Nepal is a troubled land. Looked upon as the last remaining Hindu state for quite a few years, its feudal policies finally caught up with it, unleashing a brutal civil war, which ended with the fall of its ruling dynasty. But who were these rulers, the Ranas?
Palace histories are always the stuff of interest. The amount of politics, betrayals and back-stabbings that goes on in the royal families, makes such books quite readable. And the history of the Ranas, certainly fits the bill. It also helps that the narrator — Sagar SJB Rana — is some sort of insider himself.
For starters, this is a dynasty that ruled Nepal from 1846 till 1951. The beginning itself is a bloody story, as founder Jung Bahadur Rana murdered his own maternal uncle, Prime Minister Mathabarsingh Thapa. The family served as titular Prime Ministers earlier to the Rana dynasty kings, and later consolidated power. The era is important as the British had consolidated power in then-undivided India and were eyeing other states.
An important point the author makes in the book is about the pragmatism showed by Jung Bahadur while dealing with the British. The Nepal kingdom had already lost land to the empire, and it was up to the Prime Ministers (as they had made the king into a figurehead) to keep their hands off the rest of Nepal.
The reign was not all glory. Inequality and poverty was rife. But the Ranas undertook social reforms too.
One of the most important part of Singha Durbar is the country’s struggle against the Ranas in 1950. Buoyed by the Indian freedom struggle, the Nepalese fought for democratic rule, which finally saw the Ranas being swept out of power and into exile.
The author recounts various sub-stories regarding this movement, which not many outside Nepal are aware of, such as the schisms within the then Nepal Congress and its impact on the 1950 uprising.
After the Ranas were swept out, the Shahs came back in and stayed till the palace massacre in 2001, which sounded the death-knell of the monarchy. Another tale chronicling those events will be more than welcome.