After months of stoically enduring barbs from politicians, King Gyanendra broke his silence Wednesday with a slew of on the record conversations to Kathmandu dailies.
One day before the political parties launched a sequel to the People's Movement by hitting the streets, the king used the media as a weapon to go directly to the people. This is the first time in Nepali history that a monarch has used the media so aggressively to win public support. The reason King Gyanendra could do this was because he allowed press freedom ever since sacking an elected government six months ago. The media's independence lent the king's message added credibility. Interestingly, there was no report in the state-controlled Gorkhapatra which was busy celebrating its 103rd anniversary on Wednesday.
Nepali Times interviewed some of the editors who met the king, and although the meetings were all one-on-one the king's message to all of them was the same. Some editors thought they were getting exclusive interviews, and the sessions lasted late into Wednesday night.
"He expressed disappointment at the way the media has been covering the movement of the political parties," Pushkar Lal Shrestha, of Nepal Samacharpatra told us. King Gyanendra's message to the editors was clear: don't be misled by the rhetoric of the political leadership. "We need peace now, and the media has to help," he told them.
All the conversations were published with banner headlines on Thursday morning and publishers reported brisk newstand sales. The papers highlighted King Gyanendra's main message that he was not interested in gaining absolute power and that he firmly supported a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. He blamed political parties for disregarding the national interest.
The king also defended his October Fourth move to sack Prime Minister Deuba, refuting the parties' claim that it was unconstitutional. He went on to blame the political parties for refusing to come on board and assist in forming a united government in October. He said they could not agree among themselves about the prime minister's position, and Lokendra Bahadur Chand was their consensus candidate.
"The political parties have a right to speak out, but there is a time and place for opposition and it should not jeopardise the peace process," the king added. On Thursday, a five-party alliance kicked off its movement with a silent march in honour of 'martyrs for democracy'. They refuted the king's claim that the agitation would jeopardise the talks.
"Out movement is not anti-peace, in fact it will strengthen peace, it is against regression to autocracy," senior Congress leader, Ram Sharan Mahat said.
But King Gyanendra's dramatic use of the media card was welcomed by some independent analysts. "It was about time. The tirades against the monarchy by the politicians was getting unbearable," said one prominent businessman who wanted to remain anonymous. "The king has exposed the duplicity of the political parties."
The palace's media broadsides are expected to harden the stance of the parties, and bring them on a confrontation course with the king. For their part, the politicians have been using the threat of street agitation to make King Gyanendra agree to their demand of either a restoration of the dissolved house or the formation of an all-party interim government.
They waited three days after their big rally in Kathmandu on 27 April, and insiders say they were expecting the palace to call them in for a collective meeting with the king. This could still happen, and the king himself said he was prepared to meet the party leaders together at any time.
The king has also left the door slightly ajar for compromise. In the meetings, he agreed that the constitution could be amended or even replaced, if that was what the parties and the people wanted. This gives a face-saving way for parties to call off their agitation. Interestingly, this offer is also consistent with the main Maoist demand in peace talks which resume Friday.