The end of the dynastic Rana reign suddenly opened the door to Kathmandu’s ruling circle for the Indians, who entered Nepal as legitimate advisors and military personnel in the name of strengthening governance and security. The military mission was here to modernize Nepal’s army and to block the possibility of a counter-revolution by the Ranas. At the same time, engineers and businessmen came in to build infrastructure. In other words, Indians held enormous sway across the board, which instead of smoothing out Nepal’s transition to a democratic system sowed the seeds of mistrust.
India’s role in the downfall of the Rana regime was no doubt significant. The 1951 agreement that established democracy in Nepal was signed in Delhi while the Nepali Congress was revolting against the Rana oligarchy and King Tribhuwan was living in exile in India. During the twilight of the Rana rule, India had offered refuge and four months of magnificent hospitality to King Tribhuwan, who by then had lost his crown to his grandson Gyanendra. Naturally, Tribhuwan was beholden to India for getting his crown back.
Fear of political regression had made King Tribhuwan as well as Nepali Congress think of Indians as friends
The Indians had also put in place policies and conditions that compelled Tribhuwan to repay them for their support. India sent a high-level officer to Nepal as the monarch’s legitimate advisor and secretary. Foreigners wanting to visit Nepal had to get permission from the Indian embassy in advance; they could not get a visa without Indian approval.
The palace and Nepali political parties were terrified of political regression—and not entirely unjustifiably. The Rana-led Gorkha Dal and its spying networks were engaged in creating an anti-democratic environment. Kathmandu was alarmed by K.I. Singh’s rebellion and the rallying-cry of “The Delhi agreement is a deception”.
The fear of regression had made King Tribhuwan as well as the Congress consider the Indians as friends and the Ranas as foes. Treated like a friend by both the palace and the political parties, India naturally extended a ‘helping hand’. Nepal could not see the iron hand in the velvet glove.
Nine months after the establishment of democracy, King Tribhuwan on 24 October 1951 appointed Govind Narain, an Indian civil servant, as his secretary and advisor, providing him with plenty of authority. Unlike other appointments which were endorsed by government secretaries, Tribhuwan himself had signed off on the devolution of authority to Narayan, who was referred to as ‘the royal secretary’ as well as ‘the legitimate advisor’.
His appointment, with Tribhuwan’s signature (as TB Shah, Shree Panch Maharajadhiraj), is mentioned in Nepal Gazette published on 29 October 1951. In effect, the Indian bureaucrat was authorized to oversee Nepal’s governance. His role was not only widely discussed but had also attracted quite a bit of controversy in Nepal.
The next column in the ‘Vault of history’ series will discuss Govind Narain’s prerogatives and activities in Kathmandu