KATHMANDU: Just a few years ago, Nepal’s royal family looked consigned to the history books.
A palace massacre by an unhinged crown prince in 2001, in which the king and eight members of his family were killed, was followed seven years later by the abolition of the monarchy by a Maoist-dominated special legislative assembly.
But the Himalayan nation’s political and economic fortunes have dipped alarmingly since then, opening a window of opportunity for die-hard supporters of the monarchy to stage a comeback.
The Rastriya Prajantantra Party Nepal, a royalist group led by Kamal Bahadur Thapa, who was interior minister at the height of anti-monarchy protests, has found a way back into the political fray with a strident campaign to once again make Nepal the world’s only Hindu state.
“Our main agenda is a Hindu state with a constitutional monarchy,” Thapa told Reuters. “The monarchy should be the last custodian of the country during the times of crisis.”
“We want Nepal to be a Hindu nation where all religions will co-exist, all religions will be free and equal. There will be no discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs,” said the former national soccer player, immaculately dressed in skin-tight trousers, a knee-length shirt and a traditional boat-shaped Nepali cap.
India, which lies to landlocked Nepal’s south, east and west, also has a Hindu majority but is secular. China is on the north giving fragmented and impoverished Nepal a key strategic position between Asia’s two giants.
The royalists’ new-found clout could further complicate the struggle to build a stable democracy in a country that is riven by the competing agendas of Maoists, centrist groups and regional parties. Nepal has not had a constitution or a stable government since the overthrow of the monarchy.
More than 81 percent of Nepal’s 27 million people are Hindus. For more than two centuries Nepal was ruled by Hindu monarchs of the Shah dynasty, and the kings themselves were revered as incarnations of the god Vishnu.
In 1990, King Birendra began dismantling his absolute power after pro-democracy protests, but the monarchy fell apart when his son Dipendra killed his parents, siblings and other royals in a drug-fuelled rage.
Birendra’s brother Gyanendra, who was not in the palace at the time of the massacre, was forced out by a popular uprising some years later. As Maoist rebel fighters laid down their arms to join the political mainstream, Nepal was declared a secular republic.
Now, the last royals have faded from public view, except for temple appearances by Gyanendra. He lives in a bungalow not far from the royal palace in central Kathmandu, which has been converted into a museum.
His unpopular son and a one-time successor, Paras - best know for his glamorous lifestyle and flaming temper - has not been seen for years and is thought to be living in Thailand.
“It’s the monarchy that has kept this country united, generations of them,” said Keshar Bahadur Bista, a former education minister and number 2 in the royalist party.
“We have never been occupied, we are proud of it. Even a big country like India has been repeatedly occupied. But now the Maoists are trying to divide us in the name of race, religion.”
Gyanendra has not commented on the royalist party or the campaign to bring back the monarchy.
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