Bhimsen Thapa: A Capable Leader or a Pathetic Loser??
Bhimsen Thapa is considered the first Prime Minister of Nepal despite other people holding similar positions beforehand with similar powers. Bhimsen Thapa is immortalized as a controversial figure who killed scores of people to get the top position, fought a losing war and lost a lot of territories, was a major reformer of army, bureaucracy, and society, and was a builder of various religious places and monuments among other things.
So was he all of these things that we say that he is. Let’s find out.
Table of Contents
Bhimsen Thapa came from an ordinary family and humble beginning originating from Gorkha, the ancestral place for Shah kings as a son of Sanukaji Amar Singh Thapa and Satyarupa Maya. While he had illustrious ancestry and more prosperous and successful clan members like BadaKaji Amar Singh Thapa (No immediate relations) his family was of ordinary courtiers.
He was introduced to palace politics at the age of 11 by his father during his visit to Kathmandu. Bhimsen befriended then minor King Rana Bahadur Shah and they were friends for life with Thapa even following the king to exile for almost 4 years to Varanasi.
Historians like to consider Bhimsen Thapa as a clever schemer and negotiator who managed to turn around the situation for exiled King Rana Bahadur Shah through various backroom dealings and schemes which even included the successful assassination of courtiers like Kirti Man Singh Basnyat who was responsible for the exile of King Rana Bahadur Shah.
The return of King Rana Bahadur Shah along with his favorite companion Bhimsen Thapa was violent and murderous in nature with scores of courtiers and nobles murdered on the accusation of helping to exile the King. Prominent courtiers like Damodar Pande were executed and punished along with their family members.
Some royal relatives have blinded their property confiscated with them going to Bhimsen Thapa and his cohorts. It was quite a violent affair. Yikes!!!
Murderous Rise to Power:
If the return was not violent enough Bhimsen Thapa’s rise to the top level was really on the next level of killing and violence. King Rana Bahadur Shah was assassinated by his brother Sher Bahadur Shah who was then killed on spot. Well, this matter should have been stopped then and there since the main culprit was already punished but Thapa had other plans.
Bhimsen Thapa used this as an opportunity to get rid of his opposition and killed almost 90 courtiers and their family members who had no relations with this crime. He even burnt the eldest queen of King Rana Bahadur Shah along with her 14 maids who were innocent at the funeral pyre of the King claiming them as Sati.
Taking Nepal to its Greatest Extent:
After taking control of power he restarted the unification campaign and took Nepal’s territory to its greatest extent from the Sutlej river in the west to the Teesta river in the east with the area encompassing more than 300000 sq. km of land.
Fighting a Losing Battle:
After taking Nepal to its greatest extent Bhimsen Thapa almost lost it all. He initiated the disastrous war with the British East India Company in opposition to the sane advice of the courtiers since the country had a battle-hardened army but was not modern enough to face the British and the result was defeat.
Nepal lost almost 1/3rd of its previous territories, was bankrupt, and was forced to send its citizens as mercenaries to fight wars and battles for foreign armies.
Initiating Major Reforms:
After the defeat and the humiliation, Bhimsen Thapa initiated major and far-reaching reforms in the economy, culture, society, military, bureaucracy, and foreign relations. These came too late to prevent the defeat but were needed nonetheless. Couldn’t he have done it sooner!!!
Downfall: Framed for Murder
After ruling the country for almost 33 years with an iron fist his downfall came as violent as his rise in power. He was framed for the poisoning and the death of 6 months old prince by Queen Samrajya Laxmi, eldest queen of King Rajendra. He was stripped of his power, put in nails, and his subordinates tortured and executed. He was almost rehabilitated due to the foreign relations crisis and at the insistence of his former subordinate Guru Ranganath Poudyal.
Inglorious Death by Suicide:
Despite the hope of rehabilitation Bhimsen Thapa, he was never again in the position of power. His enemies were still active and wanted to eliminate him completely so they revived the poison case again and he was imprisoned again. His family members were punished as well and with the threat of his wife being stripped and paraded through the streets, he just could not take it anymore.
He tried to commit suicide by slashing himself with his kukri but alas he did not die. It would take nine more days under the downpour of rain on the banks of the Bishnumati river where vultures and dogs feasted on him as he had done to his enemies 33 years ago. It would take 4 more years for his nephew Mathwar Singh Thapa to take revenge for him.
Conclusion: Was Bhimsen Thapa a Hero or a Loser
After reading these points it remains to readers to decide whether he was a hero or a loser.