Monday, March 27, 2006

‘Gen. Grandson’ & Grandstanding

One can’t miss the profound irony when Pashupati Sumshere Jang Bahadur Rana and Surya Bahadur Thapa use almost the same language in lampooning the government. The two “royalist” leaders, bitter adversaries during the Panchayat decades, see Vice-Chairman Tulsi Giri and Home Minister Kamal Thapa as the principal threat to Nepal.
Rana, head of the rump Rastriya Prajatantra Party, has plenty of reasons to lambaste Home Minister Kamal Thapa. After all, Thapa, once appointed to the cabinet, broke away from the RPP with a sizable portion. The prerogatives and patronage of power might enable Thapa to lead his party to victory in the upcoming parliamentary polls. (Provided, of course, the mainstream parties scrupulously stick to their boycott pledge by not fielding any independent candidates.)
If the multiparty Panchayat system King Gyanendra’s critics say the palace is bent on introducing, who better than Kamal Thapa to be its official face. Dr. Giri offers another potent symbolism; he was the principal aide to King Mahendra when the palace introduced the non-party version of the polity.
What does all this have to say about Rana, though? As Marich Man Singh Shrestha and Navaraj Subedi might point out, it was men like Surya Bahadur Thapa and Rana who were the real enemies of the Panchayat system. The first masqueraded as the liberal face of the partyless system but in actuality advanced the agenda of a particular group of non-Nepalis. Rana, on the other hand, read the palace’s mind and joined the anti-Surya Bahadur Thapa bandwagon to reach power. In the end, Surya Bahadur Thapa and Rana joined hands to bring down the Panchayat system.
Surya Bahadur Thapa’s antecedents, loyalties and motives need not be recounted. Rana, however, merits greater scrutiny, not least because of his matrimonial ties to and financial interests in India. “Gen. Grandson,” as he is known, might have been running Nepal today as hereditary prime minister, had Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru honored his pledges of support to Mohan Sumshere Rana. Pashupati-raja, the grandson of Mohan Sumshere, earned the title of general while he was still an embryo purely on account of biological and sociological interventions.
Despite the childhood scars inflicted by the death of his father, Gen. Bijay Sumshere Rana, Nepal’s ambassador to India, apparently by electrocution in his bathtub, Pashupati-raja went on to an illustrious academic career at Oxford. Back home, he helped bring out The Nepalese Perspective, the Panchayat system’s first serious attempt in English to influence local and foreign opinion.
Legend has it that Rana learned the Nepali alphabet after returning from Oxford. If that is true, one cannot but commend even more his mastery of the language. Rana went on to establish the Center for Development and Administration, one of early instruments the Panchayat used to draw Ph.D.s into the polity. As Education Minister during the 1979 student strikes, Rana was forced to resign.
Behind this sustained record of achievement, could there have been a murkier side? Something buried deep in the recesses of the mind that had to do with his failure to maintain the political lineage of his ancestors? Today, for all practical purposes, the Shahs and Ranas look one and the same. The finer distinctions have much to do with recent upheavals. The scions of Chandra Sumshere Rana – great grandfather of Pashupati-raja – do not consider with particular fondness the descendants of Juddha Sumshere Rana – the great grandfather of King Gyanendra. All because of issues relating to the social status of Juddha Sumshere’s mother in caste-conscious Nepal.
Having won all five adult-franchise-based elections Nepal has held, Pashupati-raja was on the road to winning the coveted premiership democratically. Instead, Juddha Sumshere’s ghost returned to mock him in the form of the palace’s February 1, 2005 takeover.
However, there is a more crucial strand to this story that remains hidden. Pashupati-raja is also the father of Devyani Rana, the woman we are told Crown Prince (King?) Dipendra was so madly in love with. The official version of the palace massacre of June 1, 2001 still maintains that Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down King Birendra and every other member of his family, together with half a dozen other royals, before committing suicide – all because Queen Aishwarya refused to let him marry Devyani.
Devyani Rana conveniently left Kathmandu, at a time of day/night when hardly any air traffic had been scheduled. She refused to depose before the investigation committee apart from conveying a few sobs. King Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras continue to be the targets of rumor, hearsay and innuendo. But Devyani is free to fly into and out of Kathmandu at will largely unnoticed by the public.
Might Pashupati-raja have some interesting insights into that whole tragedy? At the very least, he could probably encourage a forthright account from daughter Devyani on what transpired during those frantic cellphone calls before Crown Prince Dipendra supposedly embarked on his murderous spree.
That he can accuse Dr. Tulsi Giri and Home Minister Kamal Thapa of posing a grave threat to Nepal certainly says much about the smoke-screen that passes for politics these days.