Kathmandu: In his cramped office, Kishore Shrestha puts the finishing touches to his weekly newspaper, required reading for its scoops on what is happening among the people who have ruled Nepal for centuries.
And with the monarchy facing imminent abolition, Jana Aastha’s gossip and apparent insider knowledge of royal goings-on is in even greater demand.
“If you go to the homes of any of the elite, army people, intellectuals and all the politicians, you will find a copy of Jana Aastha,” said Shrestha.
Embattled: Nepalese King Gyanendra Shah made a rare public appearance at a Hindu temple near Kathmandu on 12 May. (Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP)
Two-and-a-half centuries of bloodshed, betrayal and intrigue have made Nepal’s Shah dynasty gripping reading.
Nepal’s King Gyanendra ascended the throne in 2001 when his drink- and drug-fuelled nephew, crown prince Dipendra, massacred the former king, queen and seven other royals at apalace party after being blocked from marrying the woman he loved.
The night of the massacre, Gyanendra was out of Kathmandu and his son Paras, the new crown prince, survived after pleading for his life.
For newspaper editor Shrestha, the cause of the massacre was a relatively straightforward event in a family not unused to bloodshed.
“This whole thing was about personal revenge. That’s why Dipendra did this,” said Shrestha, who believes the murderous prince was shot in the head by a palace guard and did not kill himself, as the official version of events holds.
“His original idea was that he would just kill his father and become king, thus removing the obstacle that prevented him from marrying Devyani, but others in the room retaliated,” which led to the massacre, Shrestha said.
With no shortage of internal feuds historically, the Shah clan was even further divided by the massacre, he says.
“The majority of royals don’t have access to Gyanendra and many see him as an unnatural monarch” because of the way he came to the throne, Shrestha added.
After the massacre, a Maoist insurgency that had been simmering since 1996 boiled up and Gyanendra grew increasingly frustrated with Nepal’s squabbling politicians.
He finally lost patience with mainstream parties sacked the government in February 2005 and took direct control.
Although some welcomed the removal of notoriously corrupt politicians, the king quickly lost support after he placed soldiers in newspaper offices to censor news and made mass arrests.
Throughout the upheaval, Shrestha has continued to report on Nepal’s key players, who still wield massive power in the impoverished Himalayan outpost.
“The king’s takeover was probably the hardest time for us. But also very interesting,” he said. “For three weeks, we couldn’t run hard news as everything was censored by the colonel who was posted to our office.”
But for the rest of Jana Aastha’s 14-year life-time, Shrestha has been the one person able to publish “through the keyhole” accounts of Nepal’s elite.
These include the alleged reckless driving and playboy antics of Gyanendra’s son and heir, tales of rows at royal parties or who the powerful army chief is having dinner with and why. “We have sources inside the palace and the army, that’s where we get the stories,” he said.
A self-described republican, Shrestha agrees with most people that Gyanendra’s days are numbered, with the Maoists sweeping April elections to a constitution-drafting assembly.
The body is set to formally end the monarchy during its first meeting on Wednesday.
“I firmly believe this monarch is finished. What’s more, my palace sources tell me the king also realizes this,” said Shrestha.“He has tried many things. He tried international lobbying but has found his former allies are not there any more.
India and China are not in favour of the king,” said the editor. But Shrestha says the Shah dynasty is not yet a write-off—meaning his paper will not be defunct just yet.
“Gyanendra will no doubt stay very quiet for the next two to three years, but nobody can rule out the king coming back.”