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King G’s 100 days


BINED BHATTARAI


For someone who had to get over the personal grief and shock of multiple murders in his family, and being thrust onto to the throne, King Gyanendra is moving remarkably swiftly to fulfil the role of an active constitutional monarch.

The king is now coming out with assertive press statements, making himself and Queen Komal more visible in the public eye, and subtly rebuilding the image of a battered monarchy. Gone is the stern, frowning face with eyes hidden behind shades. The new Gyanendra is seen publicly with an open smile and warm gestures.

King Gyanendra has also increased the tempo with which he is receiving visitors at the palace and Nirmal Niwas: foreign dignitaries, diplomats, politicians, ex-generals and domestic media barons. Senior palace sources told us the aim is to more closely feel the nation's pulse.

The king is an early riser, up by 5:00 AM. Among the first things he does is go through the morning newspapers. He puts in a gruelling 12 hour day, sometimes in back-to-back meetings right through. The palace secretariats dealing with press, politics, military and private affairs, which were in disarray after the royal massacre of 1 June are settling down to normal duties. But there is one difference: Narayanhiti bureaucrats now have to report to work one hour earlier than they used to, prepare briefing documents for the king and fixing his meetings and appointments.

No one is willing to say how much the king is involved with the country's day-to-day politics, but most people interviewed for this article say he is more hands-on than his brother, Birendra. The King told Puskar Lal Shrestha of Nepal Samacharpatra last week: "Unlike my brother, I cannot just sit and watch the country and the people slide into this situation." The statement raised eyebrows in ruling circles, but was generally well received. Later there were doubts about whether the king actually said those exact words, but the palace did not deny the statement. Sources say the king is keenly aware that many Nepalis still don't believe the truth of the palace massacres, and also of the image problems that he and his son, Paras, still face.

In his weekly meetings with prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on Thursday evenings, King Gyanendra is said to be pro-active and offers his own ideas and suggestions. Despite this, he is said to make it a point not to overstep his constitutional limits. The king is briefed in detail about major government decisions like the ceasefire, overtures to the Maoists and the talks that started this week. Even so, there appears to be a great deal of skepticism in the palace and among royal family members about the efficacy of Deuba's "revolutionary" land reform plan. So far, the prime minister's actions appear to be yielding results, although there are still doubts about which way the talk will go, if anywhere.

Political analysts have been surprised by the ease with which Deuba has managed to bring the main opposition UML on his side. Because of this, important initiatives that earlier stalled the House for months have sailed through: like the paramilitary ordinance and the setting up of regional commissioners. Is the king working behind-the-scenes to smooth things out? Many have no doubts he is.

Sources say the palace has its own direct line of communications with the Maoists. And so far palace officials are not unduly worried about the call for republicanism coming from the extreme left. It is seen as a bargaining chip for future talks, and also a way to placate a radicalised cadre.

However, the royal massacre has raised questions that still need answers. The king is in a dilemma: to clear his own name, he needs to conclusively prove to the public that Dipendra did it, but doing so would mean washing a lot of royal linen in public. The strategy for now seems to be not to exhume the tragedy thus dragging the palace again into controversy, and to play it by ear.

There have been at least two known studies-one by government and one by the palace-after the Chief Justice's investigation was completed on 14 June. But no one, not even in parliament, has been told about their findings.

The Nepali Congress said after the massacre the palace needed to be more transparent and people-friendly for its own longevity. The palace ordered a review of its security, and even fired royal aides, but no one knows why some were sacked while others were not. "At the very least the parliament should be in the know because it is something that affects the Nepali people," says Narahari Acharya of the Nepali Congress.

The main opposition UML has publicly rejected the Maoist call for a republic but says the monarchy should change with the times. The 22nd meeting of its Central Committee decided that the monarchy has to be more transparent and democratic. It says the monarchy itself should be thinking about how to do this rather than suspect political motives. "We cannot get anywhere by running away from reality," says Raghuji Pant, a UML MP who advocates reforms, including laws allowing female succession.


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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