KATHMANDU: When Lieutenant General Gaurav Shumsher JB Rana becomes Nepal’s new Chief of Army Staff tomorrow, it will be a vindication of sorts for him.
There were moments earlier this year, when Rana wasn’t sure he would be the next army chief. The uncertainties were vexing for Rana, whose father was also denied the job of CoAS three decades ago.
News reports almost always refer to his genealogy: his
father Aditya Shumsher, his grandfather Mrigendra Shumsher, his great grandfather Babar Shumsher, and
his great great grandfather Chandra Shumsher.
“One would wonder, with a family history like mine, would I become the Army Chief?” Rana asks. But his genealogy, which has been used in a negative sense, has not worked against him, and he thinks it is the strength of the democratic republican system. “You can see it as a change,” he says. “They have selected me in a very objective way.”
Rana started his career as a Second Lieutenant in the Purano Gorakh battalion 38 years ago.
“In a military culture where soldiering is all about command and leading Purano Gorakh instilled in me the regimental systems,” Rana says.
A professional soldier, Rana takes pride in being a soldier, something that he inherits from his family, retired Lt. Gen, Balananda Sharma says. “He has very good attachment with junior soldiers although he is an officer. This is a critical quality for a professional commander,” Sharma says. Rana came close to death during the Maoist insurgency when the vehicle he was driving was ambushed in the summer of 2003 near Sahajpur area of Dadeldhura.
“There were two roadside bombs,” Rana recalls. “It was raining at the time, so one bomb did not blow up, and the other one that went off was not lethal because the ground was soggy.”
Rana says they acted as they were taught, and immediately resorted to anti-ambush
manoeuvres. He lowered the gear, drove for another 50
metres, parked, took positions and fired.
“Under my command in Nepalgunj, he proved his decisiveness at a critical time,”
says Sharma. “He didn’t come under stress and served confidently and calmly. He follows rules and his professional commitment is commendable,” Sharma says.
Now, Rana is saddened most by the loss of sensitivity to human lives. “In Nepal, during my early career, people used to be shocked on hearing about an incident in Ratnapark where a person hit somebody else with a knife,” he recalls. “Suddenly we became immunised. We began to hear that 40 people were killed, or 100 people were killed. We lost all sensitivity. Fighting was senseless at the end of the day.”
Rana’s top priority is to professionalise the army and make it an apolitical force, is aware of the catalytic changes around the Nepali Army. When he started his career, the army was used against anti-Panchayat forces like Nepali Congress and UML, which were then called anti-national elements. “Suddenly they came to power and democracy prevailed,” Rana says. “Then just as we were thinking about stability, we came across another radical insurgency. Now they are also in power.” He wonders whether this trend of political upheaval every 10-12 years is a cycle. “People are again saying there could be another change, so younger generation should be prepared.”