April 10, 2021

Interdisciplinary Discourse

Forum for KU Academics

Statues had better go to Museum

 – Eak Prashad Duwadi

Recently, the government of Nepal (GoN) decided to pluck king Tribhuvan Shah’s statue from Shahid Gate (formerly Shahid Smarak) and to mount it at the Narayanhiti Museum. The logic behind this is that king Tribhuvan’s input in fighting against Ranarchy was not as much significant as that of  the four martyrs, namely Dharma Bhakta Mathema, Dasarath Chanda, Shukraraj Shastri and Gangalal Shrestha. In fact, these four Prajaparisad leaders sacrificed themselves for people’s freedom from the Rana autocrats rather than kneeling down for their petty interests.
That raised hackles among a section of public and pro-monarch politicians who term the move an “offensive that downplays the role of Shah in bringing democracy in the country”. But the Supreme Court of Nepal ordered the government not to implement its decision to remove late King Tribhuvan’s statue from Shahid Gate in Kathmandu  (Nepalnews.com). The order followed a writ petition filed by advocates Kamalesh Dwibedi and Gulab Bista who argued that the then government headed by B.P Koirala had declared the late King a ‘martyr’ for his fight against Rana oligarchy.  

So, even if he did not have any share in the anti-Rana movement, he certainly maintained a say in the agreement so as to restore the long-lost prominence of Shahs. This victory, which placed him at the helm, lent him enough ground to get himself portrayed as a veteran pro-democratic monarch.

The history of Shahidgate is also not less interesting as it was constructed after 1960 by late king Mahendra. Initially, it was Shahid Smarak. He reportedly asked the builders to make it in such a way that he could pass through it on the Elephant’s back while rambling in the capital as there were only few vehicular movements. Since he introduced Panchayat system deposing the first-elected PM BP Koirala, he perhaps wanted to amplify his father’s glory by keeping the latter’s statue on the top of all four great martyrs in the Shahid Smarak. Some years later, the passage was blocked, and sideways were made on both sides. Guards were appointed to protect it and newly-elected PMs often used to go there to show their reverence to the heroes of Nepal. Mainly after the dawn of republicanism, political leaders hardly make homage to this place. The once revered place appears to have been deserted these days.
Some historians say King Tribhuvan, though updated rarely by the freedom fighters about their secret movements against Rana oligarchy, had shown sympathy to the then political leaders. B P Koirala nods, “What is true is in 1950-51 movement the king (Tribhuvan) showed his solidarity to the people although it is not clear whether he had really become pro-people or just an opportunist” (268). Madan Bhandari, a strident critic of Shahs  in Nepal, purports that the claims about Tribhuvan’s  anti-Rana activism are just hoaxes fabricated by his successors to portray the monarchy’s positive image (300).

Circumstances show that as the head of the state he  was a signatory to the decision of giving capital punishment to the four patriots. Sympathizers accord this to his compulsion to work at Ranas’ gunpoints. When the movement led by Nepali Congress was in peak, he quit the palace along with all his family members (except a grandson  — Gyanendra Shah) seeking asylum in India. Many take this as a wise action for  intensifying pressures ton Ranas. Others deem it a mere escape from is ambiguous position of loyalty between the Ranas and the people. 

He returned to the country only after the trilateral agreement between the monarchy, the Ranas and the Nepali Congress, with restored powers and Mohan Shasher’s premiership. No one of his family members was killed in the revolution. Neither did his family have to abdicate the throne. So, even if he did not have any share in the anti-Rana movement, he certainly maintained a say in the agreement so as to restore the long-lost prominence of Shahs. This victory, which placed him at the helm, lent him enough ground to get himself portrayed as a veteran pro-democratic monarch.

Those who think that Tribhuvan also contributed a lot in ensuring peoples’ freedom ask, “Did not he peril his throne to abolish Ranas? If Tom, Dick, Harry can be martyrs now just dying in clashes for personal matters, or being killed in road accidents or even being shot while watching the protest from out of their window, then, apparently, king Tribhuvan did more than that.” Because of these sentiments, they have padlocked the Shahidgate now displaying a banner that denounces the GoN’s recent decision.
Yet, there are others, particularly young generations, who do not want to debate whether king Tribhuvan’s contribution to bring democracy in Nepal is equal to that of those four great souls or not. Because fierce tongue wars are being ensued presently in Nepal, what they think is keeping statues at different corners, and sometimes in the roads, is not wise. Most probably, it was appropriate in ancient times and medieval periods when there were no books, archives, photography and videos. However, now there are many such media which have unlimited archives about almost everything and every movers and shakers. Moreover, there are museums where antiques are preserved.
Therefore, not only the statue of Tribhuvan but also other statues have to be removed from the highways and the crossings so as to make smooth traffics. Erecting statues by blocking or dividing the roads is quite unpractical in the present context. Still the big question is: what does the GoN’s stand on over ten thousand new martyrs? Are they like the FOUR?
Works Cited
Bhandari, Madan. “Rajtantra nai Janata ra Rastaka Shatru Hun [Monarchy’s the enemy of Nepali  and Nepal].” Thaps, Soorya. Nepalma Rajtantra ra Dalharu bich Sangharsha [Rows between Monarchy and Political Parties in Nepal]. Kathmandu: Navayug, 2005. 297-330.
Koirala, B P. “Rajtantra le Gatisil Samajko Netritva Garna Sakdaina [ Monarchy cannot lead the developed society].” Thapa, Soorya. Nepalma Rajtantra ra Dalharu bich Sangharsha [Rows between Monarchy and Political Parties in Nepal]. Kathmandu: Navayug, 2005. 251-278.
Nepalnews.com. SC stays decision to remove King Tribhuvan’s statue from Shahid Gate. 10 January 22012. <http://www.nepalnews.com/home/index.php/news/2/15894-sc-stays-decision-to-remove-king-tribhuvans-statue-from-shahid-gate.html>.
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