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Nepal prime minister comes to King's rescue

The five-time prime minister is advocating a new political system that would accommodate both Maoists and the monarch in Nepal.

india Updated: Aug 07, 2006 11:28 IST

Spurned by his subjects who want to abolish monarchy and cornered by parliament that has been shearing his powers, Nepal's King Gyanendra has now received support from the very man who was leading the revolt against him - Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.

The octogenarian Koirala, leader of the kingdom's seven-party ruling alliance and the most outspoken critic of the king when the latter began seeking power four years ago, is now advocating a ceremonial king who would have no power over the government, the judiciary or the army.

At a reception for captains of industry and business at his official residence in the capital Sunday, Koirala stoked the crown controversy afresh by asking for a reconciliatory "give and take policy".

To end the decade-old Maoist insurgency and political instability, the five-time prime minister is advocating a new political system that would accommodate both the Maoists and the monarch, who have been at loggerheads since King Gyanendra's ascension to the throne.

"In my thinking, everyone should be accommodated in a democracy," Koirala told the gathering in full media glare.

"If we do not give space to the Maoists, they will be desperate. Also, if we don't give space to the king, he will get frustrated."

This is the second time since the fall of the king's government that Koirala has championed ceremonial monarchy. While visiting his ancestral home in Biratnagar in eastern Nepal he mooted the same reconciliation, which triggered strong anti-king and anti-government protests.

Demonstrators blocked roads in the capital and outer districts, burning tyres and Koirala's effigy.

The unrest forced Koirala's Nepali Congress party rush to say that the stand was the prime minister's personal feeling, not the viewpoint of the party or the government.

Feelings have been running high against the 238-year-old Shah dynasty of kings since last year, after King Gyanendra seized power with the help of the army, suspended civil rights and began an authoritarian rule marked by violence, corruption, nepotism and repression.

Fifteen months of the royal rule triggered a mass uprising that ousted the king's regime and brought a new government that pledged to hold an election putting monarchy to vote.

Koirala's fresh support for the king was Sunday criticised by members of civil society and human rights activists.

Krishna Pahadi, a human rights activist who was jailed during the royal rule, flayed the remark. He said the Nepali Congress was carrying a carcass on its shoulders, implying that the institution of monarchy had become obsolete.

Though the Nepali Congress does not call itself a royalist party and has always led pro-democracy movements, it has also invariably rescued Nepal's kings.

In 1950, when a democracy movement ended the rule of the all-powerful Rana prime ministers the then king Tribhuvan, the present king's grandfather, fled to India.

Under New Delhi's persuasion, the Nepali Congress agreed to a constitutional king and the self-exiled king returned to Nepal.

However, Tribhuvan's son Mahendra overstepped constitutional limits and seized absolute power in the 60s.

He banned all political parties, including the Nepali Congress, whose top leaders were jailed.

The royal yoke was shattered in 1990 when another revolt forced Mahendra's son King Birendra to relinquish absolute power and lift the ban on parties.

However, though the Maoists advocated abolishing monarchy, the Nepali Congress brushed their demand aside and installed the king as a constitutional monarch.

Now nearly two decades later, history is repeating itself in Nepal.

First Published: Aug 07, 2006 11:28 IST