Times of Trouble

Text by Anil Chitrakar / Photo: ECS Nepal

As you walk down the street of Tripureshwor in Thapathali, there is a large compound of the Kalmochan Ghat where you can see the bronze statue of King Surendra Bikram Shah. Walk down the steps and take a closer look and he is actually “slinging” a rifle on his right hand side. It is a very beautiful and well crafted image of the king who sat on the throne of Nepal at a time of trouble and uncertainty, perhaps no different from the one we are experiencing today. There was a power struggle going on in the court of Kathmandu where the king, the various queens, Crown Prince Surendra, the Thapa family, the Pandey family and just about anyone else wanted to assert themselves as the center of power. King Surendra was put on the throne of Nepal and coronated on the night of 12 May, 1847 while his father was on a pilgrimage in Varanasi. The then Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana took advantage of the weak and young King Surendra to consolidate not just his own power but that of his family and paved the way for the Ranas to rule Nepal for the next 104 years till 1950.

In the process of power consolidation, King Surendra’s second daughter was married to the eldest son of the Prime Minister in 1854. The boy was eight years old and the princess six years old. In 1857, Jung’s six-year-old daughter, Tara Kumari, was married to nine-year-old Crown Prince Trailokya Bikram Shah, son of King Surendra. On 6 August, 1856, King Surendra conferred the title of “Shree Teen Maharaja” to Jung Bahadur over the Nepali provinces of Kaski and Lamjung. The “Lal Mohar”, or royal decree, thanks Jung for “securing the throne of Nepal by killing those persons who were helping others, promoting friendship with the British, for winning the war with Tibet, etc.”. The King, for all practical purposes, had granted a civilian the power to issue a death sentence, dismiss any civil or military servant, declare war and conclude peace and sign treaties. In this way, the king of Nepal gave away powers to the man who would make sure that only he and his brothers and siblings ruled this country for over a century.

After the death of Jung Bahadur in 1877, King Surendra was confronted with the dilemma of granting the prime ministership to Jung’s brother and the title of Maharaja to Jung’s son. King Surendra was once again manipulated into granting both those titles to Jung’s brother Ranodip Singh, resulting in a long power dispute among the Ranas. In the meantime, just like today, the people of Nepal struggled on for daily survival. During 1863-64 the monsoons failed in most parts of Nepal. The Kathmandu Valley was badly affected. By 1865-66, the food situation was so bad that the government began to distribute rations to children below 16 and older people above 55. Thousands died of starvation. King Surendra died on 19 May, 1881, bequeathing the throne of Nepal on his six-year-old grandson, Prithvi Bikram Shah.