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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

End of an era as another Himalayan Kingdom Tumbles

May 30, 2008

Reuters India
By Simon Denyer
May 29, 2008

NEW DELHI, May 29 (Reuters) - For centuries they enjoyed absolute
power in their mountain fastnesses, revered by their subjects as
incarnations of gods or Buddha, but one by one the monarchies of the
Himalayas are falling.

Pressure has come from China to the north and India to the south, and
pressure has come from below, from subjects impatient to replace
feudalism with democracy, as these once-forbidden kingdoms gradually
opened to the outside world.

Sikkim's Buddhist monarchs, the Chogyals, retreated into history when
India annexed their territory in 1975, ostensibly to support a mainly
Hindu, ethnic Nepali pro-democracy movement.

Tibet's "priest-king", the Dalai Lama, was forced into exile when
China invaded his land in the 1950s, ostensibly to end feudalism.
Even the centuries-old Afghan monarchy was ousted in a coup in 1973.

On Wednesday, Nepal's 239-year-old Shah dynasty was the latest to bow
out, a Hindu monarchy outmanoeuvred by a decade-long Maoist
insurgency and displaced by a mass pro-democracy movement.

In the Himalayas, only in Bhutan does a monarchy still play a
significant role, and even there it voluntarily surrendered power
this year to a new democratically elected parliament, standing aside
shrewdly perhaps, before the winds of change blew it aside.

"All the Himalayan states sit in a strategic location, between large
and powerful countries," said Yubaraj Ghimere, a magazine editor and
political analyst in Kathmandu. "At the same there has been
increasing education and political awareness in the region since the 1940s."

Those factors have destablised the monarchies in the mountains,
Ghimere said. Forced to open up to the modern world, few have managed
to keep their balance.


Where the world once turned its back on the Himalayas, they are now
the stage for India and China's very own cold war, and Himalayan
rulers have tended to be forced one way or the other.

They have also been forced into the modern world, wary of suffering
the same fate as Tibet, friendless and alone when China invaded in 1950.

Until as recently as 1951, Nepal was still out of bounds for
foreigners. Today, there are erotic dance bars in the capital and
piles of trash at Everest Base Camp, but also a widespread
realisation that ordinary people deserve political rights.

To the east, Bhutan still guards its ancient traditions fiercely,
clinging to its image as the last Himalayan Shangri-la. But this most
isolated of Himalayan kingdoms finally bowed to the inevitable and
allowed in television and internet in 1999.


The Buddhists of Bhutan seemed distinctly uncomfortable to lose the
protective embrace of their kings, while the Dalai Lama is still
revered by many of his subjects.

But in Nepal, few seem inclined to mourn the monarchy's passing.
Opinion polls suggested around half of Nepalis supported the idea of
a constitional monarchy but hardly anyone wanted to see King
Gyanendra or his son Paras on the throne.

The Maoist former rebels emerged as the largest party in the 601-seat
special assembly elected in April, while royalist parties won just
four seats. The assembly voted overwhelmingly in its first session on
Wednesday to establish a republic.

The monarchy only had itself to blame, Nepalis say.

Its mystique was stripped away in 2001 when the crown prince killed
the king and eight other members of the royal family. Four years
later, King Gyanendra took absolute power, further alienating himself
from ordinary Nepalis.

On Wednesday, thousands of Nepalis took to the streets again,
marching, dancing and singing to celebrate the end of Gyanendra and
"the dawn of the republic". Yet for a few traditionalists, it was a
sad end to a central part of their nation's history.

"If democracy means peace, all will be well," said author and
Himalayan expert Jonathan Gregson. "But if the Maoists try to create
a one-party state, as is their goal, we could be in for more nastiness."

"Then a lot more people will regret the monarchy's passing. It was at
least part of a system of checks and balances." (Editing by Alistair
Scrutton and Bill Tarrant)
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