June 11, 2008
King Gyanendra, now simply Mr. Gyanendra Shah, just left the Narayanhiti Palace forever.
At a 14-minute long press conference held at Kaski Baithak, the main chamber of the palace, the ex-King said he accepted the May 28 declaration of a republic –- brought on by a decade-long Maoist insurgency and a country-wide revolt against the King’s autocratic rule -- and pledged to work for Nepal’s "peace, progress and independence."
Afterward, he left for Nagarjuna Palace, his old hunting lodge just outside Kathmandu.
During the press conference, which was aired on television, the ex-king spent considerable time clearing his name over allegations of his involvement in the royal massacre of June 1, 2001.
"The reputations of me and my family was deliberately tarnished by accusations," he said. "My wife still has fragments of bullets that can't be taken out." Gyanendra ascended the throne in June 2001 after a palace massacre in which the then crown prince Dipendra -- who was drunk and on drugs and furious at being prevented from marrying the woman he loved -- killed most of the royal family including himself. "Me and my family have been continuously defamed with ill intentions which was saddening and still is. The accusations that were targeted against us were inhuman," said the ex-king.
Many Nepalese still believe –including Maoist Central Party leaders -- that Gyandendra was behind the killings, even though an official probe and several independent studies have dismissed that view as little more than a conspiracy theory.
Gyanendra refuted allegations about acquiring disproportionate amount of properties after becoming the King. He also denied rumors that he had siphoned off his property to foreign countries. "Whatever property I have is in Nepal. I have no assets abroad.
He also said he had no intention of leaving Nepal. "I want to stay in Nepal and help in development and peace-building in any way I can. The sweat blood and sacrifices of our ancestors protected the independence and territorial integrity of this country and I want to promise I will defend it at all cost."
In the past weeks, many news articles have speculated that the ex-king would not give up possession of his diamond and emerald crown and scepter. But he assured the media that he had handed over both objects to the government.
If the nation was expecting an apology from Gyanendra, they didn’t get it: "If I took away any rights of anyone as head of state, if there is any suffering please understand it was not intentional, it was done for the sake of peace.”
The packed press conference was the first ever held by a king of Nepal in the palace, and was held in the hall in which the king normally received ambassadors and foreign heads of state. Mr. Shah entered smiling, but delivered his downbeat message in an emphatic tone, refusing to take questions from the media.
His final statement was the traditional, "May Lord Pashupatinath help us.” And with that, the 239-year-old monarchy of Nepal was over.
His first task as a common citizen was to travel the few miles to his new residence situated on a forested hill northwest of the capital. He swept out of the sprawling Narayanhiti complex in the heart of the capital in a black Mercedes limousine, driving behind an armed police pick-up, past hundreds of onlookers and riot police.
A few dozen people urged him on his way with chants like "Gyane, thief, leave the country", using an insulting diminutive of his name, cheering and dancing as he drove away.
The picture is probably less gloomy than one might expect. Gyanendra will be allowed to continue his business interests, which are considerable indeed: tea and tobacco companies and casinos are among his known personal assets. And he’s not being thrown out sans armed protection. As per the government decision, a total of 75 security personnel—50 Armed Police Force and 25 Nepal Army—will protect him.
Interestingly, the former queen mother Ratna, though divested of her title, will be allowed to continue to live in Mahendra Manzil, the mansion her late husband built for her. Likewise, former queen Komal has also been granted permission to stay in her quarters in the palace. Though the cabinet meeting on Sunday said the two women will be allowed to remain where they are for the time being, it is likely that they will be allowed to breathe their last in their palace quarters.
Former Crown Prince Paras and his family will continue to reside in his father’s other compound located not far from Narayanhiti Palace.