Nepali Times


Till last week the Thapas merely headed only the Royal Nepal Army (Pyar Jung Thapa), the Nepal Police (Shyam Bhakta Thapa) and the Armed Police Force (Sahabir Thapa, who is of Magar origin unlike the others, all Chettri Thapas).

Now Surya Bahadur Thapa has become the prime minister for the fifth time in his life-not counting his chairmanship of King Mahendra's advisory council in 1958.

The last time there were so many Thapas in government the Panchayat regime collapsed under their weight. Ever since the Shahs have ruled Nepal, the Thapas have been fighting off the Pandeys, Basnyats, Kunwars and sundry Chettris to claim control of the court.

It was thought those days were gone forever when democracy came to Nepal in 1950, and especially when it returned in 1990, bringing so many Bahuns to power in a way that left the Chettris muttering against the Bahuns at family gatherings. But luckily for the Chettris little can stop the elite from reasserting themselves. Karl Marx wrote something like that in thick books that the Chettris have not read because reading is not what the Chettris do. The Chettris do statecraft.

The Thapas have distinguished themselves as tenacious courtiers. Mukhtiyar Bhimsen Thapa is the first Thapa to come to mind when Thapas come to mind: He controlled the Shah court for 31 years, in part by killing 90 of Regent Queen Tripurasundari's rivals so that he could rule under her sovereignty. He did not succeed in the 1814-1816 war with the British, but the Thapas love him nonetheless because he tried so hard to control those pesky imperialists, overseeing military battles and negotiating treaties himself while trying to beat down Hodgson. He was eventually done in by the Pandeys, whose treachery the Thapas still mutter about at family gatherings.

Not from the same line of Thapas but an important Thapa nevertheless was Kazi Amarsingh Thapa, who led Nepal's capture of Kumaon in 1790 and of Garhwal in 1803. He finally lost to the British at Devathal in 1815, and at family gatherings the Thapas still mutter against the British for this.

Prime Minister Mathbar Singh Thapa-Bhimsen's nephew-despite or because of his considerable charisma was shot to death in 1845 at the order of King Rajendra and Queen Rajyalaksmi, by none other than Jung Bahadur Kunwar (later to rename himself Rana). This has the Thapas muttering against the Ranas in family gatherings.

The Thapas also held lower posts in the Shah court, and when the Shahs were eclipsed, in the Rana court. Sardar Bhakti Thapa led 2,000 troops against the British and died defending Devathal in 1815. Subedar Dalamardan Thapa served as Jung Bahadur's personal assistant during his 1850 visit to Britain and France. Harka Jung Thapa was one of two officers in charge of Lord Curzon's 1901 hunting trip to Chitwan.

Now the Thapas will argue, sometimes with khukuri in hand, that all they have done is try to serve the nation. The Panchayat years saw many Thapas trying to do this many times: Surya Bahadur, Biswabandhu, Chiran Sumshere, Sushila, Bhekh Bahadur, Niranjan, Kamal Thapa (the last has returned as information minister in the present cabinet). Captain Yagya Bahadur broke the Thapa mould by leading armed Nepali Congress guerillas till his capture in 1974. For reasons too obvious to belabour, there have been few Thapas in democratic politics. (There is Ram Bahadur Thapa 'Badal', but Maoism is hardly democratic, and anyway Badal is a Magar Thapa). Now that democracy has got massively shipwrecked on the rock of bad governance, the Chettri Thapas are back at the helm.

What do non-Thapas make of this? Mostly they are too tactful to say anything, not wanting to engender caste disharmony, though the republicanists among them do secretly wonder if the weight of Thapas will now lead to another regime change. The Bahuns, who are sick of being blamed for everything that has gone wrong in the past 12 years, breathe easier now that they can point out the Chettris, who did after all govern Nepal for the entire period preceding 1990.

The Thapas themselves are quietly exhilirated, discussing at family gatherings the infinite kinship lines that ultimately-by marriage, over generations, many times removed-connect them all to each other. In the end a Thapa is a Thapa unless he is a Magar Thapa, in which case he should consider changing his name or at least tacking on a nom de guerre.

So: The Nepali state has dismally failed to be inclusive. What, other than this, is there to say? The Chettri Thapas are back in control of the court. Break out the Khukuri Rum.

Chief of Army Staff, Pyar Jung Thapa, the Armed Police Force chief Sahabir Thapa, and Nepal Police chief, Shyam Bhakta Thapa.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)