A shadowy power centre viscerally opposed to multiparty democracy holds sway over the country today. And the king doesn't seem to want to get out of its clutches. This underground force even has its own shadow cabinet at the Narayanhiti Palace. "Singha Darbar is just a fa?ade, the people really running the country are elsewhere," says a political figure close to the palace. Palace sources say there are four people active in this group, which takes information to the king and helps craft policies needed to make the monarchy work in practice. The four are the king's close friends and confidantes: Sharad Chandra Shah, Prabhu SJBR, Bharat Keshari Simha and foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey. This is the clique that engineered the royal takeover, planned the detention of politicians and their release and lobbied for support with the international community.
Although he prefers to remain behind the scenes Sharad Chandra Shah is more active than the others and was so even during the Chand, Thapa and Deuba premierships. "He was always pushing for a more active role for the palace," recalls a Thapa aide. There are many who say Sharad Chandra Shah holds all the keys to power, that he advises the king on how to appear in public, what to say, does the final edits on his speeches and delivers feedback to HM daily.
After a family quarrel distanced Prabhakar Shumshere JBR from the king, Prabhu Shumshere JBR, is a childhood friend of the monarch, has come closer and is included in royal visits. The other two, Sachit Shumshere JBR and Bharat Keshar Simha, are given to sharp public rebukes of political parties and bad-mouthing democracy. While Sachit has been threatening to declare parties "antinational" if they forge an alliance with the Maoists, Bharat Keshar has been pushing the controversial move of making the king more powerful by using his Hinduness. Although his efforts to enlist the support of Hindu fundamentalists in India has come to naught, he remains powerful and close to the palace.
Below these four powerful people is a palace bureaucracy that has divided up ministerial portfolios like an undeclared shadow cabinet. It includes principle chief secretary Pashupati Bhakta Maharjan, information secretary Yogeshwar Karki, secretary to the personal secretariat Sagar Timilsina and chief military secretary Gajendra Limbu. According to palace sources, Maharjan has been given the foreign and finance portfolios as well as responsibility over the cabinet secretariat, National Planning Commission, zonal and regional administrators, Supreme Court and other constitutional organs. He had a hand in the appointment of ambassadors after Feburary First, which was dominated by ex-army brass.
Yogeswor Karki has a military background and looks after information and communications, physical planning and land reform. He is the architect of post February First media management and the formulation of new media laws. Minister Tanka Dhakal was supposedly taken aback when the new heads of Gorkhapatra and RSS were suddenly appointed recently. Instructions about cutting phone lines and stopping news on FM also came from Karki's office.
Gajendra Limbu looks after the defence, home and forestry ministries and has been involved in decisions to expand the Royal Nepali Army, appointments, inducting helicopters and new weapons. Sagar Timilsina appears to be more powerful than the others in this group and competes with Maharjan for influence. He also looks after the largest number of portfolios, including education, industries, commerce, supplies and agriculture. He was behind the recent changes in the civil service laws and appointments to district development committees.
One source says: "The role of the council of ministers is only to inaugurate official functions, ride cars with flags, abuse political parties but the real power to run the country is being directly carried out from Narayanhiti."
Minister Radha Krishna Mainali has been outspoken about his misgivings and even complained directly to the king and crown prince about the dissolution of the Sports Council without his knowledge by Sharad Chandra Shah. But when the king ignored him, Mainali declared: "This country is being run by Pashupatinath."