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King to push envelope a while longer

It is unlikely he will leave Nepal after the Maoists and SPA signed agreement, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2006 23:48 IST

Will he? Won't he? Leave Nepal and flee. Widespread speculation that Nepal's largely marginalised king was ready to transfer his assets and flee the country after the Maoists and the seven-party alliance (SPA) signed the comprehensive peace agreement appear, for the moment, to have been belied. It appears unlikely he will leave the country just yet, observers said.

Instead, having welcomed the signing of the peace agreement earlier this week as an historic opportunity to revive democracy in Nepal, Gyanendra appears to have positioned himself as a democrat. He will, analysts said, attempt every means possible to ensure an honourable survival for himself and heirs of the Shah dynasty within Kathmandu's Narayanhity Palace, despite the Maoist opposition to him and the Rayamajhi Commission investigating excesses committed by the Palace.

India, which has gained enormous public goodwill by pitching its support for the will of the Nepalese people, is caught in a bind over the future of the monarchy in Nepal, with the Maoists and the SPA government having signed the peace agreement ending years of armed insurgency, paving the way for what increasingly appears likely to be a Republican government in the country.

There have been suggestions, even by the Maoist leadership, that Gyanendra, an astute businessman before he became King in 2001, has made adequate alternate arrangements to leave Kathmandu at a short notice, choosing destinations in Europe to travel to. However, Professor SD Muni, a long-time Nepal watcher and analyst, is among the majority that does not agree.

"For as long as he can, he will try to stay and cut a deal," said Muni. "Various political parties are still speaking of a referendum (on the future of the monarchy) and he (Gyanendra) will stay on to ensure it is held. Whatever volume of votes he garners will give him legitimacy," Muni said. Also, "leaving the country would mean giving up all the considerable immoveable assets his ancestors have built up in Nepal."

Placing another spanner against his immediate removal is a survey which states around 52 per cent of Nepal's population is in favour of a ceremonial role for the monarchy.

Prachanda, however, reluctant he was with that formulation, that Nepal's Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is trying to push through, said he would abide by the verdict of the people.

A wide cross-section of the diplomatic community in New Delhi concurs that, should Gyanendra seek asylum in India, he would be granted. According to a former Indian envoy to Nepal, "India has a history, over 200 years old, of granting asylum to political refugees from Nepal. Why should India now shut its doors?"

While he may not exactly be welcomed here and while there may not be any great love lost at a personal level for a person senior officials have variously described as "pompous" and "too clever by half", there is no denying the close ties the Nepalese monarchy has in various parts of India, and with the Hindutva movement.

Gyanendra even has support among elements within the ruling UPA government, which, though it officially dropped its 'twin pillar' approach to Nepali politics ('multi-party democracy' and a 'constitutional monarchy') and actively assisted the Maoist re-entry into the democratic mainstream, would not be averse to seeing the King in a ceremonial role.

But, according to Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai, "in any ceremonial form, his potential for making mischief is enormous."

Maoist supremo Prachanda told HT, "the King was welcome to live on in Nepal as an ordinary citizen (he was clear Gyanendra could not live in the Narayanhity Palace)," the "end of the monarchy" was Prachanda's "dream" he said, and he sought to "create a truly federal system from the old feudal state." But "we could reopen an inquiry against the King for his role in the 2001 (palace) massacre."

Gyanendra could survive even that, officials said, and there might not be a witch-hunt against him as the common citizen may find any move to go after the King and bring him to trial in bad taste.