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IN COLD BLOOD

Cold November nights in Kathmandu are for warming the house and cuddling together. Certainly in 1885 A.D. only the few privileged had gas lights, the rest had candle lights or the tuki, burning wick lamps. Charcoal burners or makals were used to heat the houses. Perhaps that is the reason why the Rana regime had slapped on a curfew from 11 at night until 4 the next morning. Nobody who ventured forth in the cold and dark had good intentions: it was better to get them off the street with shoot-on-sight order.

But this gang of youngsters stealthily approaching the Narayan Hiti Palace the residence of Prime Minister Ranoddip Singh Rana were no ordinary folks. Their purpose was not to rob a rich home. It was much more sinister. They were a confident looking lot, all huddled up together in their great-coats, collars upturned, woollen caps blocking their faces as they approached the “Bijli Garat” royal sentries at the gates. They knew the password to break the curfew. They were presently let into the palace and taken to the presence of the prime minister.

Maharajah Ranauddip Singh and
Maharani Hari Priya Devi

Just who were these people? It turns out that they were no other than the nephews of the prime minister. Their deceased father was the illustrious Commander-in-chief of the Nepalese Army, second in rank to his elder brother the prime minister. In fact General Dhir Shumsher Rana was the real power behind the feeble-minded Ranoddip Singh.

The fateful trip to Narayan Hiti Palace was the culmination of an inter-family animus between the family of Jung Bahadur Rana the first Rana prime minister, the person who took power in his own hands in a bloody coup d’etat, and his youngest brother Dhir, his favorite, the commander of victorious troops in the war with Tibet and a hero of the Indian mutiny. Jung Bahadur had ruled Nepal for 30 years and his family was interlinked closely to the royal family by marriage. His sons had married the royal princesses and his daughters were married to Crown Prince Trailokya and his younger brother Prince Narendra. The family had amassed a fortune in tributes and conquests, in taxes and trade.

General Dhir had a large family and in spite of his conquests and high office, he had neither the time nor the inclination to amass a fortune. He was always faithful to his brother Jung and after his death to his elder brother and Prime Minister Ranoddip. During his lifetime he did not allow the family divisions to play out. Unfortunately he died young, before his time came to be the hereditary Rana prime minister. Without the one person who could keep a tenuous peace in the family, the old animosities broke out in the open.

Jung Bahadur’s family consisted of his eldest son Jagat Jung who had inherited the hereditary title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung bestowed on his father by King Surendra Bikram Shah. However, he had been already implicated in a plot to unseat his uncle and he had been removed from the role of succession to the prime minister’s post. His younger brother Jeet Jung was the torch bearer now. He was next in line to become the prime minister after the death of his uncle Ranoddip. If this happened, the children of Dhir would suffer untold humiliations, trials and tribulations at the hands of their richer cousins. But they too had ambition; after all they were the sons of Dhir!

Now it was the question of who would be able to successfully wrest state power from the hands of their uncle, the weak and ineffectual Ranoddip. Jeet Jung could afford to wait for he was next in line and he knew only too well the consequence of his elder brother Jagat's ambition and the retribution that followed. But the sons of Dhir could not afford to wait, it was do or die for them. They had to take power before the uncle died. This was the purpose of their journey to the palace that cold and dark November night. They were all prepared. Below the knee-long overcoats they had hidden an assortment of lethal weapons. While most carried revolvers, one of the sons had a sawn-off 12 gauge shotgun hidden in the great coat. The guards let them past for, after all, the youngsters were the nephews of the prime minister and they all had the password for the night.

Prime Minister Ranoddip was taking his nightly body massage before sleep. His maid servants had heated a pot of massage oil on the charcoal burner. Half a dozen young women were giving him a soporific rubbing, one each on is shoulders, two on his torso and two on his legs. He was nude except for the white loincloth around his middle. This was what he enjoyed being prime minister the most, plus his devotional songs and pujas. He was most unhappy conducting state affairs. He knew about the rivalry between the family of his brothers and he was loath to take sides, to reprimand one or the other. Jung Bahadur had left a prosperous nation, no longer at war within or without. British India had left Nepal at peace since the 1814-1816 war. Jung Bahadur had in fact sided with the hard-pressed British colonialists during the Indian mutiny of 1857. Nepal had been rewarded for it with restoration of some of the lost territories during the earlier war. His diplomacy had won Jung Bahadur an invitation to visit England at the court of Queen Victoria, Empress of India! Ranoddip had only to bask in the peace and security these policies ensured.

When the youths entered the room the prime minister was quite taken aback. “Khadga”, he exclaimed,”what is happening at this late hour, what is the meaning of this”? Khadga Shumsher was the second son of Dhir and the leader of the pack, followed by Rana Shumsher, Dambar Shumsher, a brother from another wife of Dhir and lastly Chandra being the youngest of the gang was outside the room, a look-out for unwelcome intruders. The nephews did not reply. Dambar was a stammerer and his present state of nervousness accentuated his predicament, he wanted to say something but word would not come out, instead he starting rocking the shotgun hidden by the long coat so that the barrels started protruding out of his greatcoat. When Ranoddip saw the barrels he quickly tried to get the revolver placed under his pillow and exclaimed, “Maryo!” which can be loosely translated as “Had It!”. It was at this time that Dambar shot him on the chest, full blast from both the barrels. Pandemonium broke loose with the maids running helter skelter crying and sobbing. Chandra who was hiding under the staircase a floor below the exit even got a sprinkling from the loose bladders of the terrified maids. The guards posted outside were subdued by the brothers. Meanwhile the conspirators had taken many of the top military leaders in their confidence and by noon the following day Bir Shumsher , who was nervously waiting in the wings, had forced an appointment with the boy King Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah to be sworn in as the prime minister of Nepal.

The bloodshed too started immediately. The eldest son of Jung Bahadur Rana, Jagat Jung and his grandson from the royal princess were hunted down and killed. Padma Jung and Ranabir Jung took asylum at the British Residency and managed to escape from Nepal with few of their younger brothers. That cold November night thirty years' rule of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana went into the history books, his own children never to lay claim to their father's hereditary post.

Assassinated Prime Minister Maharajah Ranauddip Singh

Comments

  1. Rana Jodhbir JungMarch 1, 2013 at 1:57 AM

    I like the style of the narration.It is as if a thriller in the beginning. Love it the way it has been concluded.

    ReplyDelete

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