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Princess Of 'Doom'

For want of a better reason explaining the regicide, Nepal looks for answers in the extra-mundane
Kedar Jain
Inside and outside Nepal’s devastated royal family, the speculation is that love drove Crown Prince Dipendra to kill his parents. Contrary to newspaper and television reports, no one confirms the argument the prince is supposed to have had with his parents about his love life and marriage plans. But as one embittered and bereaved Shah clan member said during the travails of the past week, "If only he hadn’t met ‘that girl’."

‘That girl’ is Devyani Rana, possibly one of the saddest and most devastated young ladies in the world now. But how was she to know when she met the suave young Crown Prince Dipendra in London a few years ago that she’d be blamed for, or at least be associated with, the worst catastrophe ever to hit her country’s royal family.

Those who know Devyani say she isn’t the archetype femme fatale. Not overwhelmingly beautiful or alluring, she is nonetheless quite popular and well thought of among her friends in Kathmandu’s fast set. The mobile phone that she always took with her to parties used to frequently ring with calls from the prince, say friends. They also say she was discreet about her relationship.
Devyani didn’t need to work, but she answered phones and helped a proud father in the office of his political party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party. Her father, Pashupati Shamsher Rana, is a suave Anglophile who leads one of the country’s many political parties. A cabinet minister, he’s admired for his sophisticated political skills and his ability to make money. But Rana is a broken man at the moment, a scion of an establishment that may never get its place back in Nepalese society. (The Ranas, till 1951, controlled the state apparatus.)

Queen Aishwarya, it is said, was opposed to Devyani because of her mother, Usharaje Scindia, whose Gwalior royal lineage wasn’t considered impressive. For one, it made Devyani half-Indian—and the royal family was perhaps reluctant to foster an Indian connection. Also, since the Scindias had attained Kshatriya status through the so-called process of sanskritisation, the Gwalior family wasn’t considered in the same league as the status-conscious Shahs.

Queen Aishwarya was supposed to have mastered the ancient art of forging political alliances through marriages. And Devyani didn’t quite fit into her scheme. Supriya Shah did. The 22-year-old woman was a very distant relative of the prince, and they had dated and seen each other on a number of occasions. Supriya had Queen Aishwarya’s approval largely because a marriage between her and Prince Dipendra would have ensured that the Shah dynasty didn’t have to share its power with the Ranas.

There were other problems, too. It’s said the prince was more than a little fond of Supriya. But she had reportedly told mutual friends that the man she may have ended up marrying was occasionally prone to murderous rage while drunk or highly stressed, something the royal family learnt so tragically last week.

The story that Prince Dipendra had married Devyani secretly in the week before the killings fits perfectly with the astrological prophecy—but is little else otherwise. A few months ago, Nepali newspapers carried the chilling prediction by a soothsayer that both the king and queen would die if the Crown Prince married before he reached the age of 35. Though royal family insiders pooh-poohed this at the time, newspaper readers took the news seriously and in their grief last week found enough latitude to gossip about the prince’s love life.

The logic is impeccable, even if false. One highly improbable story says the prince married Devyani in secret, perhaps at a Hindu temple in India. It was why the prediction came chillingly true, courtesy the prince. In the palpable inability to explain the massacre of the royal family rationally, it isn’t surprising to find people turning to superstitions and the extra-mundane for their answers.

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PLACES: Nepal
SECTION: International
SUBSECTION: Cover Stories
OUTLOOK: 18 June, 2001
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