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Chandra tries to control a growing demand for more Awards led by his son Baber but reveals an acute sensitivity to the position of the monarch and steps in to help an errant son-in-law in serious trouble with the British in India.
This article draws on material in the three files listed here:
5 File S I May 1916 97-104 Promotion of His Excellency Major General Maharaja Sir Chandra Shumshere Jung, Bahadur Rana, G.C.B., G.C.S.I., G.C.V.O., Prime Minister of Nepal, to the honorary rank of Lieutenant General in the British Army. Question of conferring a G.C.I.E., on General Baber Shumshere Jung, the Prime Minister of Nepal's son. The Prime Minister's views in the matter
6 File S I Feb 1917 15-17 Grant of the Dignity of Honorary Knights Commanders of the Star of India and the Indian Empire, respectively to General Sir Bhim Shumshere Jung Bahadur, Rana, K.C.V.O., Commander-in-Chief in Nepal, and General Judha Shumshere Jung Bahadur, Rana, Commanding General of the Southern Division in Nepal
7 File 242-H(S)/1925 Proposal for fresh honours for General Sir Baber Shumshere Jung, Bahadur Rana, G.B.E., K.C.S.I., K.C.I.E. of Nepal. Proposal to offer two Colonelcies to Nepal was dropped at the instance of the British Envoy at the Court of Nepal
This article is Part 2 of a series. Read Part 1 here: Ranas and Gongs
On Friday, 11 September, 1915, the newly-promoted Lieutenant Colonel John Manners-Smith VC, CVO, CIE, would have been looking forward to a quiet weekend at the British Resident’s beautifully situated bungalow at Kakani. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Norfolk Regiment in 1883; in 1885 he joined the Indian Staff Corps and served with the 2nd Sikhs (Infantry) and the 5th Gurkha Rifles from 1885-1887. The Staff Corps was a branch of the Indian Army which was designed to offer placements for civil and political appointments for posts which Indian Army officers might be eligible. Before his appointment as British Resident in Nepal in 1905, Manners-Smith had a distinguished career. In 1891 he was present during the Hunza-Nagar Campaign fought by troops of the British Raj against the princely states of Hunza and Nagar in the Gilgit Agency. He was awarded a Victoria Cross for personally leading the assault against a strategically placed and strongly defended hill fort. During his first ten years as Resident in Kathmandu, he established a close relationship with Maharaja Chandra Shumsher Rana. Describing him as a confidant would not be too strong.
At some stage during that Friday, Manners-Smith received a personal message from the Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge, directing him to see Chandra Shumsher as soon as possible to get approval for actions that the Viceroy was proposing to take. Manners-Smith would have known immediately that the prime minister would have major reservations regarding the Viceroy’s proposals.
Some brief background to explain why. On August 3, 1914, even before the outbreak of First World War hostilities, Chandra offered the Viceroy all of Nepal’s limited military resources. Within two weeks, he arranged to mobilise 8,000 men to provide support when the British asked for it. In January 1915, the Government of India requested 6,000 men for garrison duty in India, which would release units of the Indian army for service overseas.
In March 1915, 7,500 men were sent to India under General Baber Shumshere, the Prime Minister’s second son. He was appointed Inspector General of the contingent and attached to army headquarters in Delhi. The troops were deployed in two areas: in the North-West Frontier Province under the prime minister’s nephew, General Padma Shumshere and in the United Provinces under another nephew, General Tej Shumshere. A second contingent of 4,000 troops was sent to India in December 1915, followed by a further 4,000 a year later. (Nepal Under the Ranas, by Adrian Sever, p. 256, Oxford and IBH, 1993.)
So much for background. The detail starts with material from File 5 above. Manners-Smith saw Chandra on Saturday, September 12, 1915. The next day he dispatched this telegram to the Viceroy’s Private Secretary, summarising his meeting with Chandra:
“With reference to your telegram of the 8th, I would advise that G.C.I.E., [Knight Grand Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire] or any high honour which is given in recognition of the services of Nepal, should be bestowed on the prime minister. Selection of Commander-in-Chief of Nepalese Army for such an honour would be liable to misconstruction in Nepal and would be politically inadvisable. Prime minister appreciates greatly Viceroy’s kindness in thinking of his son, but considers that it would not be in General Baber Shumshere’s own interest to receive exceptional recognition in view of his subordinate rank and position in the Nepal. He suggests that the consideration of honours for officers with Nepalese troops in India be deferred for present.”
I am sure that Chandra would have had every confidence that Manners-Smith would accurately convey to the Viceroy’s staff his strong misgivings but, just to make sure, he followed up with this note to Manners-Smith on the Sunday evening:
“I have again thought over carefully about the matter you so kindly talk to me yesterday concerning the gracious proposal of His Excellency the Viceroy of conferring the honour of a G.C.I.E. on General Baber. The more I come to think over it, the more I feel convinced that I was right in what I have told you on the subject of honours of my two brothers, if General Baber is to get one. I have nothing more to add now except asking you, if I can do so without any impropriety, that, in case of His Excellency the Viceroy intending to bestow any honour on him and any other Nepalese as we had conversed yesterday, I would request you to very kindly talk the matter with me before any final decision is come to thereon.
I am sure that, when General Baber Shamshere will come to hear from me some day in future of the honour for him, he will feel as happy and grateful as if he had been the actual recipient of the same and will at the same time appreciate my views on the matter as I have explained to you.”
After receiving this missive, Manners-Smith clearly felt constrained to send another telegram to the Private Secretary of the Viceroy to drive the message home:
“Will you please refer to your telegram of the 8th of September regarding honours? I strongly advise that the G.C.I.E. or any high honour which may be given to recognise service of Nepal should be bestowed on Prime Minister himself. The grant of such an honour even to the Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese army would be politically inadvisable and liable to misconstruction in Nepal. The Prime Minister appreciates greatly his Excellency the viceroys kindness in thinking of his son, but in view of subordinate rank and position in Nepal, he considers that would not be in General Baber Shumshere’s own interests to receive exceptional recognition. He suggests that for the present, consideration of honour for officers with Nepalese troops in India should be deferred. A letter on the subject will follow.”
The letter which followed inevitably repeated many of the points from the telegrams but the key paragraphs are worth giving:
“The Prime Minister did not hesitate to let me know that he did not think the grant of so high an honour as the Grand Cross of an Order of Knighthood would be appropriate even for the Commander-in-Chief in Nepal for services in connection with the Nepalese contingent. In doing this, I am sure that he was not influenced by personal considerations, but from political reasons. Such an honour has not been bestowed before in Nepal to anyone below the Prime Minister; and although he himself would understand the compliment was intended for Nepal, it would not be generally taken in that way and might do harm and possibly prove an inconvenient precedent.
So far as the actual work of preparing the contingent for service in India is concerned, moreover, another higher official of the army – the Prime Minister’s half-brother, senior Commanding General Judha Shumshere Jung – had even more to do than the Commander-in-Chief, he being the executive head of the army, while the Commander-in-Chief is the administrative head.
In considering the question of honours for any of the general officers in India, the Prime Minister’s views are as follows:-viz, that they should be given for individual merit, and that a Knighthood or a Knight Commandership of an Order of Knighthood would be suitable. If given merely in recognition of having served with the contingent in India, it would not be advisable to give an honour higher than that possessed by the Commander-in-Chief. This would entail promotion of the Commander-in-Chief, who is now a K.C.V.O., [Knight Commander of the Royal Victoria Order] to a higher Order of Knighthood, and in this case a Knighthood for General Judha Shumshere Jung would also be advisable.
If, however, the three Generals in India should have the good fortune to see active service and do work worthy of special recognition, then it would not be so necessary to consider the Commander-in-Chief in Nepal or General Judha, as they would have to recognise that the rewards were given for individual merit, and not on account of the fortuitous circumstances of the recipients having been sent to India with the contingent.
As regards his Excellency the Viceroy’s wish to give special recognition to his son, General Baber Shumshere, in the shape of a G.C.I.E., the Prime Minister is most grateful to Lord Hardinge for thinking of the son, but he does not think that it would be in his best interest to be singled out in the manner proposed. General Baber is really quite junior in rank at present in Nepal and, after his father’s death, has no special prospect of high position. When nominating him to the staff of His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief in India, the Prime Minister did not intend that he should be considered to be in supreme command of the Nepalese contingent and was careful to call attention to the fact that he was junior in rank to both Commanding General Padma Shumshere and General Tej Shumshere Jung, the two General Officers with the troops at Abbottabad and Dehra Dun respectively.
The maharaja did not hint that he should be given any special recognition, but I am quite sure that, in the eyes of the public here, the only recipient for a compliment to the Nepal Darbar is the Prime Minister, although Maharaja Sir Chandra Shumshere has already received almost every possible recognition.”
What are we to make of the fears expressed by the Maharaja? Given the nature of Rana rule and the principle of succession employed, from brother to brother, it was reasonable for him to alert the British to the fact that honours awarded to high ranking relations could be “politically inadvisable and liable to misconstruction.” Of all the Rana Maharajas, Chandra Shumshere was the most paranoid about his personal safety. As one of the brothers who took part in Ranaudip’s assassination – albeit in the role of minding the door – Chandra had seen how difficult it was to protect the prime minister from family members. After he became Maharaja, he took no chances. His specially chosen bodyguard took orders directly from him and had the authority to frisk even his closest relatives. With such a mindset it is easy to see why he would be anxious to avoid giving any close family member an excuse to fly into a jealous rage and take violent action against him. He also made a valid point in saying that the awards proposed would be easier to accept and understand if there was an element of merit attached to them; they should not simply be given, “on account of the fortuitous circumstances of the recipients having been sent to India with the contingent.”
However there is another side to Chandra Shumsher which comes through very clearly. Three times Manners-Smith, who probably knew him as well as most, felt it necessary, “to strongly advise that the G.C.I.E. or any high honour which may be given to recognise service of Nepal should be bestowed on Prime Minister himself.” A related message also comes through clearly and repeatedly. To put it bluntly: “a Knight Grand Cross of an Order of Knighthood can only be held by one person in Nepal, and that is me!” His comments about his son Baber also reek of hypocrisy: “I am sure that, when General Baber Shamshere will come to hear from me some day in future of the honour for him, he will feel as happy and grateful as if he had been the actual recipient of the same and will at the same time appreciate my views on the matter as I have explained to you.” A final point which might have provoked such hypocrisy, maybe even in the hope that the words would be passed on to Baber Shumshere, is worth making. Baber served in the headquarters of the office of the Commander-in-Chief and it is clear from the file that the original recommendation to the Viceroy came from the Commander-in-Chief. There is evidence from a later file that Baber was not slow in pushing himself forward for Honours and Awards, to put it mildly. To my mind it is a safe bet that he was behind the recommendation of a G.C.I.E. for himself. It is probably an even safer bet that a man as highly intelligent as Chandra Shumshere would have identified that from the moment Manners-Smith informed him of the proposal.
How, after all these perturbations, could the British restore tranquil relations with the Maharaja of Nepal? On September 16, 1915, the Viceroy proposed that, as a way of recognising the services of Nepal, the Maharaja should be recommended for a G.C.I.E. For some reason not stated this was not followed up. Perhaps it was seen as not being in accord with the rules of the Orders as they were understood at that time, the Order of the Indian Empire being more junior than the Order of the Star of India. But a solution was to hand. Twelve days later, there is a note from J.D. Wood of the Foreign Secretary’s Department to the Army Department:
“His Excellency the Viceroy desires that some public recognition should be given to the action of the Nepal Darbar in despatching a contingent to India. The Prime Minister of Nepal is already a G.C.B., a G.C.S.I., and a G.C.V.O,. and it is therefore difficult to find any further distinction of this kind which would be suitable for him. In the circumstances His Excellency would like it to be considered whether the Prime Minister might be suitably promoted to the honorary rank of Lieutenant-General. The Prime Minister is at present Major-General in the British Army, as are the Maharajas of Kashmir. Gwalior and Jaipur and Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh. There is no political objection to the Prime Minister of Nepal being promoted over the heads of the Indian Maharajas as the position of Nepal is quite distinct from that of the Native States of India. Will the Army Department kindly say whether they see any objection to his Excellency the Viceroy’s suggestion."
Within a few days the Commander-in-Chief had indicated that he wholeheartedly concurred with the suggestion and thus the way was cleared for Chandra Shumshere’s promotion.
Lieutenant Colonel Manners-Smith disappears from the record at this point as the Resident in Nepal. (In the above photo showing Chandra Shumshere’s suite on his 1908 UK visit, the Resident is seated third from left.) As British Resident in Kathmandu from 1905 to 1915, he was at the very centre of an interesting and important period in Britain-Nepal-Tibet-China relations. He left Nepal at the end of 1915 for another posting in India, but ill-health forced him to return to England at the end of 1917. He entered a nursing home and died on 6 January, 1920, aged 55. His Victoria Cross is in the Gurkha Museum in Winchester. Manners-Smith transferred early on during his time in India to that curious British Indian Army institution, the Indian Army Staff Corps, but it still allowed him to serve in some amazingly interesting places, and to see a lot of action. He was, as I indicated earlier, clearly a confidant of Chandra Shumshere, and Britain-Nepal relations greatly benefitted from their friendship. I am delighted to pay this short tribute to him.
The machinations analysed from File 5 are linked to File 6 by the revelation in the first note in the file that, Baber Shumshere was created a K.C.I.E., on February 16, 1916, “not without some protests from Maharaja Sir Chandra Shumshere” to quote directly from the file. It was not the G.C.I.E. Baber had been hoping for, and for which he had been recommended, but it was enough to require action to be taken, as indicated in the title of the file, to smooth down agitated waters in Kathmandu. Notes in the file stress that since Baber’s award had been gazetted as for meritorious service in connection with the war, for political reasons, the two new awards had to be gazetted in similar terms. Importantly for British intentions, the file closes with this telegram from Lieutenant Colonel SF Bayley, the new British Resident in Kathmandu:
“On receipt of a telegram from the Private Secretary to His Excellency the Viceroy, I informed His Excellency the Prime Minister of Nepal of the grant on the 1st of January 1917, of the Honorary titles of K.C.S.I. and K.C.I.E. to General Bhim Shumshere Jung, K.C.V.O., and General Judha Shumshere Jung respectively. His Excellency the Prime Minister has replied asking me to convey to His Excellency the Viceroy, an expression of warm gratitude from himself and the Title Holders named above, and observing that these favours are a token of the good will which the British government bears towards Nepal.”
So Bhim Shumshere got the KCSI he had been striving for since 1906, to add to his KCVO, and Judha Shumshere’s KCIE gave him his first step into the world of British Honours and Awards. Baber Shumshere’s KCSI had triggered a cascade which would continue for years to come, with an increasing number of beneficiaries.
Conveniently for the cohesion of this article, Baber features again in File 7, still pursuing more and greater honours. The opening Note in the file is written by Sir Denys Bray, the Foreign Secretary of the Government of India. It records a conversation he had with Baber Shumshere when he called in to see him in New Delhi on December 2, 1925. Bray remarks that he was as friendly as ever. The Note concludes as follows:
“I was a little bit taken aback by the general asking me, as an old friend and very confidentially, to consider whether the titles he has received, great and highly valued though they are, were quite commensurate with the titles for which he had been recommended. I fancy the trouble began with his learning that he had been recommended for something like a G.C.I.E as early as 1915. I should like a brief note on the question of his honours. My impression is that the Prime Minister has said more than once he found it very difficult to keep the balance between the various generals in Nepal. I may be wrong, but I got the impression that this question of titles was not wholly unconnected with the rumours we have heard that the Prime Minister is scheming to get Baber recognised as his successor.”
The quick check Bray requested showed that in addition to his February 1916 KCIE which had caused so much angst in Kathmandu, Baber had in February 1919 been made a KCSI and, in December 1919, a Knight Grand Cross of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or a GBE. We can imagine that another Knight Grand Cross in Kathmandu would not have pleased Chandra Shumshere, but at least it fell short of the gold standard of a GCB (Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath).
At a meeting six days later, Bray recorded Baber as telling him that he was now, “toying with the idea of receiving honorary rank in the army rather than a title.” The degree of arrogance, presumption, and sense of entitlement displayed are breathtaking – but typical of senior Ranas at the time. On the rumour Bray mentions, from the evidence in these files, it is entirely possible that Baber encouraged such thinking in order to ingratiate himself further with the British in the hope that they would press his case for yet another award.
A paragraph in the note dated December 2, 1925, highlights what was always a very sensitive point for Rana Maharajas. It is well described in a handwritten note by a British official in a file in the British Library covering Chandra Shumshere’s visit to the UK in 1908: “The truth is that although the Prime Minister, in whose hands all governing powers are rested, professes the greatest outward show of deference to the Maharaja Dhiraj, he is not inclined to make more of the Kharita than is absolutely necessary for official purposes.”
The Maharaja Dhiraj was the King of Nepal; at that time, Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah. The kharita was a letter in Persian, in this case addressed to King Edward VII, enclosed inside a silk bag, with a translation in English, all contained within a silver box. The letter should have been handed over by Chandra Shumshere when he had his initial audience with the King but he would have considered that far too demeaning. However, protocol required King Edward VII to reply to it, and to do that he or his personal staff had to see it. For how that problem was solved, see my article covering the visit.
The relevant paragraph in the note from Bray which highlights the same sensitivity reads as follows:
“The question of the exchange of complimentary telegrams with the King cropped up in the course of the discussion and he said that the whole problem had arisen from the fact that the Prime Minister had not been consulted. I pointed out that when they were Kings at both ends it was sometimes almost impossible to consult both and that in this matter we felt we were on absolutely safe ground in assuming that the Prime Minister would desire Nepal to be treated in exactly the same way as any foreign power. I explained that had I been able to visit Kathmandu I should have endeavoured to elicit whether the Prime Minister really wished the exchange of complimentary compliments to cease or whether he would desire some slight modification in them, and I explained how obviously difficult, if not absolutely impossible, it would be to renew the compliments once they had been stopped. He wondered whether it would be possible to adjust matters by omitting the telegram at the Dusserah and substituting for it a telegram to the Prime Minister on his birthday, and both the King and the Prime Minister sending telegrams to London on the King’s birthday. I am not sure it would be possible to follow this tentative suggestion and will consider it further on the file.”
Other evidence in the file indicates that Chandra Shumshere had made a great fuss over this issue, so Bray’s point about assuming that the Prime Minister would desire Nepal to be treated in exactly the same way as any foreign power was a good one. The Rana rulers wanted exactly that but with special allowance made for the fact that they ran the country, and kept the monarchy powerless. The last sentence in the paragraph indicates that Bray did not think very much of Baber’s alternative proposal.
The sensitivity highlighted is a reminder that the Rana rulers of Nepal never lost an opportunity to demean the Shah monarchs, both privately and publicly, and this continued until the fall of the regime in 1951, as amply illustrated in Erika Leuchtag’s revealing book, With a King in the Clouds (Hutchinson, 1958). She was a physiotherapist who was invited to Kathmandu in early 1949 by Maharaja Mohan Shumshere to treat one of the two wives of King Tribhuvan. In her book, she gives some revealing insights into the Kathmandu of the day, including how strictly the daily curfew was imposed, the arrogance of the ruling Rana elite, how pampered their children were, and their humiliating treatment of Tribhuvan and how deeply he resented it.
A further issue raised by Baber Shumshere at the meeting was noted by Bray in these terms:
“He mentioned, first and foremost the old case about the capitalisation of the Nepal present. I explained to him again the difficulties which seem to our expert advisers quite insuperable. Whether I was able to impress their insuperable character on him I cannot say, but I was at pains to emphasise the sincerity of our desire to help the Prime Minister whenever we can.”
“The Nepal present” was an annual payment of a million rupees to the Nepal government first made by the British Government of India from the end of the First World War onwards in recognition of Nepal's contribution to the war effort. The Rana rulers would ideally have liked a grant of territory on the southern border in lieu of the present but the British refused to countenance such a transfer. The lines quoted above is evidence that from an early stage the Ranas pressed hard for the annual payment to be replaced by an invested sum which would be the property of the Nepal government and which would yield income equivalent to a million rupees annually. The comments from Bray show that for some years the colonial government took a hard line that capitalisation was impossible. By 1929 the government in Delhi had come around to accepting the idea in principle, but the UK government continued to oppose it. The request was partially acceded to in 1945.
A final interesting point emerged from another meeting between Bray and Baber Shumshere on December 12, 1925, just six days later. Bray recorded:
“I saw the general again today ... He left with me papers regarding the case of Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh. He said that his father had asked him to speak to me about it and to make it clear that though he would be glad if his son-in-law could be helped, he was most anxious he should not be thought to be asking for anything that was at all unconstitutional or improper. If we can pass on the papers to the UP government with some sort of recommendation in this sense we should do so.”
This is not the place to give a biography of a remarkable man, Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh. He was born in Chainpur, in Bajhang district, in Nepal’s far northwest, in August 1877, and died in Bangalore in India in October 1940 while under house arrest for his activism in support of the movement for Indian independence. He travelled the world and lived an extraordinary life. He was the first son and heir of Bikram Singh, ruler of Bajhang, and Rudra Kumari Devi, a daughter of Jung Bahadur Kunwar. He was to be the 55th Raja of Bajhang. His exceptional intelligence was evident at a very early stage and his mother brought him to Kathmandu at the age of 8 to continue his education. He was aged 17 in 1894, when he married the first daughter of Chandra Shumshere. She was aged 14. He matriculated in Calcutta and subsequently graduated to higher studies. He was a humanist, peace advocate, writer, social activist and advocate of universal education. Satyadevi School, the primary school he opened in Bajhang, was the first school to offer formal education to commoners.
In 1899, he helped to start the publication of Gorkhapatra, Nepal’s first newspaper, and published many books for students in 1901. He served as Consular General in Calcutta from 1902-1905 and returned to Kathmandu with a hand-press to meet the shortage of textbooks in the Nepali language. He published a history of Japan in 1907 and visited England in 1908 as the Chief Editor of Gorakhapatra. He was listed as part of Chandra Shumshere’s officially declared suite, as Colonel Raja Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh. Nepali sources claim that King Edward VII was so impressed by his intelligence, he made him an honorary Colonel in the British Army. Jaya Prithvi would have met the King when Chandra presented his suite to him on May 11, 1908, though the files I examined in the British Library covering the visit make no mention of such an appointment.
In the photo above, Jaya Prithvi, is second from the right in the back row. (For details, see my earlier article about Chandra Shumshere’s visit to the UK in 1908.) In the earlier photo showing Chandra Shumshere’s complete suite for his UK visit, he is third from the right in the back row, wearing the distinctive jacket which highlighted that he was the only one in the photo of royal blood: it was a style which was popular with the Shah monarchs and their sons. Jaya Prithvi was aged 31 when these photos was taken.
It is possible that the trigger for Chandra Shumshere forcing Jaya Prithvi into exile was the publication in 1907 of his book on Japan, which portrayed how powerful autocratic families, the Shoguns, ran the country, having removed all power from the lawful ruler, the Emperor. If so, it is surprising that he was included in the Maharaja’s suite for his 1908 UK visit with the rank of Colonel. There is also a suggestion that he had stopped observing caste rules and the court pundits put pressure on Chandra to make him an outcaste. Other sources indicate that in 1916, because of growing dissatisfaction with Rana rule, and his increasing empathy with poverty-stricken people in Nepal, he handed back the title of Bajhang Raja to his father, Bikram Bahadur Singh, and went to Nainital in India where he lived for eight years. At that stage, Nainital was part of United Provinces and the date quoted ties in with when Baber met Denys Bray. In Bangalore we know he came into contact with the Humanist Movement in South India, which had home-rule as one of its beliefs.
Whatever the date of his exiling, looking back on the life he lived, the causes he supported, and the books he wrote – and taking account of the despotic nature of Rana rule – it is surprising that he was allowed to stay in Nepal for as long as he did. In his book, Political Awakening: The Search for a New Identity (Commonwealth Publishers, 1992), Prem R Uprety writes about the nature of the Rana regime in a chapter headed, “Nepal’s Revolutionary Intelligentsia”:
“Among the different arbitrary governments that existed in the world in the first half of the twentieth century none, perhaps, surpassed the Rana oligarchy of Nepal in its absolute control over life and property, total censorship of ideas, strong vigilance on the entry of foreign nationals, and the movements of her own citizens. So tight was the instrument of control that one got the feeling that not even the leaves of trees could shake themselves without the command of the Rana Premiers. [A footnote in the book indicates that this echoes BP Koirala’s words in his Mero Jivan Katha: “even the leaves of the trees of this country feared to shake themselves without his, Chandra Shumshere’s, command.”]…. However even the darkest phase of the Rana oligarchy did have its own little flock of philosophes Madhava Raj Joshi, Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh, Krishna Lal Adhikari and Shukra Raj Shastri, to mention only a few - who devoted countless hours of their time and energy in trying to evolve ways and means to improve the socio-political conditions of the Nepali people. The Rana period was, thus, not all obscure or absurd. It had its luminaries, the defenders of the down trodden [sic] and the advocates of reason and humanity.”
Prem Uprety is in no doubt that Jaya Prithvi deserves his place in the pantheon of such men. He writes: “His stories were, in fact, not intended merely for pleasure; but to fulfil his long term political objective. He desired to instil a new political courage or a new adulthood among the Nepali people. So that they could move with the times like their fellow brethren of Asia. To arouse the social and political consciousness of the people, he published his monumental work, Sichya Darpan [Mirror of Education] in three volumes. The book, which was published in pocket edition was to serve as a manual. It was small enough to be carried inside a pocket to the numerous villages where the literate could read to the illiterate and acquaint them with its illuminating contents.”
The pages Prem Uprety devotes to highlighting extracts of this work (pp. 2-25) amply demonstrate Jaya Prihvi’s gift for subtly subversive writings, to put it mildly. As Uprety puts it: “In a very witty and skilful manner he throws a bombshell against the Rana regime, without even mentioning the words, Rana or Nepal. But the message is clear and the methodology unbelievably daring.”
With that as background, what are we to make of the extract from the file above? It is clear that Chandra feared that Jaya Prithvi faced a very serious offence, most likely for his pro-independence activities, perhaps one which could even end in his execution. By this stage, Chandra Shumshere would have been well aware of the extent of his subversive actions and writings in Nepal so, having expelled him, why is he now trying to intervene with the British on his behalf? We can only speculate. It was highly unlikely that it was simply because he was a poor son of Nepal in a foreign land needing help. That would be most un-Chandra like. Kind and wise friends in Kathmandu who I consulted reminded me that Chandra was a wily ruler with one eye on the present and another on history. Some factors they suggested are worth considering: Chandra had an interest in maintaining his reputation in the Thakuri clan of Karnali region as the protector of even wayward scions. Jaya Prithvi was after all Chandra’s son-in-law, a highly educated family member of unimpeachable royal blood who had connections with the Brahmin elite of Prayag and Kashi, and it would have been important to Chandra to keep his line of communication open to them.
We are unlikely ever find out for certain how Chandra’s intervention helped Jaya Prithvi but, given that he went on to live a very active life, it is quite possible that the intervention was decisive. By way of contrast, we know for certain the outcome of Baber Shumshere’s plea to Denys Bray for yet more honours. Bray, who in correspondence often referred to Baber Shumshere as an old friend, wrote to WHJ Wilkinson, the British Envoy at the Court of Nepal (a new designation for the previous Resident, Britain’s man in Kathmandu, after the signing of the 1923 Treaty) on March 16, 1926, asking him to consider whether the time had come to pay a further honour to Nepal: “I am therefore to ask you to consider the advisability of letting the Prime Minister know that His Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief, if he were assured that this would be in accordance with the Prime Ministers wishes, would like to recommend two Colonelcies being granted to Nepal, the actual appointment to be made in accordance with the prime minister’s nomination.”
Wilkinson was having none of it. He had been in Kathmandu for nearly two years by this stage and had clearly worked out a few angles on how Chandra’s mind operated. On March 13,1926, Bray passed on Wilkinson’s views to the Army Department. Quoting them is an appropriate way to finish an article which I hope has shed some light on Anglo-Nepal relations at this time, as well as on the sensitivities and complexity of dealing with a great autocrat and his ambitious brothers and sons on the subject of honours and awards:
“Mr Wilkinson thinks it will be very ill timed for us to suggest fresh honours to Nepal after the Prime Minister has given us something like a rebuff over the exchanges of messages between the King and the Maharajadhiraja. He is afraid that were we to sound the Prime Minister on the subject of fresh honours he might regard it as an overture made to show that we were conscious of a mistake in that case. I feel confident Mr Wilkinson is right, and if Army Department agree I propose to tell him so and let the matter drop for the present.”
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