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All the king’s hopeful men

Kathmandu, Nov. 12: Jagat Gauchan, diehard royalist and former minister, caused a minor sensation when he shouted “Long Live the King”. Only a few voices in the crowd joined his, while King Gyanendra looked on impassively from the balcony of the old palace at Hanumandhoka.

The event became something of a cause celebre.

Traditionally, kings of Nepal have gone to the old palace to bless the people with a darshan on Dasain (Vijaya Dasami) day. King Gyanendra was doing just that. But Gauchan’s shout made the event last month almost a symbol of hope for the king’s men.

It isn’t easy for royalists to hail the king in public in these republican times in Nepal. But two things give them hope — the unending squabbles among the political parties on how to end the monarchy or whether to end it at all and their belief that the common people still see the king as the symbol of the nation’s unity, security and Hindu identity.

“On the king’s birthday on July 7, so soon after the victory of the April-May democracy movement, there were endless streams of people who came to the Narayanhiti palace till 10 at night to receive the teeka from the king,” says an official of the palace secretariat.

Even the Maoists, in their original programme, did not talk of the monarchy’s abolition. Royalists are waiting to see the people reaffirm their trust in the monarchy once they are disillusioned with the political parties.

Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai dismisses the idea. True, it had happened in the past. “But history will not repeat itself in Nepal. There were no Maoists the king had to deal with before. We’ve moved too fast and too far to go back to the past,” he says.

The problem, however, is the difference among the parties over whether a referendum was not a better option than a constituent assembly vote.

“We wanted a referendum,” says Jhalanath Khanal, senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), because that would have been a direct mandate from the people.

The Maoists opposed it.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala wants monarchy to remain in some form and his Nepali Congress is divided on the issue.

It could be premature, therefore, to start preparing the obituary of Nepal’s 250-year Shahi dynasty. Or, so the king’s men hope.

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