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THE A, B, C CONUNDRUM

Balkrishna Sama's portrait of the nine Rana prime ministers, 1846 - 1951 A.D.
Nepalese history books tell stories of the nine Rana prime ministers ruling Nepal in unison for 104 years and the family is often depicted and reviled as one monolithic juggernaut that assaulted and consumed the sovereignty of benign kings and their happy, loyal subjects. Nothing could be further from the truth on both counts. Out of the nine one was assassinated, two were unceremoniously removed from the post by their own siblings, one resigned due to internal and external exigencies and the last one was forced to give it all up. But who were those that did not get to wear the "Teen Chand" prime ministerial crown?

I often look at the fading pictures of the family to trace the hierarchy at the times they were taken. The Soviets were famous for cleverly air-brushing out the disgraced party members from chesty pictures of proletarian solidarity. The Ranas just removed them from the frames. The tussle between the Jung clan and the Shumsher clan is common knowledge. The Shumshers gained ascendancy after the coup d'etat of 1885 and the assassination of the hapless prime minister Maharajah Ranoddip Singh, uncle to both the warring factions. Why then was there discord among the members of the Shumsher clan?

The executor of the coup if not the master mind was Lt. General Khadga Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, the eldest son of Commander-in-chief Dhir Shumsher from his second wife. His elder brother General Bir Shumsher was the only son of Dhir from his first wife and he was actually brought up from an early age in the household of his uncle Maharajah Jung Bahadur after his mother died. Putali Maharani, one of Jung's wives, was his foster mother. The daring Khadga had taken his younger siblings to the Narayan Hiti Durbar of Prime Minister Ranauddip Singh that fateful night to assassinate the uncle while Bir was nervously waiting in the wings at Bagh Durbar with some of his co-conspirators. Two of the daughters of Jung Bahadur, both married to the children of the royal prince Upendra Bikram, uncle to the king, played a crucial role in the coup. As soon as the news emerged of the assassination, Bir was taken by them to Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace to have the boy king Prithivi Bikram accompany him to Tundikhel Military Parade Ground before a hurriedly assembled army and bestow on him the oath of office and the Royal Seal.

Soon after tongues started wagging. The court was awash with rumors that the days of Bir was numbered as the ambitious and brilliant Khadga would soon take over. Moreover he was backed by his younger brothers while Bir was alone. Maharajah Bir felt cornered. Maharaj Bir struck. He had his Commander-in-Chief Khadga arrested, exiled to Palpa and struck off the roll of succession. The person next in line to become the prime minister and inherit the title of Maharajah would forfeit this privilege forever. Later as an act of goodwill on the part of Bir, he was given the post of Governor of Palpa but was never allowed to return to Kathmandu Valley. He is now best remembered for assisting the British Archeological Survey Team led by Dr. Fuhrer discover Lumbini as the birthplace of Buddha and for building Rani Mahal, Nepal's own Taj, on the banks of Kali Gandaki River in memory of his beloved wife Tej Kumari.

Rani Mahal made by Khadga Shumsher

Khadga Shumsher Rana as Governor of Palpa
Marrying more than one wife was the practice among the Hindu ruling elites of the Indian sub-continent. I suspect one of the main reason was to have a male progeny. Maharajah Bir Shumsher was the first Shumsher Rana prime minister. He was married to his first wife the senior Maharani but his junior wife from a Newar caste was elevated to the rank of Junior Maharani after his ascendancy. A resolution of the Privy Council mandated that all male heirs from both the wives would be placed in the roll of succession. Rudra Shumsher was born of the second wife and enjoyed equal status and privileges as that of all his siblings. By the time Juddha became the prime minister Rudra was the second in command as Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese Army.

Prime Minister Maharajah Bhim Shumsher with Juddha Shumsher (1st in line
of succession to his right) and Rudra Shumsher (2nd in line of succession to his left)
Next to Juddha is Padma Shumsher and next to Rudra is Mohan Shumsher
It was that at this time fate dealt a cruel hand. During the era of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, the longest ruling Rana prime minister, a new Rule of Succession was drawn and the family was categorized into three classes - A, B, and C - a categorization the English writer and sycophantic biographer of Maharjah Chandra Percival Landon reportedly helped draw. The family was getting too large as the Maharajahs had many wives. "A" Class denoted those born of high caste married wives and were eligible for the roll of succession. "B" denoted children born of secondary high caste wives and those born from alliances with princesses from the royal household. "C" were children from junior wives, although in many cases these wives too were elevated to the rank of "Maharani", they were not eligible to be enrolled for succession.

Family pressures bearing on Maharajah Juddha had made him uneasy and he had lost much sleep. Rudra was a close confidante and a childhood friend as they were of similar age, uncle-nephew relationship notwithstanding. Rudra's father Maharajah Bir had enrolled youngest brother Juddha to the roll of succession at the same time Rudra was. Juddha himself was the youngest son of his father Commander-in-Chief Dhir from a junior wife and thus his own future had been uncertain until Bir recognized and elevated him.

In March 1934 A.D. during a full ceremonial Durbar Maharajah Juddha unexpectedly announced the removal of his successor Commander-in-Chief Rudra from the roll of succession along with the sons of Maharajah Bhim Shumsher from his second wife by making the Rule of Succession retro-active. Armed guards quickly disarmed Rudra and stripped him of his stripes. He was to be exiled to Palpa and his assets in the valley nationalized. Padma Shumsher was then elevated to the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese Army.  

My father General Kiran always felt that this decision taken by his father Maharajah Juddha was, leaving aside the unfairness of it, the single most costly mistake the Rana oligarchy made as it divided the family one last time hastening its own demise. Once powerful but still wealthy and influential members such as Rudra openly sided with the coming revolution by raising an army of insurgents in the west just as Nepali Congress had raised one in the eastern part of the country. Opposition parties such as the Congress Party was bankrolled by Subarna Shumsher and Mahabir Shumsher, grandchildren of Maharajah Bhim Shumsher struck off the Roll of Succession, from their safe haven in Calcutta. Without these forces having aligned with the democratic movement and King Tribhuvan the end of the Rana Regime would not have come as easily.

Field Marshall Rudra with General Kiran

In 1954 A.D., following the change of the political power in Nepal, Rudra was rewarded with the high title of Field Marshall of the Nepalese Army by King Tribhuvan, my father as the Commander-in-Chief of the new army playing a lead role in it.


Comments

  1. Very interesting.

    But why did Chandra institute the A,B,C nomenclature and left it to Judha to actually have to implement it? Why did Chandra even institute the nomenclature when his descendents are mostly A's?

    So the difference between A's and B's is that the A's are born of mothers married to the Maharajah?"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Anon for your comments.

    A Class were enlisted in the Roll Of Succession to the Maharajah-ship and the post of prime minister and were born of married wives. Chandra himself had two married wives and thus all his sons were classified as "A".

    B Class were children born to Maharajahs from secondary wives of high caste or wives who were Royal in nature i.e. from secondary wives of kings or princesses. Both Bir and Dev had wives who were daughters of the king. The children were not kept in the Roll.

    I suppose that the family was getting too large and Chandra's own sons would not be in a position to one day become the Maharajah if Bir's and Bhim's sons were not removed from the list. Chandra here was far-sighted. He couldn't have been far-sighted enough though to know that the discord this sowed in the family would bring it to an end.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Darshan Harr
    I was just wondering if you have some more pictures of Filed marshal Rudra shumsher rana with his son and daughters i have few but i am seeking for more
    Regards

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Would you happen to know whether this Field Marshal is the same person as Rudra Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana who converted to Christianity and took on the surname of "Fieldbrave", the literal translation of "Jung Bahadur"?

      Delete
  4. I would like to get some information of a person by the name of Rudra Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana who converted to Christianity, was kicked out of the family, came to India and took on the surname of "Fieldbrave", a literal translation of "Jung Bahadur".

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Bir was taken by them to Hanuman Dhoka Royal Palace to have the boy king Surendra Bikram accompany him to Tundikhel Military Parade Ground before a hurriedly assembled army and bestow on him the oath of office and the Royal Seal."
    Surendra bikram was long gone by the time Ranoddip was murdered. The child king was Prithvi who accompanied Bir to tundikhel.
    Great post nevertheless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, I have corrected this error.

      Delete

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