
>> "It is obviously more plausible that an armed mass murderer who has just killed the King and most of his family would be shot by palace guards than that he would conveniently shoot himself in the garden where nobody actually saw him doing it." --Arthur
Why "obviously?" Nobody saw a palace guard shoot Dipendra in the garden, "conveniently." Does this make it "obvious" that this is just as unlikely? It is so interesting Arthur, that you can present your own tendentious view of events as the "obvious" truth without offering a shred of evidence, whilst irritably browbeating anyone who differs with your interpretations.
To say the least, you do not make a very effective revolutionary propagandist.
>> "In addition it has been mentioned in para 4 of #21 in another thread that Dipendra was right handed and is supposed to have shot himself with his left hand." --Arthur
That would still prove nothing, even if Dipendra wasn't know to be functionally ambidextrous with a gun [which he was, incidentally]. Several witnesses saw Dipendra carrying a gun in each hand at several times that night. And, it honestly would not take a functionally ambidextrous marksman to point and shoot at his own head with his left hand.
>> "This is not yet the new Nepal [...] ." --Arthur
And God willing, your preferred vision of this "New Nepal" will never come to pass. There do seem to be enough sane and decent people left in Nepal to keep the nation from slipping into such a ghastly future.
>> "[...] [A]lthough people seem very glad that they are now at least allowed to say and write what they like instead of only writing in a tone that people like yourself are nostalgic for." --Arthur
And they couldn't before? Since you have stubbornly refused to even bother reading the 1990 Constitution, I presume you are unaware that all basic freedoms of expression were guaranteed to Nepalis in that document, which established a liberal multiparty democracy - the same democracy your heroes launched a campaign to overthrow 6 years later.
Papers like the Nepali Times most certainly could, and did, print the editorial content that they wished to print. What has been lost, and what I am indeed "nostalgic" for, is the tone of civility and rationality which has been drowned out by shrieking polemicists in the current political discourse.
This is not to say, of course, that expression is entirely free in Nepal. Your ideological compatriots see to that with daily beatings and harassment.
>> "[Pointless spluttering ignored] " --Arthur
Deja vu, Arthur! This isn't the first time you've used this petulant little rejoinder in lieu of an actual response to my characterization of the Maobadis as thugs, murderers and criminals. Of course, my "spluttering" against the Maoists isn't the only thing you prefer to ignore - I've noticed you also prefer not to discuss the actual mechanics of Nepalese politics in any depth, preferring instead to predicate your arguments on a rose-tinted [or would that be "carnation-tinted"?] vision of the Maobadis that exists entirely in your head.
Your willful ignorance of political reality, coupled with your unbearably arrogant insistence on your self-imagined credibility, makes you a rather poor advertisement for the cause you purport to represent. This might explain why you have been kicked off at least one commie fan-club already.