NEPAL: Robin Hood of the Himalayas

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From his gleaming white palace among the golden pagodas in Katmandu, hollow-cheeked King Mahendra issued a royal decree: the new Prime Minister of Nepal is Dr. Kunwar Inderjit Singh. To his neighbors in the two most populous nations in the world, the King's choice was of major significance. Tiny Nepal lies on a 4,000-ft.-to-9,000-ft. slope of the Himalayas between Red China and India, and is a pawn in the tense frontier rivalry between them. The Foreign Ministries in both countries last week probably had legitimate misgivings about how Singh will swing.

Barrel-chested, walrus-mustached K.I. Singh, 54, onetime Indian army clerk and practicing homeopathic physician, earned the sobriquet "Robin Hood of the Himalayas" when he began parceling out land to peasant farmers during a nationwide revolt against the autocratic Rana dynasty in 1950. Worried by Singh's deeds of derring-do as head of a band of ragged Nepalese army irregulars, nervous Indian army "observers" stationed in Nepal clapped him into jail. He escaped the Indians, but was picked up again. One night in 1952 Singh broke jail and led a coup that captured the capital's airfield, treasury and arsenal. The then King of the day, fearful of the Indians, would not let Singh form a government. With 32 followers (five of whom died en route), Singh groped his way through blinding snowstorms into Tibet, then headed for Peking.

Six-Shooters. Communist China rolled out the Red carpet for Singh, called him the "potential leader of Free Nepal." But suddenly he was dropped by the Communists (a casualty in Chou En-lai's new policy of coexistence with India), and at the Bandung Conference Chou En-lai agreed to return Singh and his followers to Nepal. Singh arrived in Katmandu to the sound of brass bands and cheering thousands, found that corruption and inefficiency in local government had enhanced the memory of him as a Robin Hood. To stimulate the legend of his past military feats, he took to swaggering about town wearing a pair of six-shooters and cradling a 12-gauge shotgun in his arm.

Vehemently denying that he was a Red Chinese agent, Singh was careful not to criticize the Chinese Communists ("After all, I was their guest"), talked, instead, of making Nepal the "Switzerland of the Far East," i.e., neutral. He saw that there was no future in Nepalese politics without Indian backing, began insisting that India was Nepal's "best friend," and asked the Nepalese to be "more grateful" for Indian economic aid. He was invited to New Delhi and had a chat with Nehru. Nehru laconically concluded: "Not a Communist—just a freebooter."

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