Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - "The situation of the country has changed. Although about 80 per cent of the people in Nepal are Hindu, we cannot ignore minorities that are fighting for their own identity and rights. The state should protect their culture and the exercise of their rights. [. . .] Every attack against other religions is a criminal act," Gyanendra Shah, the former king of Nepal told AsiaNews. He expressed his best wishes for peace, harmony and religious freedom to "all the Christians in Nepal and abroad."
The former monarch was deposed in 2008 after more than ten years of civil war with Maoist insurgents and the proclamation of a secular state. However, in the past few years, he has been trying to restore the Hindu monarchy.
Recently, he visited Nepal's western districts, one of the poorest areas in the country, to drum up support for his cause. Minorities and secular political leaders have criticised his move, fearing that religious freedom and rights gained under democratic rule might suffer.
"My role will be determined by the people's choice. For whatever role people choose for me, I have to be ready," the former king said, "We are not against other religions and we want co-existence, which will be the best model in Nepal. Majority Hindus should feel respect for other religions and cultural practices" because "this leads to religious harmony."
The state must respect freedom of religion and freedom of worship. Even if a confessional state takes into account minorities, it cannot move forward.
For the ex monarch, minorities have made an important contribution to the country, especially Catholics who have been involved in education and welfare for more than 60 years.
Like other members of the Nepali royal family and many of the country's political leaders, Gyanendra Shah attended St. Joseph School, a great centre of education in Darjeeling, India.
"Knowing the quality of Catholic education, former royals invited Jesuit priests to run schools in Nepal. Many royal shad had the opportunity to study in these schools in Nepal" because his "family had good relations with them."
Speaking about the country's ongoing political chaos that has prevented the adoption of a new constitution, Gyanendra Shah noted, "political parties should be more responsible and feel accountable to the people who gave them a mandate."
The deadline for the new constitution is 27 May. If a deal is not reached by that date, the international community will dissolve the constituent assembly elected in 2008.
Despite claims by many political leaders, the former monarch said that his supporters would not take power if the assembly failed to approve the new constitution.
In 2005, at the height of the Maoist insurgency, the then king imposed a state of emergency, dissolved parliament and suspended the fundamental rights guaranteed under the 1990 constitution, including freedom of expression and worship.
Religious minorities were particularly vexed, above all Catholics who run many schools.
For years, religious orders lived in fear that their institutions might be shut down and that they might be expelled.
When the civil war ended, Gyanendra Shah gave up power without bloodshed on the condition that the monarchy retain its ceremonial role, thus preserving Hindu traditions.
"A gentlemen agreement was reached between me and the senior political party leaders, which they failed to implement," he lamented.
The former king concluded the interview by expressing his best wishes of peace and prosperity to all Christians. "May this Easter be helpful in uniting people for peace, democracy and nationality whatever caste, religion, group they belong to."