Cautious Delhi plays good neighbour
Curse strikes without waiting for wedding
Shock shuts down Nepal
Queries flood consulate
Phone-call wait saves queen mother
2006 target for LCA induction
Central rule for Manipur
Kutch firm on bandh for Atal

 
 
CAUTIOUS DELHI PLAYS GOOD NEIGHBOUR 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 2: 
Stunned by the tragedy that struck the Nepalese royal family, India today decided on a cautious approach, playing the role of a dependable neighbour and sharing Kathmandu’s grief by declaring a three-day state mourning in the country. But it refused to commit itself further as a clear picture on the succession issue was yet to emerge.

The Union Cabinet, which met in the afternoon, described the killings as a “great tragedy and irreparable loss to the Kingdom of Nepal and its people”. Delhi, it assured Kathmandu, stands by the “mourning nation and its people” in this hour of “national grief”.

In private, however, South Block fears King Birendra’s death might lead to another round of political instability in the Himalayan kingdom that could affect India’s security and again strain relations between the two countries. Ties between the friendly neighbours had soured after the Christmas-eve hijack of an Indian Airlines plane and were only now returning to normal.

But sources said Delhi would not like to foreclose its options by putting any tag on the present Regent, Gyanendra — described in some circles as anti-Indian and by many others as a nationalist.

Woken up early by the tragic news, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called up his Nepalese counterpart, G.P. Koirala, to ascertain whether the reports of the assassination of King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and other members of the royal family by Crown Prince Dipendra were true.

Once the news was confirmed, Vajpayee summoned an emergency meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security to review the situation in Nepal.

“The government and the people of India are stunned and deeply shocked at the tragic and untimely demise of his majesty the King of Nepal, her majesty the Queen and other members of the Royal family,” foreign minister Jaswant Singh said this afternoon while reading out the short statement issued by the government.

“As a close neighbour and friend, India conveys its heart-felt condolences to the mourning nation of the Royal Kingdom of Nepal and to the other members of the royal family. Our heart goes out to them and the Queen Mother in this hour of grief, India grieves with Nepal,” the statement said. “We pray for the departed souls and that Nepal and its people be bestowed the courage and strength to bear this unprecedented personal loss and national tragedy.”

Delhi declared a three-day state mourning beginning from today.

The statement revealed the cautious approach Delhi has decided to adopt in the absence of a clear picture emerging from Kathmandu. It was a clear indication that at this point India would not get into a position where it might have to speculate on a sensitive situation.

The government had to change its stand twice as the fast-paced developments on the one hand and the uncertainty on the other left it confused.

The Cabinet Committee on Security had decided that for the funeral of King Birendra and his family members, the Centre should request President K.R. Narayanan to go to Kathmandu and that he should be accompanied by home minister L.K. Advani. This would show the importance India attaches to Nepal.

But, by evening, there were indications from Kathmandu that the Nepal government and the palace would prefer to have a private funeral and had decided against inviting foreign countries to send their envoys for the funeral.

Uncertainty about the Crown Prince’s state also delayed the official reaction as it was not clear whether he was dead or alive. After he was chosen king of Nepal, the Indian leadership went back into a huddle and came out with a short statement expressing its condolences.

Officials in South Block said the tragedy could lead to more instability in Nepal politics, already plagued by ineffective administration, quick changes in governments and violence by Maoist rebels.

The democratic system in the country has been unsatisfactory and, in the past six years, there were a number of petitions to Birendra to intervene. But Birendra had refused to meddle, though he continued to remain a figure of stability for the nation.

   

 
 
CURSE STRIKES WITHOUT WAITING FOR WEDDING 
 
 
PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, June 2: 
An enraged sage Durbasha’s curse had made King Dushyant forget his beloved Shakuntala, his child she was bearing and brought untold grief to the belle from the backwoods.

But Kalidasa wanted a happy ending to his play, and schemed an exoneration for his heroine. Thus all ended well in Shakuntala.

But it was not to be for the Shah dynasty. Legends have it that an 18th century godman, Baba Gorakhnath, had put a terrible curse on the ruling clan in Nepal after he was slighted by the autocratic Shahs.

He had prophesied in the Nepali calendar year of 1825 that the reigning Shah dynasty, particularly the 11th generation, would perish in 2058, corresponding to 2001 in the Christian calendar. He cursed that if the Crown Prince got married and begot a child before attaining the age of 35, the reigning king would meet with an untimely and brutal end.

Another legend spelt doom for the dynasty. The powerful Prithvi Narayan Shah — who is considered to have unified the world’s only Hindu kingdom in the early 19th century — had granted a last wish to the Newar king of the Malla dynasty, whom he had defeated to conquer the principality of Bhaktapur, comprising the Kathmandu valley.

The dying Malla king had asked that the crown and throne of Bhaktapur be returned to him. A shocked Prithvi Narayan had predicted then that his dynasty would end in its 11th generation. Indeed, Crown Prince Dipendra and his slain younger brother, Prince Nirajan, represented the 11th generation of the Shah dynasty.

The house was pushed out of power by the warlike Rana clan in the late 18th century. But King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah Dev brought the Shahs back to power and glory in the mid-19th century, and many began believing that the Baba’s curse had worn off.

But, it is said, that the pious King Birendra — considered the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu by his subjects — and his family strongly believed in the curse. In fact, this belief is said to be behind Queen Aishwariya’s strong opposition to the 29-year-old Dipendra’s marriage now, before the curse deadline was over. Sources said she was also against the Crown Prince’s choice of bride.

Though there is no official confirmation about the midnight annihilation of the royal family, it is widely believed that the tragic killings were triggered by an argument between Dipendra and the family over his wedding plan.

“The entire episode is being constructed on hearsay, there has been no confirmation on how the end came. But since news of the deaths leaked out, the legend of Baba Gorakhnath’s curse has been doing the rounds in the capital and elsewhere in the Hindu kingdom. The godman’s curse and Prithvi Narayan’s prediction have been in circulation for a few years, and with last night’s tragedy both seem to have gained credence.

It was indeed unusual for a member of the royal family, let alone the Crown Prince, to remain a bachelor till the age of 30. The royalty in Nepal traditionally get married in their mid-twenties,” said a Kathmandu-based journalist.

   

 
 
SHOCK SHUTS DOWN NEPAL 
 
 
BY PROBIR PRAMANIK AND TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Siliguri, June 2: 
Kathmandu woke up to tragedy and turmoil on Saturday.

As news of the royal family’s assassination spread through hearsay and the cable channels, the shocked population was at a loss to react to what is perhaps the bloodiest chapter in Nepal’s blood-stained royal history.

Shops and business establishments were closed and vehicles stayed off the roads. With no confirmation coming from the government, the stunned Nepal subjects crowded the royal palace in the heart of Kathmandu.

Disbelief turned to grief when the state-run Radio Nepal and Nepal Television went on air in the late afternoon to confirm that the royal couple were killed at midnight on Friday.

While the situation remained calm in the Kathmandu valley, a spontaneous strike was observed elsewhere in the country. All entry routes into Nepal from the eastern and southern borders with India were sealed.

“We are helpless. The bandh was spontaneous and no one had the will to break it. It is advisable that you don’t enter the kingdom today, the situation is very fluid and unpredictable. We cannot guarantee your safety,” Ram Hari KC, officer-in-charge of the Kakarvitta police station on the border near Siliguri, told a correspondent.

“There has been no vehicular traffic between the two countries, but we think the situation will improve in a couple of days. All domestic flights and long-distance buses have been cancelled,” he added.

Entry points were also sealed at Raxaul, Birgunj and Birpur along the 700-km border with Bihar. In Birgunj, shops remained closed. Tourists were allowed out, but a long queue of Kathmandu-bound vehicles were stranded. Indian reporters were stopped. “We would not take the risk. The situation is very volatile,” Nepalese authorities said.

In the border towns of Nepal, reports of public display of anger and grief came in. Youths were seen banging their heads on shop shutters, some deflated the tyres of vehicles trying to enter Nepal.

On the Indian side, there was an unusual calm. In Bagha, Bettiah and Birpur, members of the Indo-Nepal Friendship Society prayed for the return of peace.

The Darjeeling police have sounded an alert. Superintendent Sanjay Chander said: “We have alerted all the check posts and border police stations.”

   

 
 
QUERIES FLOOD CONSULATE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 2: 
The phones at 1 National Library Avenue never stopped ringing since morning as anxious callers, stunned by the news of the royal assassinations, wanted to speak to Nepal’s consul-general.

The questions came like a fusillade: What’s the situation there now? Have they declared a curfew? How is the Crown Prince?

“I have answered more than a hundred calls in my office,” said Durga Prasad Bhandari, the acting consul-general. The consul-general, B.R. Ghimire, and his deputy, S.N. Sreshtha, have left for Kathmandu.

“We have already declared a five-day holiday at the office of the Royal Nepal Consulate General. The national flag of Nepal above the office will be kept at half-mast for another eight days,” Bhandari said. There are about 1.5 lakh Nepalese in Calcutta.

Passengers who got off the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu at Netaji Subhas International Airport this morning looked relieved but sounded anxious.

“I just got a call from my sister around four in the morning today. She stays very close to the royal palace,” said Sangeeta Bose, a Kathmandu resident.

“She told me that hundreds people have gathered around the royal palace and they are waiting for some news. I had to come back today as I couldn’t wait any longer.” Bose has come down to visit her relatives in Chinsurah.

Pradipta Mukherjee, an employee of a private firm who had gone to Kathmandu on an official tour, said a friend broke the news to him over phone. “He said the crown prince had shot all the members of the royal family. But when I rushed into my living room and switched on the TV, there was nothing but bhajans and classical music.”

Almost all the passengers said they were in the dark about what exactly had happened inside the royal palace as no official announcement was made till morning. “There are raging rumours. At every place you will find people huddled in groups and all talking about the same thing,” said Uttam Sarkar who returned with his wife and two kids after a holiday.

Ashwin Thoundara, a Buddhist monk of Kathmandu who knew of the tragedy, said people on the street were refusing to believe that the crown prince had wiped out his own family.

“There is an uncanny silence. Everywhere people are just sitting before their TV or radio sets for an official announcement... The whole capital is quiet, as if someone has suddenly taken the life out of the city,” Thoundara said.

   

 
 
PHONE-CALL WAIT SAVES QUEEN MOTHER 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, June 2: 
An expected telephone call saved the 82-year-old queen-mother, Rajmata Ratna Rajya Laxmi.

The Rajmata had joined the extended royal family for the traditional Friday night dinner at the Narayan Hiti Raj Darbar dinning room. The bhoj served as a family get-together for the entire royalty.

All together 19 family members had sat down for dinner. Apart from King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya, Crown Prince Dipendra, younger son Nirajan, daughter Shruti and son-in-law Gorakh Rana, the king’s sisters, Sharda, Shanti, Shobha, Ketuki and Jayanti, were present. So were his brother-in-law, Prince Kharga Vikram Shah, younger brother Dhirendra, sister-in-law Komal (wife of second brother Gyanendra), Gyanendra’s son Paras and a few other relatives.

The queen-mother left minutes before Dipendra allegedly opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol. She was expecting a call from a granddaughter living abroad. Paras, Shobha, Ketuki and Gorakh Rana had also left as they lived some distance away from the palace.

The only royal not present was Birendra’s second brother, Prince Gyanendra, who was away at the tourist resort of Pokhara. Gyanendra will be officiating as the new monarch of Nepal, governing the kingdom on behalf of the comatose Dipendra.    


 
 
2006 TARGET FOR LCA INDUCTION 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, June 2: 
India’s indigenous and ambitious multi-role light combat aircraft(LCA) project is being closely watched by China and Pakistan, Aeronautical Development Agency Director Kota Harinarayana said.

Kota spoke to reporters yesterday after the first prototype completed 12 flights,ending the first phase of the prototype project.

The last flight was commanded by Wing Commander R.Nambiar. The aircraft is being developed by ADA, which is based in Bangalore. Wg Cdr Rajiv Kothiyal had successfully test-flown the aircraft on its maiden flight in February this year.

Kota said LCA had evoked the interest of the global aviation industry and India’s neighbours, China and Pakistan, were watching the progress of the project closely. Russia and Austria have already expressed interest in joint-manufacture of the aircraft.

Kota said the second technology demonstrator (prototype-2) will take to the skies by August, followed by the third by the year-end. “ We are happy with the first prototype performance” he said.

   

 
 
CENTRAL RULE FOR MANIPUR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 2: 
The Union Cabinet today unanimously recommended the imposition of President’s rule in Manipur and said the Assembly should be kept in “suspended animation’’.

Briefing newsmen after a meeting of the Cabinet at Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 7 Race Course Road residence, external affairs and defence minister Jaswant Singh said: “The Cabinet granted its approval and recommended to the President imposition of President’s rule in Manipur. The Assembly would be kept in suspended animation.”

For the past two weeks, Manipur was in the throes of political uncertainty after the defeat of the Samata Party-led People’s Front ministry of Radhabinod Koijam on the floor of the House. All the BJP MLAs who voted that day opposed the motion of confidence brought by the chief minister had sought.

The BJP and the Samata Party are partners in the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. In Manipur, BJP was propping up the Samata-led government.

After its government fell, Samata had insisted on either reinstatement of Koijam with BJP support or imposition of President’s rule.

However, 26 BJP legislators formed a new political outfit, Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA), and claimed they would form an alternative government with the support of 41 MLAs. But this did not find favour with the BJP central leadership.

The PDA broke up after the Manipur State Congress Party pulled out of the alliance.

Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy Singh staked claim to form the government. However, he withdrew when the BJP made it clear that the party would have nothing to do with government formation.

With various political parties unable to provide a viable alternative in Imphal, Governor Ved Prakash Marwah sent his report to President K.R. Narayanan, with copies to the Prime Minister and home minister L.K. Advani, recommending President’s rule.

Marwah cited “political uncertainty’’ in the state as the reason behind his recommendation to the President.

   

 
 
KUTCH FIRM ON BANDH FOR ATAL 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, June 2: 
The state government’s attempts to persuade residents of quake-ravaged Kutch to not support the bandh during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit here tomorrow have failed.

Group-2001, the Bhuj Rehabilitation Committee and Senior Citizens of Bhuj are going ahead with their agitation to draw the Prime Minister’s attention.

In a bid to placate the Kutch residents protesting against the state’s rehabilitation package, the government yesterday accepted their demand for “changes in the package’’.

A senior official confirmed that “certain revisions have been made in order to make it more clear. Certain ambiguities have been removed’’. The government has decided to withdraw development charges and allow bigger plots of land for building houses.

However, the organisations which have called the bandh were not appeased by the “minor revisions’’ and refused to withdraw their agitation.

Asserting that they would go ahead with the bandh, Ratnakar Dholakia, convener of the Bhuj Rehabilitation Committee, said his organisation and Group-2001, which is spearheading the agitation in Anjar, would stage a day-long dharna opposite Jubilee grounds to draw Vajpayee’s attention “to the fact that the quake-hit people continue to be helpless four months after the quake reduced the district to rubble”.

The Kutch district Congress has decided to greet the Prime Minister with black flags.

Citing common cause with the Bhuj Rehabilitation Committee and Group-2001, the Congress has called a Kutch bandh tomorrow, when Vajpayee lands in Bhuj. On Sunday, Bhachau and Rapar will observe a bandh when he goes there.

   
 

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