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A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

The Indian Ambassador was in a jolly good mood as he made his short walk to the Royal Palace in the dead of night. The embassy was in fact the British Residency earlier, permitted by Nepal under duress as part of the terms of the Sugauly Treaty of 1816 with British India, when Nepal had to sue for peace after a short war with the encroaching British Raj. The British never tried to conquer Nepal or oust its rulers after this treaty was signed, as they had done so often in the Indian Subcontinent breaking every treaty they signed with its erstwhile rulers. So when India gained its independence from British rule in 1947, Nepal was a sovereign kingdom in its northern border. This did not sit kindly with the new rulers of India who believed that all of the subcontinent should come under Delhi's rule. Now suddenly the Indian ambassador saw a window of opportunity to force its diktat on Kathmandu, one of the stalwarts in the fight against the Rana regime Dr. K. I. Singh had just mounted a coup against the king and his cabinet. Bringing in the Indian troops to maintain law and order under the invitation of the government would probably set off a string of developments that would put Nepal firmly in the Indian union. The ambassador saw his imminent promotion coming, he was humming a light tune from a Raj Kapoor film as he was ushered into the king's chambers.

The king was huddled with his cabinet of Nepali Congress party members and some independents led by the prime minister Matrika Prasad Koirala. Just 2 years back King Tribhuvan had made a triumphal entry into Kathmandu on an Indian Air Force aircraft after the last Rana prime minister agreed to end a 104 years old oligarchy and hand over power to the king and the Nepali Congress party at a peace conference brokered in New Delhi. Constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy were harbingers of peace and progress and most Nepalese had welcomed it. What had gone wrong now so soon? A wily old politician was waging a war against the monarch using rogue elements of a disgruntled police force.

"The Indian ambassador is here, Your Majesty", announced the royal secretary as the ambassador entered the royal chamber somewhat breathless. He was aware of the many pairs of eyes looking at him, most expectantly, one or two reproachfully. He had a sense of history being made here: the prime minister was tabling a motion to request India to send its troops to support the king aimed at defeating this coup d'etat. He would most certainly convey this message to Delhi with alacrity. It was not uncommon then for the Indian ambassador to sit in the cabinet meetings, whether chaired by the king or the prime minister.

The king was looking disturbed. Finally the 104 years old Rana oligarchy was thrown out, but only to hand over power to India? What would it mean to have Indian troops on Nepalese soil? How would these troops be made to leave after the coup was defeated? "Your Majesty, we have made preparations for the Indian Air Force to drop a few hundred troops behind Swoyambhu Nath Stupa, in the Tundikhel there, we just need to send a request now", announced the prime minister, "can we get your approval?" A larger contingent would come overland from the Terai. The king was rudely awakened from his reverie. Was this going to be the defining moment of his monarchy, handing over power to a powerful neighbour? But the king had still one more card to play, he had earlier called the Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese Army to come to the Royal Palace post haste, before any political decisions could be taken.

He could rely on the new army chief. General Kiran Shumsher J. B. Rana was a junior Rana army officer who was elevated to the top post after the political reorganization meant retiring most of the top brass of the Rana oligarchy. At an early age he had already been in the front in Burma commanding a battalion sent by his father, the then prime minister Maharajah Juddha, in support of the retreating Allied forces after the fall of Rangoon. He had carried his duty with distinction and he was mentioned in army dispatches. The king had decided that he was the right man for the top army job and at the age of 35 he was made army chief. "Where is Chief Saab, what does he say?" asked the king. Before anyone could reply the principal military secretary came to the king's ear to announce the chief was there, waiting outside the cabinet meeting. "Let me talk to the chief," said the king and stepped out.

"Kiran, I am happy that you are here," began the king, "I have been put in a dilemma, the cabinet wants to invite Indian troops to quell the rebellion." General Kiran had already heard about the coup and some of the rogue forces had in fact fired at his convoy at the Bagmati Bridge as he made his way from his residence in Lalitpur to Kathmandu proper. But he was unprepared for such an abrupt decision. The Nepal Army had an illustrious history having seen action many times across the border in Tibet in support of Nepalese traders, during the short war with the British Raj, even during two World Wars. Since King Prithivi Narayan Shah the Great conquered Kathmandu Valley from the Newar rulers and went on his expansion drive to carve out one Himalayan Kingdom, the army had not seen defeat, some stalemates perhaps, but no defeat. The hardy mountain men who fought the British Indian Army so tenaciously during the 1814-1816 war had since been conscripted into the British Indian Army in the famous Brigade of Gurkhas. It was inconceivable that this army could not deal with an internal law and order situation, at most a rebellion.

Fate had given the general the pinnacle of responsibility at such an early age. He was not about to blow it all away. He was dressed in army uniform as he was summoned by the king personally. He abruptly took his military hat and slammed it on a table next to the king. "Your Majesty, you can take my resignation right away if you agree to this absurd nonsense," exclaimed General Kiran. The king was taken aback by this display of bravado. "Are you sure you can control K. I. Singh's forces?" demanded the king. "Yes, we can do it and we don't need any Indian forces," exclaimed the excited chief. The king got back his confidence. After all he had personally selected Kiran and he knew that his skills were beyond dispute and his loyalty beyond refute. Reassured the king went back to the cabinet meeting.

"The chief disagrees and says the Nepal Army can put the rebellion down, and I trust him," announced the king, "there is no need to invite Indian forces." The cabinet heaved a collective sigh of relief. Nobody there wanted this to happen but they were all afraid. Except the Indian ambassador, of course. He saw his imminent promotion go up in smoke. What do these junglees know he thought to himself, a small landlocked kingdom in the Himalayas did not make any sense to him. He was visibly irritated now and not being a late night owl, he wanted to go to bed and forget about this whole mess. He left the meeting in a huff.

Comments

  1. Greetings Dear Ranaji,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful article.

    I never knew that General Kiran Shumsher played a vital role in preventing Indian interference in Nepal. You must be really proud sir. :)

    ReplyDelete

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