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Dark shadows over Nepal



Nepal is a land of extremes.

Home to the tallest mountain in the world and arguably the most beautiful landscape on Earth, nonetheless it is susceptible to terrifying earthquakes. 

Its multi-ethnic people are renowned as much for their constancy and stoicism as their friendliness, but also grinding poverty.

But politically, the country is more often seen as a basket case, none more so than in the current violent movement to restore the monarchy.

Modern-day Nepal saw the Shah Dynasty founded in 1768, but during the Rana Oligarchy from 1846 to 1951 the monarchs were purely titular.

With collaboration from the highly revered King Tribhuvan, the Ranas were displaced and an era of what was promised to be parliamentary sovereignty was ushered in, mainly under the aegis of the Nepali Congress Party, which the Ranas had banned.


Surprise, surprise, the politicians could not get their snouts in the trough fast enough, and so in 1961 King Mahendra abolished the nascent 1959 constitution and replaced it in 1962 with the party-less Panchayat System. 

This placed all power in the hands of a politically astute king, despite which the wily politicians still managed to game the system to their personal advantage.

The accession of overseas-educated King Birendra in 1972 oversaw a marked move toward establishing a constitutional monarchy, and he did not resist the establishment of full democratic rule in 1990. 

However, universal suffrage did not weed out all the poison plants in Shangri-La, and many were the voices not merely whispering but shouting in the king’s ear that he should restore the power of the throne, yet he was adamant that the people had chosen democracy and they must learn how to handle it.

Rise of Gyanendra

This light-touch monarch’s reign was cruelly ended when he was assassinated by his son in June 2001. That led, inescapably, to the accession of Birendra’s brother Gyanendra, a monarch of a very different metal whom many Nepalis hold responsible for his brother’s murder.

Gyanendra wasted little time seizing back power for the throne.

The public perception of the character of Gyanendra and his son Prince Paras precipitated a violent movement spearheaded by guerrilla leaders who labeled themselves Communist Party (Marxist) of Nepal.


Ostensibly aimed at overthrowing the monarchy and restoring democracy, in reality it simply put power in the hands of another bunch of greedy, self-serving politicians who purported to be Communists. 

After a bloody insurrection that cost many lives and further polarized the population, on May 28, 2008, a newly elected Constituent Assembly declared a Federal Democratic Republic and abolished the monarchy. 

Its first grievous error was not to banish the king but to allow him to reside in the capital city and provide him with half a battalion of Nepal Army soldiers for his personal entourage.

Since 1965, I have observed, first hand, successive waves of Nepalese politicians of all creeds and colors, and a rose by any other name would smell as bad.

The disease of unaccountable power quickly seizes hold of those who become politicians in Nepal, no matter what promises they make, and they soon attract a supporting cast of acolytes who want a share of the pie.

I must declare an interest here. Having invested much of my life in Nepal, quite apart from considerable sums of money – not one dollar of which even entitles me to own a plot of land there – I have a life-long love affair with its people and an unquenchable thirst to see it prosper.

From a purely historical perspective and despite cruel regimes and a feeble judiciary, relatively speaking, more economic progress was achieved under the Ranas and the Panchayat System than any of the soi-disant democratic iterations since then. 


Nepal has prospered under honest, dynamic leaders and still could do so if that leadership were allied to an independent judiciary that oversaw essential human rights.

By definition, an absolute monarchy does not provide a guarantee of the essential freedoms, which include the fundamental freedom from systemic corruption and equality before the law.

The Nepali people yearn for competent and incorruptible government, and inevitably one suspects that the royalist politicians who have been biding their time are behind the current violent unrest with the call for restoration of the monarchy.

If I tell people that they are being fed a false picture, I will also run counter to the belief that the king is a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the principal Hindu deities. Hence the mob calling for restoration of the description of Nepal as the only Hindu kingdom.

My lawyer’s cynicism prompts me to cast a wary eye across Nepal’s southern border toward that other politician who is politicizing religion for his personal benefit. India has a long history of meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs.

That Nepal urgently needs competent, principled and conscientious government is beyond question. 

Ironically, of all the politicians I know, the one who would make the best leader of Nepal was a pro-royalist. But unless I have seriously misjudged him, he would never have subordinated his principles to the whims of a capricious king.


To suggest that ex-King Gyanendra would or could fulfill the country’s  needs is as absurd as thinking that Boris Johnson could do the same for the United Kingdom.

In the words of the old hill song, let the sun of decency and single-minded patriotism chase these shadows away from the Nepalese dawn. 

Neville Sarony is a noted Hong Kong lawyer with more than 50 years at the Bar.

Source: Asia Times


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