The man who would be king (for a second time)

Gyanendra was so unpopular when he ascended to the throne after the massacre of the Nepalese royal family that the country soon became a republic. Now he wants to return

In a large room garishly furnished with a bright yellow carpet in Kathmandu's Narayanhiti Palace, King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah appears to be smiling. It is not the real former monarch, of course. Since the spring of 2008 when Gyanendra was unceremoniously forced from his throne, the last in a line of Hindu monarchs stretching back 239 years, the only royalty to be found in this jarringly designed 1960s palace-turned-museum exist in photographs and portraits, such as the one in which the former ruler appears to be suppressing a grin. But is it an omen? Perhaps so. Two years after he was stripped of his title and ordered from his palace as the Himalayan nation declared itself a republic, the former king wants his old job back.

Seizing on seemingly widespread discontent with Nepal's political parties and growing public anxiety over everything from power cuts to the failure to agree a constitution, the 62-year-old apparently believes he may be the solution to Nepal's problems. In his first proper interview since losing his throne, Gyanendra recently claimed he did not believe the institution of Nepal's monarchy was over. "I don't think it has ended... When you turn the pages of history of the nation, such coming and going has been consistent," he told a local television channel.

He said that in the two years since the republic had been declared, the security of ordinary people had suffered and when asked directly whether he wished to return, he said: "The people's views and their opinion is paramount, so I feel everyone will have to abide to such views."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nepal's elected politicians reacted with fury. Having been at loggerheads for much of the past two years, the three main parties came together to denounce what they termed a series of attacks against historic achievements and appealed to the public to "unite against conspiracies against the republic". The country's president, who replaced Gyanendra as head of state, claimed "the era of kings is over".

In many ways it is remarkable that the king is even contemplating a return to his throne, or that Nepal's politicians are feeling so obviously threatened. His enforced departure two years ago, when he had to hand over his sceptre and jewel-embossed crown of peacock feathers, followed an election in which the majority of parties ran with a pledge to turn the country into a republic and do away with the Shah dynasty which had ruled Nepal since 1768. The party that won the most seats, and which would go on to form the government, the Maoists, had campaigned the most vociferously against the monarchy.

Yet there are those who believe that the way in which Gyanendra was bustled from office was unfair and unconstitutional. Kamal Thapa, chairman of the right-wing opposition Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, is campaigning for the government to hold a referendum in which people would be questioned on three issues: whether they supported the return of the monarchy, whether they agreed with declaring Nepal a secular state rather than a Hindu nation and whether they supported federalism. He said the public had not had a chance to vote directly on any of these issues. "If the people of Nepal were given a choice, they would say yes [to the return of the monarchy]," claimed Mr Thapa, who served as a minister during a controversial period of absolute rule headed by Gyanendra. "The monarchy is a victim of the grand designs of external forces – India was never happy with the idea of monarchy – and the strategic force of the extreme left."

Gyanendra was never a popular monarch. Had it not been for the royal massacre of 2001 in which most members of the ruling family including the then king, Birendra, lost their lives after the crown prince embarked on a still-mysterious drunken, drug-fuelled rampage, it is unlikely he would become Nepal's head of state. As it was, the crown prince, who was liked by the public and who was expected to take over from his father, succumbed to self-inflicted gunshot wounds having shot down his closest relatives in a suite of rooms located at the rear of Narayanhiti Palace.

When it emerged that Gyanendra, the brother of Birendra, had been selected to take over the throne, there were widespread demonstrations in protest. The government was so concerned that it did not announce the move in advance and most residents of Kathmandu only learned of it as a result of the blasts from a 33-gun salute to mark his ascension.

Gyanendra was unpopular then, but he proceeded to make matters even worse. In February 2005, the increasingly authoritarian monarch suspended the parliament – his supporters say it was done at the request of the prime minister – and took power, returning Nepal to a form of absolute rule that had been done away with in 1990. It triggered massive demonstrations that shook Kathmandu and which the king suppressed by ordering the Royal Nepalese Army to confront protesters with live rounds and tear gas.

Against this backdrop, there was little support for the king among the country's main political parties when, in 2006, the Maoists, who had fought a bitter decade long civil war against the government that had cost 13,000 lives, announced that their price for ending their armed struggle and re-entering mainstream politics, was the abolition of the monarchy.

Most observers believe it is unlikely Gyanendra could return to the throne. Yet the enduring support for a man who was never much liked speaks much about the current state of Nepal, stumbling and struggling two years after becoming a republic.

"People are anxious, and they yearn for some assurance. And unreasonably, the more conservative among them look to the monarchy with nostalgia," said analyst Manjushree Thapa, author of Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy.

Some Nepali commentators believe the former king has sought to capitalise on national angst following the recent death of G P Koirla, head of the Nepali Congress party, who served as prime minister on four occasions and who played a key role brokering peace with the Maoists.

Yet the problems confronting Nepal and its deeply impoverished population go deeper than that. Less than two months away from a deadline to agree a new constitution, the main parties still cannot reach agreement on some of the most basic issues. In recent weeks, the situation has become so bad that the current prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, of the Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), has been trying to stave off an unexpected move to oust him from elements within his own party. Some believe that if the constitution is not agreed, Mr Nepal will be forced to form a "unity government" of all parties to avoid political meltdown.

Some people believe that a portion of the blame for the current situation can be laid at the feet of the Maoists and their leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal or Prachanda, who became the first prime minister of the republic of Nepal, only to resign in May 2009 amid a row over efforts to integrate thousands of former Maoist fighters into the national army.

Since his resignation, the Maoists have organised countless strikes that have brought many cities to a halt. But in a country where so many people struggle to even get enough to eat, where power blackouts in the capital can last for more than 12 hours and where piles of stinking rubbish litter Kathmandu's streets, stability rather than strikes are what most people appear to want.

It is within this context that Gyanendra is hoping to make return. In recent weeks, the former ruler, traditionally considered a living god, has made appearances at several high-profile Hindu religious events at which he received an enthusiastic response from the crowds. The former king declined to give an interview, but a source close to the one-time monarch told The Independent that he had taken his ousting two years ago badly.

"His view is that if the people want him, he is ready to serve," said the source, who asked not to be identified. "He has no political ambition. He wants to be like a king."

Timeline: A decade of turmoil

2001 Crown prince Dipendra shoots the king and most members of the royal family, before turning the gun on himself. He survives for three days. When he dies, Gyanendra is crowned king.

2005 Gyanendra suspends parliament after a surge in Maoist violence during the long-running insurgency. He returns Nepal to a form of absolute rule that was ended in 1990. The country's main political parties and the Maoists join together and vow to restore democracy in Nepal.

2006 After weeks of strikes and demonstrations that leave 19 dead, protesters ring the capital Kathmandu and force the king to reinstate parliament. The new government calls a ceasefire with the Maoists, who join an interim government. Later in the year, the Maoists declare the insurgency, that cost 13,000 lives, at an end.

2007 Government nationalises the royal palaces, the first step to seizing all of Gyanendra's property.

2008 Gyanendra is forced from the throne, the last king in a line of Hindu monarchs stretching back 239 years.

2010 Gyanendra indicates his willingness to return to the throne as the main parties squabble over a new constitution.

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
His band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Art & Design Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Assistant Management Accountant -S/West London - £30k - £35k

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager required, S...

Bookkeeper -South West London - £25k - £30k

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering