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Mainstream, VOL LX No 6, New Delhi, January 29, 2022

Nepal: G B Yakthumba - People’s General who revolted against Rana oligarchy | Mandeep Lama

Friday 28 January 2022

by Mandeep Lama

This the story of one man’s vision and grit in freeing Nepal from the tyrannical Rana oligarchy, on how he cobbled up a valiant fighting force from a ragtag motley group of patriotic warriors, and eventually rid Nepal of its ‘Ranarchy’

Part 1

Prologue

The ruling autocratic oligarchy of the Ranas had seized power in Nepal on the heels of the infamous palace armoury massacre of the 15th of September, 1846.

The massacre had taken place on account of the murder of Regent Queen Rajyalaxmi’s favourite courtier Gagan Singh, whom many believed to be her paramour.

Previously, Gagan had been denied a berth in the council of ministers formed in September 1845, by the new Mukhtiyar, or the Prime Minister, Fateh Jung Shah Chautariya. Ever since the Queen had been pushing for Gagan’s induction into the ministerial forum with earnest.

Then, one fateful day, Gagan Singh is found murdered on the balcony of his palace. Who was the murderer? What was the motive? Why was he killed? No one knows for sure. Except for a slew of conjectures, Nepal’s history on this count leads to several blind alleys.

When the Regent Queen hears the news of the murder of her favourite courtier, she summons all the court officials to the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Armoury or the kot. In the evening everyone assembles at the armoury as per Rajyalaxmi’s orders.

General Jung Bahadur Kunwar arrives with five of his brothers and three other men in arms and straightaway accuses one Pandey courtier for the murder of Gagan Singh. He advises the Queen to give orders for his execution and, at the same time, asks the Mukhtiyar to support the Queen on the issue.

Already in great rage, Rajyalaxmi orders one Abhiman Singh Basnyat to carry out the sentence but Abhiman hesitates. The King, Rajendra Bikram Shah, who wields no real authority, and the Mukhtiyar raise their feeble voice against punishing anyone without carrying out proper investigation and a fair trial.

After raising his objections, the King leaves the kot and, strangely enough, straightaway goes to the British Embassy but is denied entry so late in the night.

At the kot, with Abhiman Singh vacillating,, the volatile situation relapses into some sort of a stalemate. At this point, some accounts say, the Queen leaves the armoury in a huff. Abhiman Singh wants to follow suit but is prevented by Jung Bahadur and his men.

Arguments soon break out and, in the scuffle that follows, Abhiman Singh is killed prompting the massacre. Still some other accounts say that when Abhiman Singh hesitates to carry out the order, the enraged Queen abruptly lunges forward to kill the accused man herself, which triggers the bloody gun and sword battle. Whichever may be the correct report, Hanuman Dhoka Palace Armoury witnesses a terrible bloodbath.

However, for some strange reason, the Nepalese people would describe this massacre with one bizarre expression: kot parva! In this particular context this idiom is pregnant with a grotesque, almost savage, innuendo, because in the Nepalese tongue the word parva means a “festive occasion” or the “festivity” itself!

The heinous carnage, ostensibly carried out by General Jung Bahadur Kunwar, results in fifty-five – other sources say thirty-four and/or forty-four – courtiers and the Mukhtiyar lying dead in a pool of blood that gushes to the sewer outside.

This ghastly palace armoury massacre catapults the class of Chhetris, who call themselves Kunwars, to the centre stage of governance in Nepal.

After the massacre, Jung Bahadur makes himself Prime Minister and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and immediately establishes a hierarchical roll for the post of premiership in which, unlike in the progenitorial kingship, the post would pass from one brother to another.

A decade later, on 6th of August, 1856, Jung Bahadur prevails upon the King to issue a sanad, the Royal Charter, declaring him Maharaja of Lumjung and Kaski regions. Not only this, the sanad also confers upon him absolute power over his Monarch and, thereby, over the entire country. The history-changing sanad in part ran:

“Should I anytime tyrannise over my subjects, the Sirdars or the army, or wish to cause any dispute between the government of my country and that either of England or China you are free to prevent my doing so, and if I do not act according to your advice, you are to enforce me to do so with my Sirdars and the Army, to both of which I have given orders to obey you and assist at such time.”

The Shah dynasty goes down the slope thereafter, with subsequent kings either exiled or turned into virtual prisoners by way of putting them under strict surveillance at all times.

There is one more theatric the Kunwar usurpers would resort to. In their bid to rise above the other co-class Chhetris, and also to add some exotic flavour to their pretense, they decide to embellish themselves with the grand title of ‘Rana’.

Having accomplished this, the Ranas are now at par with the Shah Kings on the count of the title. Rana becomes the new buzz word in Nepal and, donning this title, begins to rule the central Himalayan nation with the proverbial iron fist.

Running Down Ranarchy

The Ranas – like all usurpers in history – chose their only option to consolidate their rule. So instead of ruling by honour, they decide to rule by terror.

But, with the passage of time, the title debunks into an embodiment of evil of the worst kind. Over the decades, with their wielding of absolute power in the most brazen manner, Ranarchy would evoke such intense hatred in the hearts and minds of their impoverished countrymen and women that they decide to prepare for an armed revolution against the Ranas in a most assiduous manner.

To give definite shape and solemnity to the idea of an armed revolution, a meeting of the Nepalese compatriots is convened in Calcutta on the 20th of May, 1948.

At the political level, this meeting is facilitated by Nepali Rastriya Congress, and is held in the office of one Puran Singh Khawas, who also chairs it. One important thing that emerges out of this meeting is that everyone present here unequivocally agrees on one proposal: to raise a fighting force to seek to put an end to the more than 100 years of the repressive Rana Rule in Nepal.

Planning a Revolution

A number of Nepalese compatriots, who are motivated by their intense patriotism and a deep sense of sacrifice for the cause of the motherland, attend the meeting. Major Dilman Singh Thapa-Magar, Captain Man Bahadur Rai, Buddha Singh Gurung, Rup Narayan Pradhan, Birjung Ghale and Ram Prasad Thapa come all the way from Amritsar and Vaksu.

Likewise, Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba, CB Rai, Dil Bahadur Rai, Babu Lal Moktan, Nirmal Lama, Donald Grangden, Shyam Kumar Tamang, Narendra Lama, Ram Singh Nepali, Dik Bahadur Tamang, Harsha Vardhan Lama, and Lok Bahadur Rana-Magar make it to the meeting from as varied a place as Siliguri, Kurseong, Darjeeling, Guwahati, and Shillong.

Those who attend the meeting from Calcutta are Dil Bahadur Chhetri, Dan Bahadur Chhetri and Chhabilal Nepali, who originally hailed from Syangja in central Nepal.

This historically significant meeting unanimously adopts resolution for raising an armed force of able bodied men to take on the might of the Ranas and their National Army.

After a daylong deliberation on the various aspects of the force, Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba, a former lieutenant in the 4th Gorkha Regiment of the British Army, proposes that the force be called Janamukti Sena or People’s Liberation Force. Since the name seems appropriate enough, everyone present in the meeting agrees to it.

After this moment in time it so happens that the person of Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba, a man of extraordinary courage and vision, and Janamukti Sena becomes synonyms of each other. However, the path that lay ahead of the two ─ Yakthumba and the Sena ─ as well as for others involved in the mission, is not at all easy to tread upon.

The way to a decisive revolution was going to be fraught with dangers and difficulties. Nobody with a sane mind could ever imagine that it was going to be easy dislodging the well-entrenched Ranas who have been ruling Nepal with impunity for a little over a century from their seat of absolute power.

Members of the yet to be raised Janamukti Sena hold their first meeting in Puran Singh’s office on the 25th of May, 1948. Several strategies are discussed in the meeting including the one on how to kick-start their avowed mission.

After spending much time in rumination, members decide on travelling to various parts of Nepal incognito in order to study the terrain as well as to collect information on the current situation in the country.

They would then return to Calcutta by the last week of June and, after carefully analysing the ground situation in Nepal, begin outlining their plan of action. Acting upon this decision Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba, accompanied by C. B. Rai, makes a clandestine visit to Kathmandu, the citadel city of the Ranas.

At the same time, in Kathmandu, one Badri Bikram Thapa is engaged in a covert operation aimed at preparing and strengthening the ground for the impending revolution while employed as a teacher with the National Army.

Widely known as “Master Saheb”, Badri’s official function is to impart education to the soldiers of the Rana regime. This job provided Badri a unique opportunity otherwise denied to other civilians.

He was able to enter the army barracks with ease and could move around freely. Endowed with refined qualities and a pleasant personality, the soft spoken Badri could make friends easily. Thus, he combines his easy access to the soldiers and their officers and the affable charm of his personality to the hilt for his covert operations.

With admirable skill he had been identifying and marking on those soldiers who could be sympathetic to the cause of their beleaguered nation, motivating them to the idea of a revolution that was brewing up against the Rana Rule.

With help from this courageous crusader, Yakthumba is successful in taking one Chitra Bahadur Tamang, a junior officer in the army, into his confidence. With the help of Chitra Bahadur, Yakthumba prepares maps of all the military hotspots in Kathmandu, identifies important and influential personnel in the National Army, and makes a number of reliable confidants in the Valley.

There were any numbers of people in Kathmandu who despised the Ranas and wanted them vanquished.

Many of them had clandestinely come together to work for destabilising the Rana regime. Later on, this group of activists is converted into a regular body of intelligence network system of the Janamukti Sena.

Named Intelligence Network, it functions quite effectively prior to, during, and after the armed revolution of 1950–51. Before returning to Calcutta, Yakthumba manages to procure a safe house for one Jamuna Rai, another pro-revolution activist, who is working in tandem with Badri Bikram Thapa.

Later on, Jamuna Rai would regularly collect information on the Rana regime as well as political activities in the Valley, and send them to the Commanders of the Janamukti Sena.

Formation of Janamukti Sena

In the last week of June, 1948, when everyone who had gone on to the reconnaissance tour of Nepal arrives, a meeting of the Janamukti Sena is convened in Puran Singh’s office.

The core agenda of this meeting is to constitute an Executive Committee which would be responsible for planning and directing the armed revolution against the Ranas. Puran Singh Khawas is elected President of the Executive Committee whereas Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba and Dilman Singh Thapa-Magar are elected the two Vice-Presidents.

At the operational level, however, the entire responsibility of raising the Janamukti Sena is assigned to Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba, who is to be assisted by C. B. Rai.

Intent upon expediting the work of raising a force from scrap and, eventually, launching a nationwide armed revolution in the near future, Yakthumba begins his work in the North Bengal town of Siliguri in the district of Darjeeling. His first requirement entails establishing a camp where recruits could be trained.

Such a camp is soon established in Burma Busty in Siliguri. As soon as the news pertaining to the formation of Janamukti Sena and its recruitment process spreads, volunteers start pouring into the camp in a steady stream.

Selection is made primarily on the basis of patriotic fervour and the ability to fight. Former and serving army personnel with experience in the Second World War are particularly favoured.

After the initial recruitment process is complete, regular training session commences in right earnest at the makeshift camp at Burma Busty.

Recruits are made to get used to the daily grind of physical exercises, parades and training in weapons that would turn them into lethal combatants.

The day for the trainees began, as well as ended, with a prayer to the goddess Durga, the epitome of shakti or power. Yakthumba and some of the trainers at the camp happen to be experienced World War II veterans.

Still others are those ex-servicemen who had been trained in the art of guerrilla warfare by the British Army, as also by the Japanese Army once they had joined Netaji Subash Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj as volunteers.

Under the capable leadership of such battle-hardened war veterans, the structure of the Janamukti Sena soon begins to emerge with heartening results.

Most of the recruits are from far-flung rural areas in Nepal. Although bursting with enthusiasm, most of them are young farmers with little or no education at all. It was, therefore, not an easy job to mould these simple and regular folks from the countryside into dreaded guerrilla fighters who would then take on the professional army of the Rana regime.

Therefore, apart from training in arms, they were also to be psychologically fortified for a series of hard battles ahead that was sure to turn nasty. It was even more certain that many of the young men would be losing their lives in the process! Freedom from the oppressive Rana rule was going to cost them much blood, tears and, for those unlucky ones, their lives too.

Such being the ominous scenario for the imminent future of the recruits, a team of ten experienced and dedicated trainers, including Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba, start slugging it out in the Burma Busty camp with utmost solemnity.

Along with training the recruits in the art of war, it is also in the curriculum of the trainers to impart lessons on the code of military conduct, discipline, holding of appropriate moral attitude, and to drench them with patriotic fervour for their motherland that was presently under shackles.

Responsibility for the preparation and launching of the revolution chiefly rests on the shoulder of Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba. And, such is the pressure and gravity of the monumental task entrusted upon him that Yakthumba, otherwise a perennial optimist and a skillful organiser deft at handling adverse situations, would occasionally drift into deep and prolonged contemplation.

While training of the recruits is going on smoothly, an unanticipated crisis slowly begins to brew in the Burma Busty camp. This crisis soon engulfs Yakthumba as well as the other trainers. For days they struggle to iron out the problem.

It had so happened that, as a huge response to the formation of the Janamukti Sena, an avalanche of volunteers eager on joining the ranks start pouring into the camp on daily basis. First it is just a trickle, but it rapidly turns into a torrent!

Soon enough the provisional camp at Burma Busty becomes saturated with cadets. It can no longer accommodate the increasing number of the recruits. Eventually, after days of deliberations and consultations, the camp is shifted to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh and then to Allahabad.

But, after sometime, the camp is shifted to Lucknow, where it is divided into three sub-camps due to administrative compulsions.

Training of the recruits goes on smoothly for a longer period of time in Lucknow. However, due to the ever-increasing number of cadets, it soon becomes apparent that they are in need of a much bigger and wider space.

Thus, the camp is finally shifted to a place called Leheriasarai in Bihar’s Darbhanga district. Hereafter, training of the men goes on without any discernible hitch.

Political Realignment

About two years later, in the opening months of the year 1950, negotiations for the merger of Nepali Rastriya Congress, led by B. P. Koirala, and Nepal Democratic Congress, led by Mahendra Bikram Shah, commences in right earnest.

The March 19th issue of The Hindu carries a joint statement of the Presidents of the two parties, which in part reads:

“Both the organisations have decided that the country should be prepared for a fight to the finish against an autocracy that has no parallel in ruthlessness.”

On the 9th of April, 1950, Nepali Rastriya Congress and Nepal Democratic Congress, both operating from Indian soil, formally merge to form Nepali Congress. Under the fresh beacon of this refurbished political alignment in Nepalese politics, activities of the Janamukti Sena begin to move at a faster pace.

This change in momentum brings the Sena ever more close to its objective of launching an armed revolution in the country to oust the despicable Ranarchy.

However, there is yet another daring undercover drama that would be enacted in Kathmandu before anyone is able to pull the first trigger. There is no margin for error whatsoever in the execution of this act.

This drama takes some months to unfold but, when it does, it releases such violent tremors on the superstructure of the century old oligarchic Ranarchy that they increasingly find it hard to handle the resultant crises meaningfully.

The Royal Picnic

On the 5th of November, 1950, King Tribhuwan Bir Bikram Shah Dev, reduced to the status of a house prisoner by the Rana administration, seeks and gets permission from the Prime Minister, Mohan Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, to go on a family picnic and leopard hunting expedition at the Nagarjuna Grove in the northern mountains. The date for the royal picnic is immediately set for the next day.

On the 6th of November, at 10 O’clock, accompanied by his family members, except for the three-year-old grandson Gyanendra, Tribhuwan moves out of the Narayanhiti Palace in a convoy of five cars led by his beige Mercury. The cars are driven by the King and the princes themselves, who are accompanied by one Rana officer in each.

The royal cavalcade slowly saunters through the courtyard but as soon as it rolls out of the imposing palace gate, it suddenly accelerates as if the royal party is eager to reach the northern mountains rather quickly.

However, as Tribhuwan’s car approaches Sital Niwas, the Indian Embassy, which happens to be en route to the Nagarjuna Grove, and even before the Rana officers accompanying them are able to gather their wits, the King suddenly swerves his vehicle towards the embassy gate and enters its compound followed by other cars in equal haste.

A Sikh sentry opens the door of the Mercury, and out steps the King in khaki Jodhpuri and grey scarf. Colonel I. C. Katoch, the Indian Military Attaché, receives the King with a warm handshake, and informs him that the Ambassador, Sir Chandreswar Prasad Narayan Singh, is waiting for them inside the embassy.

In the meantime, the Rana officers accompanying Tribhuwan’s entourage hasten back to Singha Durbar to report the King’s taking of refuge in the Indian Embassy.

Pretty soon, leading a contingent of the National Army, General Bijaya Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, son of the Prime Minister, arrives at the embassy gate and forthwith demands that the King and the members of his family be handed over to him. But King Tribhuwan and the members of the royal family are safely ensconced in the sovereign territory of India.

Late that afternoon, All India Radio breaks the news that the King of Nepal, along with his family members, has sought asylum in the Indian Embassy at Kathmandu.

The next day, a Council of the Elders of the Rana regime promptly deposes King Tribhuwan, and announces the enthronement of the three-year-old Gyanendra, the younger grandson of the King, whom he had deliberately left behind. Obviously, Tribhuwan didn’t want to leave his kingdom without a member of his family at its head. However, the Government of India firmly refuses to recognise Gyanendra as the new Head of the Kingdom of Nepal.

Among a plethora of reasons for the King’s dangerously desperate move, there was one particular case on which the Rana regime had been pressurising Tribhuwan to submit to its wishes.

Sometime back, the Nepali Congress had hatched a daring plot to eliminate the top brass of the Rana hierarchy at the place where they customarily assembled for celebrating the ancient Newari festival of Indrajatra. But the Rana administration had sniffed off the design and had squarely busted the plan.

A number of Congressmen and the members of Janamukti Sena had been arrested.

The Hari Shumsher Commission, which had been constituted to investigate the treason plot, had promptly recommended capital punishment for twenty-three of those arrested, including Ganeshman Singh and Major Dilman Singh Thapa-Mangar.

The Ranarchy now wanted the King to give his assent, which would send the condemned men to the gallows.

King Tribhuwan knew that those sentenced were patriots who wanted to put an end to the rule of the oligarchic Ranarchy that had become absolutely overbearing. However, he himself being under constant surveillance and severe restrictions, Tribhuwan had not much of a choice. He had, therefore, decided to seek asylum in the Indian Embassy rather than give his assent to the execution of the nationalists.

To carry out his secret plan, the king takes into confidence the German physician Erika Leuchtag who had been invited a year ago from Shimla by the Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana to look after and take care of the health, especially of the two Queens of King Tribhuwan.

Erika soon becomes aware of Tribhuwan’s sordid situation, and readily agrees to act as a catalyst between the subsequent Indian Ambassadors – Sir Chandreswar Prasad Narayan Singh and Surjit Singh Majithia – and the King.

The kind of consummate ease Tribhuwan makes good his and his family’s flight reflects on how effectively Erika had measured up to the confidence of the beleaguered monarch.

On the 10th of November, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru sends an Indian Air Force plane to fetch the royal family to New Delhi, where the King is received with full state honours. With the King out of harm’s way, the turf is now clear for Nepali Congress and other allied organisations to launch a nationwide armed revolution and peasants uprising to root out the century-old Ranarchy.

Armed Revolution of 2007 BS

The much-awaited and eagerly anticipated date in history was finally at hand. Launching of the armed revolution of 2007 Bikram Samvat (BS), corresponding to 1950–51 AD, was imminent. Things could no longer be postponed. The inevitable had to begin!

As the clock struck eleven on the night of the 11th of November, 1950, the armed revolution, as well as peasants uprising against the Rana regime was to commence throughout Nepal.

The Nepali Congress had been successful in raising a reliable fighting force in the name and style of Janamukti Sena. Now the time had come to severely test its mettle. Meanwhile, Puran Singh Khawas had been made Chief Commander of this force.

In the process of deploying the Sena to different locations, the Koirala brothers – Bisheswar Prasad and Matrika Prasad– were assigned command of the Sena in Biratnagar, while Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba, Thirbhum Malla, and Buddha Singh Gurung were to jointly lead in Birgunj.

Dr. K. I. Singh was to direct the Sena in Bhairawa. Other Commanders were likewise deputed across the nation to launch the revolution.

The contingent of Janamukti Sena that had been assigned the Birgunj campaign had a risky job at hand. The National Army and the extended members of the Rana clan and their henchmen regularly frequented the rough patched highway between Kathmandu and Birgunj, which also snaked through Purwanipur, Amlekhgunj and Bhimphedi.

This highway was also used for going into the different parts of the country and also for going to India. Thus, as Birgunj was well connected with roads, this connectivity was liable to become disadvantageous to the freedom fighters if the battle was to prolong beyond a reasonable span of time.

In such a case, there was every possibility of more units of the National Army pouring into the scene and jeopardising the Sena’s overall plan. It was, therefore, utterly important to win the opening battle at Birgunj in a blaze of a lightning strike.

(NOTE: All References are given at the end of this two-part serialized narrative, to be concluded next week)

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