Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev (Nepal)
King Gyanendra, as he was formerly known, was the last head of the 239-year-old monarchy that reigned in Nepal before the establishment of a federal republic in 2008. Gyanendra came to the throne in June 2001 when his elder brother King Birendra was murdered by his heir, the Crown Prince Dipendra, who then committed suicide. Gyanendra advocated the continuation of the constitutional monarchy established in 1990 but in Feb. 2005, faced with the continuing Maoist insurgency, he dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s government (for a second time) and assumed direct control. However, in 2006 popular resistance to his direct rule forced him to relinquish powers to parliament. In Sept. 2007 Maoist representatives, demanding the abolition of the monarchy, temporarily withdrew from the coalition interim government. Parliament then voted in Dec. to replace the monarchy with a federal democratic republic following Constituent Assembly elections in April 2008. The victory of the Maoists in the Constituent Assembly elections sealed Gyanendra’s fate, and he was stripped of his title.
Gyanendra was born on 7 July 1947 in Kathmandu to King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah and Crown Princess Indra Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah. He studied in Darjeeling in India, graduating in 1966, and 3 years later completed his studies at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University. In addition to his business interests, he was involved in high-profile conservation work with the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation and the World Wildlife Fund (now the World Wide Fund for Nature).
On 1 June 2001 Crown Prince Dipendra shot dead King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and several other family members before turning the gun on himself. Dipendra was declared king, but died from his wounds three days later and Gyanendra succeeded him.
Early in Gyanendra’s reign there was public unrest when an official report blamed Dipendra for the royal massacre, claiming that he was under the influence of alcohol and narcotics. However, Dipendra’s sister, Ketaki, who was present at the massacre, confirmed the report’s findings.
Birendra had ruled as absolute monarch until 1990, when he granted a multi-party democratic constitution. The ensuing years saw frequent changes of government and political instability. A month after Gyanendra came to the throne, Sher Bahadur Deuba became prime minister, amid growing violence by anti-monarchist Maoist rebels. Parliament was suspended in May 2002 in preparation for elections scheduled for Nov. 2002. However, in early Oct. 2002 Deuba, backed by the leading parliamentary parties, asked for the elections to be suspended and proposed an interim all-party government. On 4 Oct. 2002 Gyanendra responded by dismissing Deuba and his cabinet. He appointed Lokendra Bahadur Chand of the monarchist RPP as prime minister, although opposition figures declared the move illegal. The King assumed the executive powers surrendered by the monarchy in 1990, postponed elections and announced that he would form a non-elected interim government. In a public broadcast he reaffirmed his commitment to the constitutional monarchy, but his actions were widely condemned.
In Jan. 2003 government forces and Maoist rebels agreed a ceasefire but this was short-lived. In May 2003 Chand resigned following pressure from opposition parties, which continued to refute the legitimacy of his appointment. When his replacement, Surya Bahadur Thapa, also resigned in May 2004, Sher Bahadu Deuba was reappointed the following month as prime minister. Meanwhile, the Maoist insurgency continued, with the rebels gaining control over much of the countryside.
In Feb. 2005 Gyanendra again dismissed Deuba and his government, taking power directly himself and imposing a state of emergency. Although he promised to restore multi-party democracy within 3 years, and the emergency was subsequently lifted in April 2005, his actions were criticized abroad, particularly by neighbouring India. In Sept. 2005 the Maoist rebels announced a unilateral ceasefire, but this was called off in early Jan. 2006 as explosions rocked the towns of Butwal, Pokhara and Bhairahawa. In April 2006, after prolonged strikes and demonstrations against his regime, Gyanendra announced the reinstatement of parliament and restoration of democracy.
An interim coalition government under Prime Minister Koirala subsequently began peace talks with the Maoist rebels as parliament voted to curtail the King’s powers, including his command of the military. In Nov. 2006 the government and Maoists signed a peace deal and power-sharing agreement to end the 10 year civil war, and in Dec. a temporary constitution was agreed.
In April 2007 an interim government was formed that included Maoist ministers for the first time. However, in Sept. the Maoists withdrew, demanding the abolition of the monarchy ahead of elections to a new Constituent Assembly scheduled for Nov. The peace process was thrown into turmoil and the elections were postponed. However, to break the deadlock, Parliament voted into Dec. to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic after elections rearranged for April 2008. These elections resulted in victory for the Maoists who became the largest grouping in the new Assembly charged with writing a new constitution. The abolition of the monarchy was confirmed in the first session of the Assembly on 28 May 2008 with the foundation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. Gyanendra was provided with 2 weeks to vacate the Narayanhiti palace in Kathmandu, though he was not sent into exile abroad. Gyanendra’s treatment by the new government was tempered by the high status the institution of the monarchy retains in Nepal, despite the deposed king’s personal unpopularity.
Despite the repossession of Narayanhiti palace and the crown jewels by the state, Gyanendra Shah (as he is now officially known) is rumoured to retain a substantial personal fortune, accumulated from his extensive tobacco, tea, hotel and property businesses. He resides in the relatively modest Nagarjung palace in northwestern Kathmandu.