In 1972, the 27-year-old Eton-educated Birendra became king after his father’s untimely death, and in 1979, he held a referendum to choose between the Panchayat system and a multiparty one. The former garnered 55% of the votes, while the multiparty faction received 45 percent. Of course, the latter were unhappy with the result, and they continued pushing for change. In early 1990, over 200,000 people demonstrated on the streets of the capital. They were met by bullets and tear gas, and thousands were arrested. On April 9, the king conceded to lifting the ban on political parties, and on April 16, he agreed to become a constitutional monarch. An interim government was formed by the opposition.
Some years later, in 1996, the Maoists, who were thoroughly disenchanted by the corrupt practices of those in power, declared a 'people's war', which began in the poverty-stricken regions of far-west Nepal. It was an insurgency that steadily gathered momentum throughout the country. Then, on June 1, 2001, an event occurred that shocked not only all Nepalis, but the entire world. At one of the regular family gatherings in the Narayanhiti Palace in Kathmandu, Crown Prince Dipendra apparently gunned down most members of the royal family, sparing just a few. To add to this grief, the political situation in the country turned from bad to worse, with personal enrichment becoming the norm for politicians, and the Maoist war raging unabated in the countryside.
Thus it was that, in February 2005, King Gyanendra, one of the survivors of the palace massacre along with his family, and who had been crowned king, declared a state of emergency and dissolved parliament. He gave his word that there would be return to democracy within three years, but he wasn’t to have that time. In April 2006, following massive and sustained demonstrations, he was compelled to restore parliament, and the very next month, the first promulgation of the reinstated parliament was to reduce him to a figurehead without any powers. Later, that year, the government succeeded in forging a peace deal with the Maoists, who then went on to win in the ensuing election held on April 10, 2008. One month later, the new parliament voted to abolish monarchy (560 votes to four), and a new government was formed under Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (a.k.a. Prachanda).
Well, as is obvious, new pages are being added to Nepal’s history with amazing rapidity. The country has a new name now: Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. The Constitutional Assembly elections that were held for the first time some six years ago put over 600 members in the Assembly. However, in its four year’s mandated time, it couldn’t come up with a new constitution, and another election had to be called for. This time around, the major parties in the Assembly agreed to act as one in ensuring that a new constitution was made, which they did some months ago. But, instead of improving the situation, it has led to a complete shutdown of the country, with the Terai (Madhesh) parties crying foul that the agreements with them have not been honored, and resorting to a continuous bandh (shutdown) for the last two months, along with blockage of the major transit points with India, resulting in acute shortage of fuel, especially, in the country. There’s a general feeling that India is hand in glove in ensuring the success of the blockade.
As in 1950, when it was the capital of the revolutionary Nepali Congress provisional government, Birgunj, today, is also the focal point of the Madhesh movement, it being by far the most important transit point with India. And, interestingly, Kerung, from where Chinese troops once invaded Nepal in 1792, has become a focal point for opening trade routes to China, so as to reduce the dependency on India. History has a peculiar way of bringing up old scenarios to the forefront again.