Ten years on; mystery behind Nepal royal massacre still lingers

The most significant event in Nepal’s modern history took place on a warm Friday night on 1 June 2001 when the country’s crown prince gunned down nine members of his family including his father and mother in an alcohol and drug fuelled stupor before shooting himself.

Ten years have passed since that fateful night which changed the course of Nepal’s monarchy and led to its end seven years later. But the mystery and conspiracy theories surrounding the massacre are still as fresh as ever.

The incident is still discussed and debated in roadside conversations, at dinner tables, in office canteens and swanky restaurants. Findings of the official investigation, books on the event and statements by former royal palace staff members have added to the mystery.

In its 200-page report, the investigation committee blamed crown prince Dipendra of having gunned down his father King Birendra, his mother Queen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family during a weekly family get together.

The Queen’s opposition to Devyani Rana, the woman Dipendra wanted to marry, was supposed to have been the trigger that prompted the crown prince to take the drastic step.

But the report left many questions unanswered. No post-mortems were carried out on the bodies, there were discrepancies in the statements given by some of the witnesses and doubts regarding the weapons used by Dipendra to carry out the massacre and their origin remained.

More importantly, it didn’t clarify whether the crown prince had shot himself or was killed by someone else. Dipendra was right-handed, but the committee found that a bullet had entered his head from the left side. The crown prince was in coma for three days before succumbing to injuries.

Soon after the incident, the hysterical public saddened and shocked at the demise of their king, who was revered as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, put the blame of the massacre on Birendra’s younger brother Gyanendra who was away from Kathmandu on the night of the incident.

The fact his son Paras escaped without injuries and his wife Komal survived a bullet wound added weight to speculations. In the past 10 years since the incident, Gyanendra succeeded his brother as the king and eventually lost the monarchy to a popular uprising three years ago-but suspicions regarding his role on that fateful night’s events still linger.

Razing of the building where the shootings took place, thus destroying any physical evidence for future investigations also raised eyebrows. Almost every visitor who comes to Narayanhiti Palace (now converted to a museum) looking for some answers leaves with more questions.

In his book Maile Dekehko Darbar, Vivek Kumar Shah, former military secretary to King Birendra mentions that the massacre was carried out by Dipendra, but doubts remain on the reasons behind it.

“Crown prince Dipendra did it. But the conspiracy theories won’t go away. Who provoked him and why was the crown prince provoked to carry out such an act?” questions Shah in a recent interview with Nepali Times.

Maoist vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai who wrote an op-ed piece in the Kantipur daily in which he pointed to Indian and US hands behind the massacre, still maintains that the government needs to appoint a “powerful enquiry commission” to unravel the truth.

“I stick by what I said about the massacre ten years ago. Without a well planned political conspiracy, the whole family of King Birendra could not have been wiped out while Gyanendra’s family remained unharmed,” he was quoted in the latest edition of Nepali Times.

A survivor of the massacre, Ketaki Chester, King Birendra’s cousin, who sustained bullet injuries on her left hand, however absolves both Gyanendra and his son of any blame.

“He (Gyanendra) and his son Prince Paras were never involved in any of this. I wish the word spread that they are totally blameless. What happened that night was the beginning of the end of the monarchy because of the act of one of its members, although events in the years that followed also contributed,” she was quoted in a Nepali Times article.

The truth may never be known and people in Nepal will keep on coming up with their own set of theories or reshape old ones until an in-depth investigation is done to unravel the lingering mystery.

Or else the following lines written by celebrated Nepali author Manjushree Thapa in her hugely popular Forget Kathmandu, a brief history of Nepal, would continue to hold true for eternity.

“Most Nepalis will conclude that we just don’t know what happened on the night of 1 June 2001. We lost the truth; we lost our history. We are left to recount anecdotes and stories, to content ourselves with myth.”

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