Facing mounting street protests at home and continued international isolation, King Gyanendra has stepped up efforts to demonstrate that he enjoys widespread support and respect from Nepalis.
After whirlwind tours of towns of western and central Nepal in the past month, the king on Thursday walked through Patan greeting thousands of curious onlookers and school children instructed to stand on the sidewalks as he made his way to inspect the regional office of the Central Zone in Jawalakhel. (Pic: the king at Mangal Bajaar)
The king walked on recently patched potholes, past stumps of trees chopped down after 1 February and under dozens of welcome arches and banners that the local administration compelled local hotels, institutions and schools to put up overnight.
The palace has said these royal tours are routine and an effort by the king to feel the pulse of his subjects and to reassure them that he is working to restore peace and "meaningful" democracy. But some see the walkabouts as proof the king wants to be an active monarch and suspect a sinister prelude to further crackdowns.
King Gyanendra gave himself the task of restoring peace when he took over seven-and-a-half months ago. And since the Maoists stole his thunder by announcing their three-month unilateral ceasefire, this could be a royal PR offensive. Indeed, ever since the ceasefire on 3 September the royal regime has been on the defensive, lashing out with an orchestrated attack on pro-democracy elements in the media, judiciary and civil society. This has sparked rumours that royal hardliners are pushing the king to launch further crackdowns.
Vice-chairman Tulsi Giri made a hard-hitting speech in Biratnagar on Tuesday in which he pinpointed the 1990 constitution as a deterrent to fulfilling the king's wishes. (Transcript on p 2) Such talk has worried even committed monarchists who say the king is painting himself into a corner and pushing the country on an irreversible path to republicanism. The vitriolic rhetoric of royalist hardliners is now making even King Gyanendra's stated commitment to "democracy and constitutional monarchy" sound moderate.
"Too many crazy mistakes have been made. Enough is enough, the king should take five of the cleanest most respected people in the land and give them only one mandate: to talk to the Maoists and the parties and find a solution," says Padam Thakurati, the Panchayat era editor.
Other monarchists are worried that the king is now being directly blamed for everything that is going wrong and for the immoderation of his own royal nominees many of whom have shady pasts.
"The king is trapped in a conspiracy," explains retired Brig-Gen Dipta Prakash Shah, a former nominated member of the Upper House, "to hide one mistake the royal courtiers are making a thousand mistakes.both an active monarchy or military rule are out of the question."
(With reporting by Sharad KC and Kiran Nepal)