Nepal's Monarchy after the Massacre

Article excerpt

THE massacre of the Nepalese royal family has cast a dark shadow over Nepal. The murder of King Birendra, venerated by his subjects as the reincarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu, and his wife, Queen Aishwarya, by their eldest son, Crown Prince Dipendra, plunged this small Himalayan kingdom into turmoil. Succession in Nepal is through the male line. The bloodbath at the Narayanhiti Royal Palace in Kathmandu not only wiped out the royal family but almost all other future claimants to the throne. 'We have, in short' the Kathmandu Post wrote, 'lost a visionary monarch who ably guided his nation through thick and thin. It will no doubt be difficult to replace such a leader who had won the people's heart and symbolised Nepal's move towards a modem era'.

People, crying, as one woman said, for the loss of their beloved king, refused to believe that his son, heir to the throne, could have killed his parents. Rumours that the murders were the work of 'Imperialist' conspirators in league with the government and the palace, spread by Maoist revolutionaries, gained street credibility with alarming speed. The government, anxious to damp down the mounting wave of public anger and threat of disorder, issued a bland statement blaming the deaths on 'the accidental explosion of a weapon'. Not surprisingly, no one believed a word of it. Demonstrations calling for vengeance erupted in riots in which a number of people were killed. Kathmandu was placed under curfew for two days. The army and the police restored calm with a heavy-handed show of force which did nothing to dispel the widely-held belief that the royal family had been the victims of a murderous conspiracy.

The truth, when it emerged after a hastily-convened official inquiry by the chief justice, was stark and brutally clear. There had been no conspiracy. The murders were committed by the Crown Prince who shot his father at point blank range, followed by his mother and the rest of the family who had gathered at the palace with their friends for dinner on the evening of 1 June. It was, said a survivor, a scene of unrelieved horror.

The 29-year old Crown Prince who, like his father, went to Eton -- where he was said to have been a model student -- was in a black mood. He was drinking heavily and was at odds with his parents over his plans to marry a young woman of royal blood but of Indian descent of whom the Queen strongly disapproved. His father angered by his conduct told him to leave the room. He did so, only to return wearing combat uniform and armed with two assault rifles and a pistol. He fired into the ceiling and after surveying the family gathering, raked the room and the adjoining garden with sustained bursts of automatic fire killing, as well as his parents, his younger brother, sister and four other close relatives. He then shot himself. Crown Prince Dipendra, though mortally wounded, was proclaimed king in accordance with the constitution but he died, unaware of it, on life support, two days later. His uncle, Prince Gyanendra, the 53-year-old younger brother of the late king was enthroned as Nepal's twelfth monarch. Though regicide on such a scale or with such devasting consequences is rare, much blood has been shed in dynastic and revolutionary wars in the course of Nepalese history.

Nepal, the world's only Hindu kingdom, emerged as a nation state in the eighteenth century after it was unified by the founder of the Shah dynasty, Prithvi Narayan Shah, a determined and ruthless leader who conquered and annexed a number of small Principalities in the Valley of Nepal, including Kathmandu. Stopped in his tracks from extending his kingdom by the Sikhs on one side and the Chinese on the other, he turned his eyes on the fertile southern lands which he believed the supposedly decadent British East India Company to be incapable of defending. It was a strategic blunder of the first order. Far from being a pushover, the Company, angered by repeated border incursions, struck back vigorously by declaring war. …