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A NOT SO ROYAL WEDDING

Funny how relationships can change with time, whether they are between husband and wife, brothers and sisters, even father and son. How often do we read about the gory details of relationships soured, of patricidal animosity, fratricidal competition or even regicidal ambition. From the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks, from the Mughal emperors to the Arab Sheikdoms, we have read about fathers banishing princely sons, sons overthrowing father-kings, brothers murdering own siblings. Whenever the question of empires to be gained or lost rests on one whimsical turn of the dice, relationships never remain the same. Perhaps the Mughals were second to none on this particular trait: Akbar the Great's travails with Prince Salim his son is well documented, Khurram managed to eliminate all his brothers before he became Shah Jahan 'king of the world', and his own son Aurungzeb overthrew the father and imprisoned him in the Agra Fort to gaze upon the Taj Mahal, his monument of love, for the rest of his days.

A close second perhaps to the Mughals is our own Shah dynasty of kings. The second son of Prithivi Narayan Shah the Great, the founder of modern Nepal, became the regent to the infant king upon the death of his elder brother the king but when the boy king Rana Bahadur came of age, the uncle was rewarded for his troubles by banishment to Benaras! Rana Bahadur as king wanted to make sure that his son from his paramour, a Brahmin widow, would be king after him and, fearing the betrayal by the court after this death, decided to abdicate the throne in favor of his younger son. Later in history an ambitious junior queen wanted to make sure that her own son replaced the erratic Crown Prince Surendra to the throne and the ensuing plots and subterfuges nearly finished off the dynasty and handed de facto state power to the Rana clan. Then of course in our own times Crown Prince Dipendra perpetrated the infamous palace massacre and killed 9 of his closest relatives including his father the king and mother the queen. The Mughals have a few lessons to learn here.

What is not so well known is another father-son tussle that might have changed the course of history. During the Rana period when King Tribhuvan was but a figure-head monarch, his son was married to the grand-daughter of the ruling Rana prime minister. This marriage had produced 6 children including the heir to the throne. After the Ranas became de facto rulers of Nepal marriages were arranged between royalty and themselves as sign of come-uppance of lesser nobility and precaution against the royals' over-ambition. The crown princess died after the birth of her 6th child and Nepal had meanwhile undergone another political upheaval that ousted the Rana oligarchy and ushered in democracy under a sovereign king. It was the matter of Crown Prince Mahendra's second marriage that generated heat. Tongues were already wagging that Mahendra liked his wife's younger sister very much. It was a matter of time before he would make the announcement of his wedding. But King Tribhuvan would have none of it. Kings during Rana rule were but mute spectators to Rana ambitions when their sons married royal princesses and daughters were betrothed to royal princes. King Tribhuvan's own grandmother the Queen was from the Rana family. However the time had now arrived for his son to marry outside the Rana family, the time to cow down to the Rana diktat was over. Things went so far out of hand that B. P. Koirala the leader of the Congress party and then the home minister in the coalition cabinet writes that King Tribhuvan even consulted him on naming his second son his successor. B. P. Koirala in his autobiography suggests to the king to make the son of the Crown Prince Mahendra succeed the king so that the direct lineage would remain unbroken.

Contrary to his father's wish Mahendra was determined to marry Ratna, younger sister of his dead wife. The heart had won over the head, even to the point of jeopardizing his own succession to the throne. After all did not King Edward VIII abdicate the British throne "for the woman I love"? The marriage ceremony was low key. The king forbade his queens and members of higher nobility to attend. King Tribhuvan expressly told his chief of army staff General Kiran Shumsher Rana not to attend the wedding since Mahendra had gone against his wishes. This put the army chief in a deep dilemma. Should he obey the king or show allegiance to the future king? When General Kiran turned up at the small wedding reception at Nagarjung heads turned. Crown Prince Mahendra was happy to see the army chief. He remarked with gratitude to the general that contrary to my father's wish you have attended my wedding and done me proud. It was only months later that King Tribhuvan himself brought this subject up with General Kiran. "I told you not to attend Mahendra's wedding reception but I know that you went there, however you did the right thing, after all he will be king after me," concluded King Tribhuvan to the general's relief.

This particular father-son animus fortunately did not change the course of Nepalese history.

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