Celebrating a birthday is a personal matter. Yet it carries special meaning for Nepal in the case of the declining monarch King Gyanendra who observed his 60th birth anniversary amidst the protests and merry making on Saturday. Interestingly, this should be the most talked about birthday bash in Nepali history.
As a monarch, he observed five birthdays lavishly, one last year went unnoticed. This year, the panchas and royalists ate and drank on Gyanendra’s birthday. Soft oppositions say let him observe this last function as a monarch of this land. Revolutionists said the king is conspiring against the people in the name of a birthday party.
The communists came forward to protest the celebrations. YCL, the Maoist youths of whom politicians and media talked most these days, were in the front row against the feast. Yet they limited their protests some half a kilometer away from the place king was receiving wishes from his dears.
The King’s supporters and opposition both rallied. They gathered at the same place but remained staring at each other at a distance of about 50 metres, where a large number of police force made the dividing line between them. A few attempted clashes were made and a few people were injured. However, the function went on after the royalists moved to the palace (northward) and the communists to Bhadrakali (southward).
The royalists chanted long live king Gyanendra while the opposing groups chanted anti-king slogans like down with the king, king Gyanendra leave the country etc. The royalists had planned to take out the greetings rally from Khula Munch (open theatre) which the Maoist foiled.
A few days earlier, the students and youths affiliated to nine political parties in the parliament collectively decided to start mass protests against the celebrations. Unfortunately, it was only the Maoists who came out to the streets. This is not surprising because it has been the trend for the mainstream political parties and their supporting organizations to decide one thing and do another. To keep in mind, except during the mass movement of April last year, the party wings rarely organized any protests against the king.
On Sunday, most newspapers made banner news out of the birthday party. The media had not given such coverage even when King Gyanendra was at the apex of power. However, advertisements making birthday wishes were very few.
A leading daily, Kantipur, claimed protests by the communists gave legality to the celebrations. Critical of the Maoists, the daily seemed to have followed this path after the soft communists – UML supporters and congress supporters – failed to join the Maoists in the protests. The paper also published a cartoon where cartoonist Batshayan illustrated that the much talked-about birthday party has revived the sensation of the February first royal coup.
The security of the palace was of course beefed up. In the absence of the military forces, the government had deployed, on request of the palace administration, a large number of police personnel.
Notably, the chief of the army Rukmangad Katuwal was reported to have missed the function. Katuwal was brought up in the palace.
The parties say the king is hated, yet he has become the most talked about person in Nepal, indicating that the king still occupies a major influence over national politics.
Let me wish King Gyanendra all the best. Happy birthday!