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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 April 2005, 22:14 GMT 23:14 UK
Nepal's shrewd, smooth operator
By Rabindra Mishra
BBC Nepali Service

King Gyanendra
The king said the emergency was necessary to fight the Maoists
The lifting of the state of emergency by King Gyanendra three months after his meticulously planned royal coup may have come as a welcome move for many both inside and outside the country.

However, the king's move has to be seen in the wider context of his political and diplomatic manoeuvring in which he appears to be moving towards the outcome he has carved out for himself.

Immediately after taking over state power on 1 February, he silenced any possible backlash within the country by declaring a state of emergency and severely curtailing fundamental rights.

At the same time he tried to impress upon the general public that his move was genuinely aimed at restoring peace and re-starting the democratic process, which, ironically, he derailed after he sacked the elected government in October 2002.

Well reflected

And many ordinary Nepalis, fed up with the infighting among politicians and their inability to deal with the country's civil war, still seem to be prepared to give the king the benefit of the doubt.

A pro-monarchy protester in New Delhi, India shouts slogans (10 April 2005)

The king knew he could not control international reaction but he has made it clear that "they will have to say what they have to say, and I will have to do what I have to do".

This attitude has been well reflected in many of the king's moves.

Despite domestic and international pressure to restore basic rights, he has appointed two of the country's most staunch royalists as senior aides in the cabinet, named regional administrators to consolidate his power and has taken several political leaders into custody under various pretexts.

Like father, like son

He has also snubbed India, Nepal's strongest international critic.

For nearly two months the king refused to grant an audience to the Indian ambassador, who wanted to convey his government's concern about the king's move.

After the royal takeover, India, along with the United States and Britain, froze all military aid to the Himalayan kingdom.

India's non-cooperation would have been of particular concern for Kathmandu as Delhi is the key provider of military assistance to the Royal Nepalese Army.

But the king did not want to be seen as worried by Delhi's reaction.

Nepalese soldiers patrol in the Rolpa district in an operation against Maoist rebels.
Choose between me or the rebels, the king says

Instead, he tried to play off China against India - something his father, King Mahendra, had done in the 1960s.

And he knows his father won that diplomatic tussle.

After King Mahendra sacked the elected government and took control of state power in 1960, the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, told the Indian parliament that the king's move was "a complete reversal of democratic process" in Nepal.

However, within six months of the dismissal of the government, India had signed four aid agreements with Nepal and normal friendship had been re-established.

The present king is probably hoping for a similar about-turn.

Complete control

There are indications, especially after the king's meeting with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on the sidelines of the Afro-Asian summit in Indonesia, that Delhi is indeed changing its mind, slowly but surely.

Nevertheless, Delhi has made it clear that the pace of change will be quicker if the king speedily restores fundamental rights.

Police detain activists of the Nepal Communist Party during an anti-King Gyanendra demonstration in Kathmandu, Nepal
Demonstrations will still be banned in certain areas of Nepal

And this is exactly the impression the king wants to give to the world community, especially India, by lifting the state of emergency.

It may be little more than shrewd manoeuvring given the fact that the lifting of the emergency will not affect press censorship, imposed through separate legislation introduced after the royal takeover.

Similarly, those currently in detention will not be released if they were arrested under the Public Security Act.

Immediately after the lifting of the emergency the government also announced that no demonstrations, public meetings and picketing would be allowed in several places within the Kathmandu valley.

At the same time, the king has made it clear that the all-powerful Royal Commission for Corruption Control is there to stay.

Yet he seems to be in complete control of the situation.

His morale must have also been boosted further by setbacks the Maoist rebels have suffered at the hands of the government army in two major battles since his 1 February takeover.

The king has been repeatedly emphasising that the people and the international community must choose either him or the rebels, whom he always refers to as criminals.

And, it seems, many are ready to choose him - despite the conditions attached.

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