A divine test

 

By Subodh Rana.

 

Elders in the family passed away one after another each time bringing the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and the coveted post of prime minister of Nepal closer and closer to the youngest legitimate brother, a ‘roll wallah’, General Juddha Shumsher J. B. Rana. He had served his elder brothers in various military capacities: as Major General during the time of Bir Shumsher and Dev Shumsher, as Commanding General of the various regions of Nepal during the time of Chandra Shumsher and finally as the Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese Army during the time of Bhim Shumsher. All the siblings elder to him besides those who got to be prime ministers – those in the roll of succession – Rana Shumsher, Fatteh Shumsher, Lalit Shumsher and Jit Shumsher were now dead. Providence smiled upon Juddha.

 

Prime Minister Bhim Shumsher and Commander-in-Chief Juddha to his right

Bhim Shumsher was an old man of 64 years of age when he succeeded his elder brother Chandra Shumsher to the title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung and the post of prime minister of Nepal in November 1929 A.D. He was, in fact, the oldest Rana prime minister to take this hereditary post. He would rule for only 3 years and die on 1st September 1932 A.D. As per the law of succession Commander-in-Chief Juddha Shumsher was elevated to the post of Prime Minister and received the hereditary title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung. At 57 years of age he was going to be more energetic than Bhim it was hoped against the backdrop of the changing dynamics of the British Raj in India.

Mahatma Gandhi had started his Satyagraha or Civil Disobedience campaign already in 1930 A.D. with his march to the sea to make salt out of sea water in contravention of the British monopoly on salt trade. In 1931 the British had relented and Gandhi had embarked on the London Conference as the sole representative of Indian National Congress Party. For keen observers of the time the writing was already on the wall that the British Raj had to make way for some form of home rule sooner than later. As Juddha took the post of prime minister he realized that he would have to not only deal with the Viceroy and his agents but also with the Indian freedom fighters to save the dynastic rule of the Rana family in Nepal. Preoccupied with politics Juddha least expected the bomb-shell that would rattle his country and test his mettle to govern: the Great Earthquake of 1934 A.D.

Winter in Kathmandu Valley is cold and the Maharajah and his immediate family, as was common practice among the rulers of Nepal, had gone on a hunting trip in the warmer climes of the Terai. Suklaphanta region of the Mahakali district of Nepal is famous for wildlife unique to the region and not found elsewhere, the prized black buck or krisnasar antelope. Juddha Shumsher was a hunting aficionado and regaled at every opportunity he could manage to take a few weeks off from the daily chores of administration of the country and relax in the countryside. His entourage had prepared for the Maghe Sankranti or the first day of the month of Magh (mid January) an important festival date in the Nepalese calendar the prerequisite diet for the occasion – ghiuchaku (unpurified butter and molasses) and sweet potato to ward off the winter cold. Juddha did not indulge in alcoholic beverages or smoking opiate as a pastime, however having a sumptuous feast for lunch was a habit he had acquired from his youth. His idea of la dolce vita consisted of a meal displaying the proverbial 84 assorted dishes or chaurasi byanjan of legend. He did not touch them all but it was considered auspicious for the rulers to partake, a divine blessing from the Gods.

The second day of the new month was cold and wet and Juddha prepared for another meal after the daily religious rituals. He was soon returning to Kathmandu and there were many things in the state administration that was pending. He must set them right after the festival. He recollected how hard a time his predecessor and brother Bhim gave him to the point he had nearly resigned from the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Army. His honest suggestions would always fall on deaf ears and instead the elder brother had a habit of bullying him, poking fun at him. The time had now come to set things right. His thoughts were sent asunder by a deep rumbling emanating from the ground, it sounded like thunder peal but it was not from the sky. And then the grounds shook. Juddha realized that it was an earthquake, a massive one. He caught hold of the supporting pole of his tent to steady himself. He had heard stories of how a massive earthquake had hit Nepal in 1833 A.D. and how the 2 towers built by Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa in Kathmandu had crumbled like houses of cards. Only one was rebuilt since then and he wondered whether it would survive this one.

Maharajah Juddha returned to the capital posthaste. He had decided to appoint the young Major General Brahma Shumsher Rana as his point man for all relief and reconstruction works. The second son of General Baber Shumsher one of the senior Ranas in the nomenclatura, Brahma was a very son-of-the-soil type of a person and best suited for this most challenging job. Brahma was an early proponent of Gharelu Ilam and Taleem and was convinced that cottage industry was the new equation that could change the dynamics of Nepal bringing a manufacturing base to a largely agrarian society. He had closely followed the Khadi Movement of Mahatma Gandhi promoting handwoven and hand-spun cloth for India’s use not relying on expensive imports. Brahma was one of the few Rana of the time who publicly wore indigenous clothes. He would command respect of the masses Juddha was confident.

 

Maharajah Juddha addresses the nation from Khariko Bot

Maharaja Juddha upon returning to the capital addressed the nation from the Khariko Bot ficus tree platform in Tundikhel, the vast open space in the city, that had already started to transform into a tent city. His address was a passionate testament to his personal involvement in the relief and reconstruction works that needed to be launched. He vowed to give low interest credit to the victims of the earthquake which was later converted to grants. He instructed his armed forces to assist in the rebuilding of the nation. He warned civil servants from misappropriating public funds putting the fear of capital punishment on those found guilty. Juddha vowed to go it all alone without seeking any foreign governmental and non-governmental assistance from the British Raj in India or elsewhere. Nepal, in four years time, had achieved his vision and Juddha once again gave his speech from the same Khariko Bot informing the nation that all was now well. Dharahara Tower the symbol of national independence Bhimsen Thapa built following the conflict with the British Raj was again standing tall. Nepal had passed a divine test with flying colours.

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