Monarchy had been an integral part of Nepali society since the unification of the territories currently clubbed under Nepal in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Without the Shah monarchs, there would be no Nepal as we know it today. Sometimes they ruled directly, at other times they did so through their elected or unelected representatives and, for another 104 years, they were only figureheads. Yet they endured, for nearly two-and-a-half centuries.
Arguably, the first nail in the monarchy’s coffin was hammered in on 1 June 2001 when the entire family of King Birendra, the ruling monarch, was gunned down. The then crown prince Dipendra was named the culprit. He apparently took his own life after killing his family, and no new piece of evidence has emerged to suggest someone else was directly involved. Yet that is not how people saw it. The consensus then, and perhaps even now, continues to be that Birendra’s younger brother Gyanendra, who would later be the king, had a big hand in the massacre.
As the monarch, Gyanendra started getting increasingly authoritarian: assuming all executive powers, outlawing political parties, and controlling the media. This only confirmed people’s doubts about him. By the time the Seven Party Alliance started a joint campaign with then warring Maoists to oust the autocratic king in 2006, public opinion had turned firmly against Gyanendra. When the king, cornered at home and ditched by the international community, gave in to protestors, he knew full well he was signing on the monarchy’s death warrant.
Many Nepalis are disappointed with the course of events in the country in the two decades since the monarchy’s ouster. A sizable section of the population is again starting to hanker after the stable days of monarchy. But this will be a flawed course, for two main reasons. One, the federal-republic project in Nepal is only in its infancy, and it is too early to pass definite judgments on its success or failure. Two, there can be no going back from a situation where sovereignty is now fully vested in the people. On the 20th anniversary of the royal massacre, it is worth recalling the beloved Birendra and his family. But there is no point trying to revive an institution whose time has passed.