One year after his ascension to the throne following the massacre of nearly his entire family, King Gyanendra has had to overcome a deep personal tragedy while working discretely behind the scenes to seek a way out of the country's political tumult.
Public figures who have met him in the past year told us in interviews that King Gyanendra seems acutely aware of the constitutional limitations to his authority as well as his persisting public image problem. But, they say, the king is impatient to get the country back on track.
"Given the shock and sorrow of one year ago, His Majesty has managed to come out of it, and he has played a very positive role," said one close royal relative. "But he really misses his family, and there are very few left who he can confide in."
King Gyanendra is said to be much more informal than his brother in family gatherings, and consults closely with Queen Mother Ratna. Royal sources say Queen Komal has had a harder time. She lost her sister Queen Aishwarya on 1 June, and was seriously wounded by a bullet near her heart. The third sister, Princess Prekshya, died in a helicopter crash on Lake Rara in November.
The king meets political leaders regularly, and aides say he tries to steer them towards transcending personal or party grievances and think of the national interest instead. Sources confirmed that at times King Gyanendra shows signs of personal frustration at the political infighting and factionalism that continue despite a serious national crisis. But they denied that he had any intention of taking the country back to the days of autocratic monarchs. One close aide told us: "You get the sense that His Majesty is keen to influence change within constitutional limits."
Interviewees agreed that King Gyanendra shares his brother Birendra's breadth of knowledge about the Nepali polity, and shows a willingness to listen. But they confirm that King Gyanendra is a much more decisive person. An example is the palace's formal endorsement of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's decision to dissolve parliament last week. The Prime Minister met the king at 9:45 PM, and the public announcement was made within two hours.
Public figures who have met the king say the 55-year-old monarch has already sketched a vision for Nepal in his mind, and the steps that need to be taken to get out of the political mess. "He does not tell us everything," said one close confidante. "He listens keenly, but keeps his decisions pretty much to himself."
King Gyanendra also brings with him his business experience. Some manifestations of his managerial skills may become more visible after 20 June, the astrological date when he officially comes out of the mourning period. His diary is already filling up: the royal visit to India is scheduled for 24-30 June, he returns to Nepal for his birthday on 7 July, and soon after will head off to China.
It is no secret that former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala had a strained relationship with the palace and the army. King Gyanendra appears to get along better with Sher Bahadur Deuba, which has prompted Koirala to publicly accuse Deuba of trying to take the country back to the Panchayat. "There is no doubt about it, His Majesty finds it easier to work with Mr Deuba," said one palace adviser.
The big question now is how much King Gyanendra is willing to leverage his constitutional role during the interim period up to November. He may try to use this to coax the prime minister to reduce his cabinet size and fill it with can-do technocrats with no political baggage, especially in key portfolios like finance and security. Palace officials say they see a clear link between political instability and poor governance.
Concluded one insider: "We are very much aware that the donors don't trust this government to handle any money. And the international community will also not look very kindly towards an autocratic takeover at this point."