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ALLURING TALES OF PATRIOTISM

It is only but natural that the Nepalese people are looking for a strong leader at a time of current vacuous leadership. Our present times must have had similarities in our history particularly after the demise of Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa and before the rise of Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana. The present scenario of our bickering troika of political parties jostling for ascendancy reminds me of the highly destabilized period following the eclipse of the powerful Bhimsen. The troika of a toothless King Rajendra, an ambitious Queen Rajya Laxmi and an irresponsible Crown Prince Surendra had pushed Nepal to the brink after they started to pull the reigns of powers themselves. The cacophony of noise emanating from the palace had bewildered the masses just as the discordant sound bites emanating from our political leaders have imperiled the future of our nation today. We see no purpose.

Etching of Maharajah Jung Bahadur
Jung Bahadur Rana took control of Nepal at the nick of time and had by 1850 A.D., a mere four years later, secured the nation a pride of place among the erstwhile kingdoms of North India already largely under colonial rule. He ensured that Nepal remained an independent, sovereign, Hindu monarchy. History hasn't done justice to his contributions simply because its trajectory tore his own family asunder and, after 1951 A.D., for political reasons Rana rule was demonized as an epitome of family "kleptocracy".

A revival of interest in Jung Bahadur's persona began a few years back with his scattered family members grouping together to perform an annual Shraddha in his name. There are plans afoot to make a docu-drama about Jung Bahadur's life for the small screen where more contributors than just his family members are involved. It is interesting to note that certain historical anecdotes have come to light recently that bear testimony to Jung Bahadur's strength of character, his patriotism and his considerable diplomatic skills. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with a prominent Nepalese historian who had been granted special scholarship by the British Government to study documents relating to Anglo-Nepal relationships during the Raj. He poured over thousands of documents and concluded that Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana played a unique role in keeping the country independent and his often times Machiavellian statecraft always ensured the interest of Nepal first and foremost.

Brian Hodgson
The documents shed light on Jung's relationship with the elderly and by then retired Brian Hodgson who was living in Darjeeling. Brian Hodgson was a multi-lingual civil servant in British India and he was a renowned ethnologist and anthropologist. Since arriving in Nepal in 1819 A.D. as assistant commissioner in the recently set up British Residency under the terms of the Treaty of Sugauly, he did a lot of research on Nepal's birds and mammals and published authoritative books on the subject that are still used by researchers today. He became the British Resident in 1833 A.D. Hodgson took a local Kashmiri Muslim girl as his wife and bore two children. Few today know that the Raqi Bazaar in Asan Tole is actually the (I)raqi bazaar where Muslim traders sold glass bangles. Having taken a local girl from this community as his wife, Hodgson had a soft corner for Nepal. Hodgson was Jung Bahadur's mentor and his medium for unofficial dialogues with the British Raj. A grateful Jung Bahadur even presented Hodgson's son from his Kashmiri Muslim wife to Queen Victoria during Jung's visit to England.

What follows are some snippets of the alluring tales of Jung Bahadur's patriotism unearthed in the tomes of papers from those times.

* When the British requested Nepal for help during the Sepoy Mutiny, Jung cleverly asked the old and retired British Resident Brian Hodgson to calculate how much Nepal had lost in land revenue since the British took away huge swathes of Nepalese territories after the Treaty of Sugauly. When the figure was calculated, Jung sent this to Lord Canning the Governor General requesting reparation. The amount was so high that it was impossible for the British to pay us and instead promised to give back Kailali, Kanchanpur, Banke and Bardia after the mutiny.

* At the start of Jung's visit to Great Britain in 1850 A.D., upon arrival at Southampton he and his retinue were informed that they would be subjected to customs check. Jung angrily refused to allow the checking of "an Ambassador and Plenipotentiary of the Sovereign King of Nepal" and threatened that if he and his retinue  were checked, he would turn around and head for France. The Customs officials finally relented.

* His official visit to Queen Victoria's Durbar was delayed by two hours as Jung would not budge without the Rishallah horse riders (comparable to the modern day outriders) accompanying his carriage, an honour bestowed on foreign heads of state, as Jung maintained that he was representing the Sovereign King of Nepal.

Sir Colin Campbell
* During the Sepoy Mutiny in India where Jung Bahadur Rana personally led the Nepalese troops to Lucknow in support of the beleaguered British forces, a debate arose over who should lead the troops to the front, General Sir Colin Campbell the British Commander-in-Chief or Jung Bahadur. Not one to back down easily, Jung maintained that, as Prime Minister of Nepal and Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese forces, he had higher rank than General Campbell and so he should be leading the troops during attack. But the British had their own rules pertaining to warfare. The controversy ended when it was mutually agreed that Sir Campbell would lead in battle but Jung Bahadur would lead and get the first salute when they returned to the headquarters.

* Several years after the Indian Mutiny and the consolidation of Great Britain's power as the governing authority in India, it was decided by the British Crown to create a new order of knighthood to honour Indian Princes and Chiefs, as well as British officers and administrators who served in India. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana was one of the recipients of this highest order. After Jung received the Order of the Knight Grand Commander of the Star of India in 1873 A.D. he went to collect the medal from Viceroy Lord Northbrook in Calcutta the following year. He was given only 17 guns salute and not 19 guns given to him earlier as the plenipotentiary of the King of Nepal during the visit to England, probably at the instigation of jealous Indian princess. Jung was furious. Back in Kathmandu he wrote to Brian Hodgson to write to London saying that he would return the decoration if the British government did not apologize. This letter was found in the archives.

* When Jung attacked Tibet, British India asked him why they were not informed. He sent a letter to diplomatically suggest that Britain never informs one of their greatest friends and well-wishers - Jung Bahadur of Nepal - when they attack another country, so he did not see much sense in informing Britain.

* Actually Jung's second visit to Britain came to an end in Bombay not because he fell off his horse and was injured as reported to Nepal, but because the British did not grant him a visa! The real reason was that they realized Jung was a nationalist and would always put the interest of Nepal first and his friendship with Britain was tactical. The British decided not to cultivate him further.

The stories behind the making of such a legendary figure are many. I have done my modest part as a tribute by documenting some of the less known stories besides the historical Jung Bahadur we are familiar with. We Nepalese are hankering after a Jung Bahadur befitting our present age! We all wish that Nepal can produce one.

Comments

  1. Junga Bahadur had many facets to his character which is yet to be written fully.
    As he was the unquestioned de-facto head of Nepal his prestige was linked to the prestige of the country so it is but natural for him to protest when he feels the country`s honor (and by token his ) was slighted in any way.

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  2. I am quoting what you have written in your blog.
    "Hodgson was Jung Bahadur's mentor and his medium for unofficial dialogues with the British Raj." This is evidence that Jung Bahadur was a smart man because he realized that to effectively deal with the British he needed "some inside track" info and he found this accessible, naturally, in the person of Hodgson.This must be the first instance where an important Nepali politician interacted with a westerner in this way. Certainly Prithibi Narayan Shah and others that followed did not interact with the Western world in this way.

    Indeed it would have been "suun ma suganda" if Jung Bahadur had also tried to encourage academic activities amongst Nepalis that Hodgson was deeply involved with in Nepal at that time like "research on Nepal's birds and mammals and publications of authoritative books on the subject that are still used by researchers today". But then perhaps that would be asking too much for that period in hamro Nepal!!

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  3. Subodh Jee,
    "Actually Jung's second visit to Britain came to an end in Bombay not because he fell off his horse and was injured as reported to Nepal, but because the British did not grant him a visa!"

    I wonder if there is a reference available for it (i.e. visa issue). Did he really require visa?

    I thought there were some issues in Bombay, apart from the fact that there was a horse riding accident, he was also obstructed when he wanted to visit a nearby pilgrimage site. But I felt that the British were keen to have him and his princes visit UK.

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  4. Hello This has nothing to do with this article. However I am trying to find a way to contact. My email is sierrasue8@hotmail.com I live in Queensland, Australia, but was born in India and lived there till I was 18 years old in 1962. Maybe you could help me with some information. My father was Colonel Jeffrey Thompson Indian Army Commandant of Cawnpore (Kanpur) back in late 50's early sixties. We lived in the cantonment and my father took me and my sister Jill to a dance at the Chickari airforce base. There I danced with the cousin of Bahadur (Banu) Rana (who danced with my sister Jill). Immediately I danced with this beautiful young man he asked me to marry him. I said "I have only just met you". I never saw him again. Years later a couple of weeks before my mother died she said to me that this young Nepalese pilot had asked for my hand in marriage and she had said no. She apologised to me. I have often wondered about how life turned out for this lovely man and where he is and what he is doing. My name is Sierra-Sue and my surname was then Thompson. I have since been married and had 2 children. Strangely my daughter joined the airforce in Australia and died at age 31. If you can throw any light on my question I would be happy to hear from you.
    My email again is sierrasue8@hotmail.com

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  5. if jung bahadur was such a patriot, why would he, who had actually been to england and seen its power first hand, choose to keep nepal in the dark ages? did he not see what democracy meant there. even if he wanted to become a dictator, why did he not establish schools, hospitals or roads? is it possible that he did not notice the 'development' in england? if you say he made nepal independent, what was the independence for if the vast majority could not make use of it?

    history has passed a harsh verdict on him because he chose to keep the people stultified. what if he added bits of land to nepal? i'm taking an anthropomorphic view but a county is made up of the people living within it, and their happiness is the country's happiness. otherwise even if he had acquired the whole of india, what use would it be to a commoner in nepal? nevertheless, your erudition is good and i wish you would shed more light on what mr. jung could have thought about the schools, hospitals and roads in england. he clearly saw the power of their industry when he told courtiers that nepal should side with the british during the mutiny and admonished his brothers for telling him to join it.

    it is good to know your family history mr. rana but while writing it, it is also good to observe ones' biases. otherwise the lessons from history will never be learned.

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  6. Dear Anon, 27 June. Thank you for posting your comment. We have learnt about the failings of Jung Bahadur ad infinitum. I wanted to shed light on little known facts where he is found shining.
    It is interesting to note what Charles Dickens has written about a London factory he visited in May 1850, the same month and year JB was there. It is clear Jung did not visit the England we know today.

    http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/poorlaw.html

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  7. hello annonymous, just wanted to say that jung bahadur's britain visit did have an impact on nepal's development. didnt he bring giddhe press to nepal which is our first printing press? and wasnt he also the one to establish muluki ain, a departure from times when the ruler's word is law? but i also think that yes, subodh has a much rosier view of jung bahadur rana than is generally found in history books. perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between....

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