Nepali Times
Narayanhiti whodunit. Who cares?


We Nepalis never really mourned the passing of King Birendra. Which is why we still get a jolt when we see King Gyanendra carrying out his late brother's functions, like addressing parliament or visiting temples on Krishna Astami. We all felt the shock, watched with horror the ritual of multiple cremations. But we skipped the part of mourning because before the news of the massacre had even sunk in, we were instantaneously carried away by the titillation of whodunit, the circumstances of the royal massacre being such that everyone was deathly curious about the identity of the murderer. Amidst the swirling rumours, the very belief in the identity of the killer became politicised-incongruously, you were considered a royalist if you stated that on the basis of available evidence (primarily the accounts of the witnesses before the inquiry commission) that Dipendra was the likely killer. In the midst of this, there wasn't much time for the sorrow of bereavement. And thus as a nation we lost the therapeutic advantages of mourning.

So, here we are today a country and populace still in denial: of the identity of the killer, and deep down, the very fact of the death of the King Birendra and his family. Under any other circumstance, and in any country other than this one, we would have reached that point of belief because seeking it was the next logical thing to do. Not so in the Himalayan kingdom-for even as we tried to surface from the death and ashes, there was the Maoist challenge staring us in the face. With comrades Baburam and Prachanda trying to turn the royal deaths to their \'republican' advantage, the mental waters got muddied once again, and public attention got engaged with tackling the political future.

Does this look and feel like a country that has lost a king whose reign lasted nearly thirty years? No. Which brings up the question: what kind of a people are we? The fact is, however, that there is nothing wrong with the people of Nepal. It is just that we are still in incredible confusion which feeds the denial. The shattered national psyche is not in the process of healing. Everything has been put on hold, a kind of mass suspension of belief, and Nepalis hope for a day when we can finally begin to believe again.

There is a national state of depression, if we would recognise it. Friends who land at Tribhuvan International Airport report a listlessness, an unsmiling reception, an air of preoccupation. Perhaps there is some exaggeration there, but we have certainly not bounced back as a people. This affects our plans, our economy, our development, our national energy. And the main reason is that the demon of death has not yet been put to rest. The people who matter, in politics, in academia, in media, are intent on looking the other way. They have not lived up to their responsibility of looking deeper into the royal palace massacre so that there is a departure from it into the future. Sure, there are enough members of this intelligentsia who profess not to believe that "Dipendra did it", but neither have they gone any deeper themselves or shown a commitment to their conviction to do their investigations and analyses, and come up with plausible alternative explanations.

These Kathmandu educated, who bear some responsibility, in trying to put an end to the mass confusion, have not done much in the last three months to probe deeper into the issue. Instead, like children who wet their beds and continue to sleep in the momentary warmth (moot ko nyano), they are willing to accept the comfort of half-explanations. It takes much too much commitment, intellect, courage and analytical skill to do otherwise. They are willing to wallow in the half-light of ambiguity, and they do not have the honesty of purpose to speak out openly on what they do and do not believe-a cynical reliance on rumour-mongered suggestions that "Dipendra did not do it" is considered sufficient.
They are willing to believe the worst of the present king, Gyanendra, but they wouldn't lay the killings on him completely. They want to believe that "India did it", but do not seek explanations and evidence that will take us further in that direction. They insist that Paras was the culprit, but prefer not to give any credence to his testimony before the commission, and that of eight others, who testified to the fact that Dipendra had let loose.

But the biggest failure of all has been that of our parliamentarians, those guardians of the public interest, who should have called a hearing before a special commission (in fact, they should have called a special session, no less), to delve further into the matters raised and left unanswered by the commission of the Chief Justice and the Speaker. That commission took in evidence which pointed at Dipendra, without passing judgement. As for motive, that issue was left unaddressed.

Our parliament is sovereign, and it is still in session. If our lawmakers knew how to govern rather than to fake it with such absolute sincerity, then the opportunity is still open to them-to establish a hearing to look into the royal palace killings. A hearing which would evaluate once again all the evidence taken by the commission, the videotapes of the testimony given, forensic studies as required, and call in witnesses including-all the royal and un-royal witnesses at the site of the massacre, all the civilian and military staff nearby, Devayani Rana and her parents, the medical team at the Army Hospital, the chief of the army's Narayanhiti detail, the Commander-in-Chief, the friends of Dipendra and Devayani, and anyone else who could provide any kind of background as to Dipendra's love of the gun, his impulses, his relationship with his parents, siblings and larger family, and the extent to which the love affair's progression to marriage may have been stymied.

Any and every person who truly believes there has been a conspiracy leading to the Narayanhiti massacre must call for such a hearing. Only then will things become clearer. If such a hearing brings questions to the fore that cast doubt on the testimony of the witnesses who point their fingers squarely at Dipendra, then at least the way will be clear for us to believe in a conspiracy. On the other hand, if the hearing tends to re-establish Dipendra's hand in the killings, then the public will have confirmed for it a point-of-view that still remains restricted to only a few in Kathmandu.

Whether to absolve Dipendra or to indict him posthumously, it was important that everyone (conspiratorialist, rationalist, or royalist) who cared for the country demand that parliament hold hearings on the royal massacre. But other than a few weak voices that quickly went silent, there was no such demand. That is because where it matters at the top we are still a feudal society, where those in power as well as those who have the responsibility of leading public opinion prefer to let sleeping dogs lie and rumours fly-do nothing yourself other than pontificate. This ultimately weakens parliamentary democracy because it weakens the position of King Gyanendra, whose responsibility and duty it is to use all that is vested in him as constitutional monarch to protect this system of government.

Our mentality is still stuck at the level of the Kathmandu nobility at the time of the Kot Massacre: know which way the wind is blowing, raise a hullabaloo as long as it does not matter, and go quiet when it does. And maybe, rather than have a history, a century later someone will write a "historical novel" about the Narayanhiti Kanda.
Modern-day Nepal and Nepalis deserve better than that.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)