From Hobson's Choice
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Foundations of the Kingdom
Nepal was unified in a series of military campaigns beginning in 1769 under Prithvi Narayan Shah. Prior to that time, the Shah dynasty ruled a province of Nepal slightly to the west of Kathmandu (Gorkha; hence, the Shah's kingdom was the core state of the Gurkha Empire, and Nepali units of the Indian and British Armies are known as the Gurkha Rifles). Privthi's campaign of expansion almost immediately provoked the involvment of the British East India Company, but the British forces sent north quickly succumbed to malaria.
After the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley, Privthi's campaigns were waged for the conquest of the eastern and western ends of his mountain kingdom: he attempted to conquer Sikkim, and did accomplish the conquest of the entire region of Uttaranchal State (now a state in India). With each expansion, Nepal was brought up against the boundaries of another empire.
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In 1814, the Gurkha forces first clashed with British police in the disputed areas of the Terai Plateau.
At this stage in its history, Nepal's single major unifying force was the Gorkha-led army and its supply system. Prithvi Narayan Shah and his successors had done the best they could to borrow military techniques used by the British in India, including modern ordnance, command structures, and even uniforms. An entire munitions and armaments industry had been created in the hills, based on locally mined and processed raw materials, and supported by a system of forced labor to transport commodities. The soldiers in the army were renowned for their ability to move relatively fast with their supplies and to fight with discipline under tough conditions. They also knew their terrain better than the British, who had little experience there. Although the Nepalese army of an estimated 16,000 regulars would have to fight on a wide front, it had great logistical advantages and a large reservoir of labor to support it.The East India Company won substantially, partly thanks to turmoil in the court at Kathmandu. Initially the British took over the Terai and the region that later became Uttaranchal State. The Terai was returned later that year because the British felt it was much more trouble than it was worth to govern.
Privthi had died in 1775; his heir, 24, would reign only two years. In 1777, the new king was a 2½ boy, and the real rulers were regents. This led to a tradition in Nepal of rule by regents and appointed prime ministers, who gradually attained their own dynastic control. The boy king (Rana Bahadur) was sacked on reaching his majority, then returned from exile (1804), executed the PM, and shortly afterward was killed in a quarrel with his cousin (1806), who likewise was killed at once. Girvan Yuddha, the illegitimate son of Rana, died almost immediately after he came of age, so the disastrously inept PM Bhimsen Thapa and his ally, the Regent-Queen, remained in control. King Rajendra Bikram, the third child king in a row, was exiled to India when he reached his majority, then jailed (as was his son) when he attempted to return.
The eclipse of the monarch behind the regent or prime minister was a calamity because the new dictator, Jang Bahadur (portrait), was not remotely regarded as legitimate. Evidently, many Nepalis assume he was responsible for the Kot Massacre (1846) However, he abolished the slave trade and undertook several progressive reforms. His regime did align Nepal with the UK very closely, which was difficult to avoid since Jang Bahadur's first order of business was to subordinate the army to the state. During the half-century of intrigue leading up to Jang Bahadur's rule, the military was already semi-Western; it was the most efficient non-European army known to have existed at the time, and enjoyed unmatched prestige. Jang's dynasty, the Ranas, saw the urgent necessity of making this institution professionally subordinate to the regime, as well as technically accomplished enough to ward off conquest of Nepal.
The Rana Period
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The Gurkha Empire was remarkable in avoiding the development of strife among the Nepalese. The Hindu and Buddhist citizens of the nation respect each other's religions, and even participate in each other's religious rituals. Islam and other religions are practiced freely. Insurgencies have tended to remain focused on overthrowing the authorities; in regions where, for example, the Maoists operate, it's rare for members of one ethno-religious category to attack members of another (even under the pretense of "class struggle"). Yet it seems hard to see how the monarchy can take credit for this: it has always been focused on the glories of military conquest and the subject's need for defense. Partly this is because the Himalayas are a dangerous place; partly it is because the rulers were empire builders, and little more than political emissaries of their armies to the subject people.
Despite their close alignment to the British military establishment, the Rana Era was one of chronic underachievement:
Almost all Nepalese remained illiterate and uninformed about any part of the world outside their villages or, at best, their valleys. Public health and economic infrastructure had not advanced past medieval levels in most areas, and doing anything about it was proving impossible. Under Bhim Shamsher (reigned 1929-32), fifty people were arrested and fined for setting up a public library. Because the Ranas relied on the goodwill of the army and the British government to support their dictatorship, the army served as a legitimate--and perhaps the most viable--means for Nepalese citizens to achieve upward mobility or to see the world. During World War I (1914-18), the government of Nepal loaned more than 16,000 troops to the British, and 26,000 Nepalese citizens who were part of British Indian regiments fought in France and the Middle East.
During the 1930's, political parties formed to oppose the Ranas, but they operated underground or in exile. This was concurrent with political agitation in India against British rule, although in some respects the Rana premiership was more rigid than the British authorities were. The Nepali National Congress gradually became an umbrella group for groups opposed to the Rana, uniting a broad range of interests.
The Ranas' initial reaction to political agitation was to seek military assistance from Britain and the USA. The emissaries of the Rana regime played to Nepal's (actually, the now-traditionalist Rana junta's) special relationship with the UK; early on, it sought to persuade the new Republic of India to duplicate the role of the British in India. Jawaharlal Nehru was understandably reluctant to establish too close a relationship with the tottering Rana Dynasty, and frequently emphasized that "we cannot allow anything to go wrong in Nepal" (6 Dec '50); and so it is ironic that the deal he cut with PM Mohan Shamsher] was cut three months after the banned opposition was driven to armed uprising. The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between India and Nepal therefore was intended to build up the Royal Nepali Army's power.
Juddha Shamsher, in office, tried to purge the system of aristocratic awarding of titles; but he also sought to freeze Nepal in the 19th century, arguing that the influx of foreign ideas was only making his subjects unhappy. His successor and nephew, Padma Shamsher, was soon faced with the inevitable contradictions of rival demands for Nepal. Preserving all those happy Nepalis in the middle ages required repression, and the onset of modern commerce (via worker remittances from India) would entail the passion of capitalist transformation of Nepal. The military was dominated not merely by members of the Kshatriya castes, but officers from the Rana clan itself; all generals, for example, were Rana family members.
Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala (1914-1982), a fairly important exiled Nepalese novelist, became directly involved in the struggle against the Rana regime by returning to the town of Biratnagar and leading a strike (the Biratnagar Hartal). The military cracked down violently after 23 days of standoff. Koirala's new political party, the Nepali National Congress, was singled by Padma's successor, Mohan Shamsher (April '48-Nov. '51) for outlawry even after other political parties were allowed to participate in Padma's reformist parliament.
After the defeat of "Prime Minister" Mohan Shamsher, the struggle for democracy in Nepal was far from over. The Rana family was itself quite large, and supplied much of the leadership of the military. About a third of the personnel were actually the same caste as the Ranas (and the Shah family). Caste privilege was to fade slowly.
King Tribhuvan had been one of Nepal's many boy kings. He had reigned as a hostage under the Ranas, allegedly under constant fear of murder by them. In 1951 he was at last king in truth. In 1955 he died, and was succeeded by his son Mahendra. Mahendra, like all monarchs, did not like the concept of relinquishing power.
The PanchayatIn 1960, citing Nepal's chronic violence, Mahendra ousted the government and threw his PM in jail for eight years. Jawaharlal Nehru again condemned Mahendra's reactionary coup, but again inked new aid deals with the country in exchange for its support in the worrying territorial dispute with China.  Mahendra, like the hated Rana regime, appointed his own legislature: the four-tiered Panchayat.
Adopted on the second anniversary of the royal coup, the new constitution of December 16, 1962, created a four-tier panchayat system. At the local level, there were 4,000 village assemblies (gaun sabha) electing nine members of the village panchayat, who in turn elected a mayor (sabhapati). Each village panchayat sent a member to sit on one of seventy-five district (zilla) panchayat, representing from forty to seventy villages; one-third of the members of these assemblies were chosen by the town panchayat. Members of the district panchayat elected representatives to fourteen zone assemblies (anchal sabha) functioning as electoral colleges for the National Panchayat, or Rashtriya Panchayat, in Kathmandu. In addition, there were class organizations at village, district, and zonal levels for peasants, youth, women, elders, laborers, and ex-soldiers, who elected their own representatives to assemblies. The National Panchayat of about ninety members could not criticize the royal government, debate the principles of partyless democracy, introduce budgetary bills without royal approval, or enact bills without approval of the king. Mahendra was supreme commander of the armed forces, appointed (and had the power to remove) members of the Supreme Court, appointed the Public Service Commission to oversee the civil service, and could change any judicial decision or amend the constitution at any time.
In other words, the panchayat was banned from making any of the decisions that legislative bodies are created to make.
In 1972 the King died and was succeeded by his brother, Birendra. Birendra initially followed a similar policy of repression, but in 1980 allowed a referendum on the panchayat system; the aspect of the referendum that had permanent impact was the degree of political freedom that Birendra introduced, then retained, in the leadup to the elections, as well as the major reshuffling of polical alliances. This was retained after the panchayat system was endorsed by the referendum, but began to slip after the King introduced syndicalist features to it, and the opposition boycotted elections. The opposition to royal dictatorship was gradually eased into a state of legal limbo, divided. Its most prestigious leader, B.P. Koirala, died. In '86, the Nepal Congress Party changed its mind about boycotting the elections and performed poorly. Evidence suggested that the pro-democracy movement had a slender popular base.
The panchayat system appeared unassailable until the pro-democracy movement arrived like a spade hitting an anthill. The 1989 Hartal began with a diplomatic meltdown between Delhi and Kathmandu, the cause of which is naturally in dispute. Indian sources claim the problem was that Nepal was so poorly governed that it was becoming a no-go zone, an entrepôt for weapons and drugs. The Nepalese claimed the real reason was that the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) was buying weapons from the People's Republic of China.
The ability of India to almost completely cut off Nepal from the outside world, and the devastating consequences of that embargo, caused massive outrage in the streets of Kathmandu. Demonstrations against India became an outlet for demonstrations against the regime, and by 1990 King Birendra was compelled to accede to multiparty elections.
The 1990 Constitution led to a curious contrast: with the King' authority now diluted by an nationalist, urban middle class opposition (including the moderate, non-violent branch of the Communist Party of Nepal [CPN-UWF]), relations with India were allowoed to deteriorate; yet the Indians appear to have largely accepted credit for touching off the original 1990 Jan Sarkar, or "people-power movement" against the monarchist-RNA clique. The new multi party state did not share the panchayat's obsession with Beijing-backed insurgency; it was more concerned with neutralizing Delhi's domination. Yet the political catharsis of Nepal's 1990 Jan Sarkar accomplished for the time being a sense in India that Nepal was at last taking on the behavior of a responsible nation. At the same time, diplomatic relations with Beijing improved. Diplomats congratulated Birendra on his concessions, his proposed "Zone of Peace" amendment, and the opposition on its acquisition of real power.
The new "republican" side of Nepalese politics was characteristically unstable and ineffectual. In rapid succession, the mainstream royalists (RPP) were succeeded by the social democratic Nepal Congress Party (NCP), the moderate Communists (CPN-UML), back to the NCP, back to the RPP... Nepal experienced 11 changes of government in just over 12 years.
The Massacre of the Royal Family
Prince Dipendra, the eldest son of King Birendra, was in love with Deyani Rana, grandneice of Mohan Shamsher Rana. The Rana family head in Nepal was, in fact, one of the premier royalist politicians. But the Montagues (Shah Dynasty) were in no mood to forgive the Capulets (Ranas). The King and Queen were dead set opposed to the union, and Dipendra was disconsolate. On June 1, 2001, he got terribly drunk and arrived at the royal palace with a machine gun, killing 10 members of the royal household (including himself). The King, Queen, two brothers of the prince, a princess, and a former crown prince (who had lost his title when he married against the wishes of the royal family), were all killed. Dipendra himself was in a coma for three days, which he spend as King Dipendra. When he died, Prince Gyanendra returned to the throne he had occupied for 3 months as a child of five.
Gyanendra's response to the massacre was to launch what appeared to have been a plan to liquidate the democratic features of the constitution and restore the absolute monarchy. Fifteen months into his reign, he sacked PM Sher Bahadur Deuba (NCP) and took the position of PM himself. The timing of the massacre had been so auspicious for the King's purposes that it seemed beyond belief that he had not orchestrated it; yet most sources seem extremely confident that it was Dipendra who carried out the massacre.
Gyanendra's accession led to an ugly twist: his son Paras , the "gangsta prince," became heir apparent. The only member of the royal family present at the massacre to survive unscathed, Paras has committed 1st degree vehicular homicide twice. Paras, incidentally, is unlikely to travel to the USA since he is wanted by the FBI and the DEA for drug trafficking. This stimulated widespread support for a final abolition to the monarchy in Nepal.
Since the 1970's, Nepal has experienced an insurgency against the monarchy and its collusion with Western/Indian hegemony; also, against the extremely acute concentration of wealth among a few urban elites. Complicating the picture is the existence of low-intensity insurgencies not directly related to the Maoists, such as the allegedy extinguished Gorkha autonomy movement and the incidence of breakaway factions of the Maoists. The latter was reported by Western hikers in Nepal, who frequently pay the Maoists "taxes" for permission to pass through.
The insurgency entered its successful endgame in December 2007 There followed negotiation of a power-sharing agreement, and elections (10 April 2008). The Maoists performed extremely well, which was attributed by many Western observers to their having run as a moderately social democratic party. A feature of the peace agreement was the abolition of the Nepali monarchy. However, in subsequent elections for the nation's first president, the Maoist candidate lost and the Maoists conceded the right to form a government.
- ↑ Andrea Matles Savada, Nepal and Bhutan: Country studies, Library of Congress (1993) "The Expansion of Gorkha"
- ↑ Ibid "The Enclosing of Nepal"
- ↑ Ibid "The Enclosing of Nepal"
- ↑ Ibid "The Struggle for Power at Court"
- ↑ Ibid "Infighting among Aristocratic Factions"
- ↑ Ibid "The Dictatorship of Jang Bahadur"
- ↑ Ibid "The Dictatorship of Jang Bahadur"
- ↑ For example, casual mention of him in the Nepali Times , p.8 refers to the Kot Massacre as something he "did"; elsewhere, CK Lal attacks him as a fawning lackey of the British (Nepali Times, , p.2). However, Lal's criticism of Jang is mainly directed at his continuing to be an autocratic despot (as was the court prior to Jang), and his borrowing of British military methods (as the founder of the Gurkha Empire, Privthi Narayan Shah, had done).
Here is another, finer-grained, history of Nepal's tribes in the 19th century: European Bulletin of Himalyan Research, Issue 19 , Paris, 2000, esp. p. 73ff. Author Marie Lecompte-Tilouine uses the case of an early Magar revolt against Jang Bahadur to examine the details of royal state terror.
See also Andrea Matles Savada, Nepal and Bhutan: Country studies, Library of Congress (1993) "The Kot Massacre"
- ↑ Jahar Sen, "Slave Trade on the Indo-Nepal Border in the Nineteenth Century", Kailash - Journal of Himalayan Studies. Volume 1, Number 2, 1973. (pp. 159-166)
- ↑ Andrea Matles Savada, Nepal and Bhutan: Country studies, Library of Congress (1993), "The Rana Oligarchy"
- ↑ M.R. Josse, "Nepal's strategic balance," South Asian Journal
- ↑ Andrea Matles Savada, Nepal and Bhutan: Country studies, Library of Congress (1993), "The Return of the King" & "Relations with India,"
- ↑ Rupesh Udash, "Bisheshwor Prasad Koirala" Spiny Babbler; original source was the Nepali Congress website, which has since been removed. My original source on the Biratnagar Hartal was a Nepali workers' movement whose site is no longer available. Online the one source available is Infoclub Nepal's "Biratnagar Hartal"
- ↑ Andrea Matles Savada, Nepal and Bhutan: Country studies, Library of Congress (1993) , "The Return of the King"
- ↑ This is fairly common for monarchies transitioning to a constitutional regime; see the Library of Congress Country Study for Nepal, "The Democratic Experiment." This also occurred under the Japanese Emperor Meiji.
- ↑ Rupesh Udash, "Bisheshwor Prasad Koirala"; Durgā Pokhrela & Anthony Willett, Shadow Over Shangri-la: A Woman's Quest for Freedom Brassey's (1996), p.6ff
- ↑ "A Yam Between Two Stones and a Huge Boulder" by Rabindra Mishra, Nepali Times, August 2003, p.6
- ↑ Andrea Matles Savada, Nepal and Bhutan: Country studies, Library of Congress (1993) "The Panchayat Constitution, 1962"
- ↑ Ibid "Modernization under King Birendra"
- ↑ Ibid "The Referendum of 1980"
- ↑ This is an impression gleaned from several monographs on each of the "people power," or EDSA-style movements (ESMs) in Nepal. By the way, in Nepal each one is known as a jan sarkar, or "people's movement." For example, "Himalayan People's War" , Michael Hutt. et al.; section linked is by Mark Turin & Sara Schneiderman (2004).
The citation outlines two central beliefs we had heard reiterated by villagers throughout Dolakha: first, that the people's movement of 1990 passed them by and had little noticeable effect at the village level; and second, that the Maoist movement was the precise inverse of this. Within the Maoist movement, according to the local rhetoric at the time, villagers felt that they were empowered agents shaping and creating their country's destiny, not passive spectators watching from the political sidelines (which is how they felt in 1990).I also found passages like this one in "The Maoist Insurgency in Nepal" by Shambhu Ram Simkhada & Fabio Oliva (2006; be advised this file is 197pp and might crash your computer. I advise copying the hotlink to Google's search field, then right-clicking the link and saving it to your desktop rather than attempting to open it in a browser).
p.13a, page numbered 88
Age-old grievances have been exacerbated by the unsuccessful conduct of the democratic political leaders after 1990. In particular, ethnic, caste, regional and gender discrimination have not been addressed while the politicization of the bureaucracy has created a restricted elite of beneficiaries mostly concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley.Simkhada & Oliva's publication is a series of summaries of reports on the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, outlining the basic thesis of each report.
exec. sum. of Conflict in Nepal: A Simplified Account, Friedman, p.13
- ↑ The source I used for both sides of this argument was Indian: "Contesting Mutual Security: India—Nepal Relations," Sangeeta Thapliyal, Observer Research Foundation, 2005.
Though India was the primary supplier of arms and ammunitions to Nepal's RNA, it was not exclusive. The government of Nepal could buy arms or ammunitions essential for its security from or through the territory of India (clause 5). In fact Nepal has been buying arms from sources other than India including China. However its major arms purchase from China in 1989 strained relations with India. Nepal had bought anti-aircraft guns, medium range SSM, and AK- 47 rifles. Nepal's monarchy insisted on its sovereign and independent right to buy arms for defence against anti-terrorist activities threatening the country’s internal security. Nepal’s arms purchase from China technically was not against the arms assistance agreement or the treaty of peace and friendship. However it was against the spirit of the 1950 Treaty and 1965 Agreement, implying that the underlying motive behind signing the treaties was to have a common threat perception with respect to China. Arms purchase from China was a step diverging from reciprocity in security concerns. Nepal's king' did not consider China as a threat to its security, nor was it ready to accept mutuality of security concerns.Please note that what I characterized as the "Nepalese side" was, in fact, actually phrased as an Indian grievance. Elsewhere the author alleges that the Pakistan Interservice Intelligence (ISI) has infiltrated Nepal for attacks on India.
- ↑ According to R. Andrew Nickson, "Democratization and the Growth of Communism in Nepal: a Peruvian Scenario in the Making?" , the 1980 Jan Sarkar against the panchayat system was partly the result of a protest directed against Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq, after he hanged his predecessor Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on trumped-up charges of authorizing a political killing (April '79).
Nickson contradicts the benign image of Birendra propagated by the Library of Congress; contrary to the LoC account, the political parties were only superficially granted the right to organize and campaign against the panchayat system; there was widespread vote-rigging and intimidation.
- ↑ "Riots Break Out as Nepal Gets 3rd King in 4 Days," New York Times (5 June 2001)
- ↑ "Nepal to End Its Monarchy in a Deal With Ex-Rebels," New York Times (24 Dec 2007); Dr. S. Chandrasekharan, "SPA Agrees to 23 point Agreement with the Maoists," South Asia Analysis Group (26 Dec 2007)
- ↑ Somni Sengupta, "Election, and Maoists, Could Transform Nepal," New York Times (9 April 2008); Ibid., "Nepal’s Maoists Lead in Early Election Results," (15 Arpil 2008)
- BBC Country Profile
- CIA World Fact Book
- EIA Energy Data
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) country profile
- Ethnologue linguistic information
- Commission on Sustainable Development
- Tibetan and Himalayan Library (THL)
News & Analysis
- Amnesty International
- Human Rights Watch
- IRIN—UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- Nepali Times
- International Crisis Group
- Dak Bangla Intelligence Scan, "STUDY: Nepal - Civil-Military Relations and the Maoist Insurgency" (1, 2, 3, 4)
- SIPRI Arms Transfer Databases (not country specific)
- BBC Country Profile
- CIA World Fact Book
- F Smith World History site query
- "Bombings and Blockades: the Impact of the Maoist Insurgency.." Aki Marceau, thesis, Bryn Mawr (2005).
- Constitutional Developments and Protection of Human Rights in Nepal" , Dr. Manoj Kumar Sinha, Swedish South Asian Studies Network (2005);
- "Nepal: The Politics of Failure" , Barbara Crossette, World Policy Journal (Winter 2005-2006);
- Historic Photos of Nepal: Simon Fraser Univ. (Canada); "Art and shamanism in the Himalayas," Eric Chazot & Jean-Pierre Girolami;
James R MacLean (14:24, 4 November 2007 (PST))