Hitler’s ‘gift’ kicks up row in Nepal

June 20th, 2008 - 1:21 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 20 (IANS) A vintage Mercedes rusting with disuse in Nepal’s former palace that hit the spotlight after reports that it was a gift from Adolf Hitler may go back to the scrap heap after a blue-blooded family’s claim that the present was in fact a Daimler Benz - and it had been in India for decades. The controversy started after Nepal’s official media reported earlier this month that a car gathering dust in the Narayanhity royal palace was a priceless 1939 Mercedes Benz, gifted to deposed king Gyanendra’s grandfather Tribhuvan by the German leader.

It was said to have been the first car in Kathmandu valley, carried from India on the backs of scores of porters in 1940 as Kathmandu had no motorable roads at that time.

However, a 92-year-old member of Nepal’s aristocracy is refuting the reports, saying that Hitler did not gift the car to Tribhuvan, who was a mere rubber stamp king. Instead, she says, the German chancellor gave it to her father, who was the real ruler of Nepal.

Janak Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah, the daughter of Judha Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, also says that the gift was not a Mercedes but a Daimler Benz. Moreover, it is not in Nepal but in India.

Judha Shumsher was the seventh prime minister of Nepal at a time the Rana premiers held the reins of the country, having reduced the Shah kings to mere puppets. He ruled Nepal with an iron hand for 13 years, abdicating in 1945 in favour of his nephew. Then he moved to Dehradun city in north India, where he spent his last days.

His daughter, a former lawyer, says he took the olive-green car with him to Dehradun and she used it as a student.

There are only two models of the 1936 Daimler, made to order. While one was used by Hitler himself, the other was a diplomatic gift to the Nepali prime minister, probably in a bid to persuade Nepal not to support the allied forces against Germany during the war.

Janak Rajya Laxmi, who is the current owner of the controversial car, says she could not bring it back to Nepal when she returned in the 60s.

She says she left it in Dehradun in the care of her brother, Sushil Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. It is still lying at their family mansion at Guru Road in the Indian city.

The Narayanhity royal palace, turned into a national museum after the abolition of monarchy in Nepal last month and the departure of the last king, Gyanendra, is proving to be a treasure hunter’s delight but a historian’s nightmare.

The sprawling palace is a trove of historic treasures, including priceless jewellery, paintings and documents.

However, records about the origin of many of them are missing.

The high-level committee formed by the government to take inventory of the heirlooms in the palace had suggested that the old car lying unused there be given pride of place in the museum when it is opened to the public in future.

Now historians will have to start fresh investigations to find where it came from.

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