Return of the Kings

Part III on my brief series on Nepali history… we left off with the Rana regime in control.

In 1936 a movement against the Ranas began; it was quickly crushed but revolution was in the air. By 1946, the Nepali National Congress was established by Nepali exiles in India, and in 1950 the Nepali National Congress merged with the Nepal Democratic Congress to launch an armed movement against the Rana regime.

King Tribhuvan

The Congress parties had won an ally in King Tribhuvan, who was ready to free the powerless Shaw monarchy of Rana influence and on November 6, 1950 he escaped to the Indian embassy in Kathmandu with Crown Prince Mahendra and his grandson Birendra (the second in line for the thrown). Birendra’s younger brother Gyanendra (he will become important later on in the story) was left as “king” in the real king’s absence and served for several months between 1950 and 1951.The royal refugees were flown to Delhi and within days an orchestrated armed insurrection flooded across the border into various regions of Nepal. In what would be an eerie window into the future with the Maoist insurgency, battles raged for several months between the rebels (at this time pro-king) and the government troops (pro-Ranas). On February 7, 1951 peace was brokered between the King, the Ranas and the Nepali Congress at the “Delhi Compromise.” King Tribhuvan was able to triumphantly return to Nepal and an agreement was made to set up a constituent assembly to create a democratic constitution.

Tenzing on the summit of Everest... photo taken by Hillary

It was around this time that Nepal’s borders were again opened up to the outside world and the Rana policy of isolationism ended. On a side note… prior to Nepal opening it’s borders all Everest expeditions had been attempted by the Tibetan side of the mountain, and none had been successful. On May 29, 1953 New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepali Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, making the historic ascent from the Nepali side.

Unfortunately, political rivalries stalled the democratic process, and in 1955 King Tribhuvan died without a constitution in place. His son and heir apparent, King Mahendra, was not as diplomatic as his father and rather than help the fledgling constitutional monarchy, he used politics to assert himself as an absolute ruler under the “Panchayat” system. Political parties (including the Congress party that helped to bring the monarchy back) were banned, and many were jailed or fled to exile in India. Defectors attempted to regroup in India, and with the covert support of the Indian government, they planned a renewed rebel insurgency- but this time against the king. However, nothing more than small skirmishes took place, and when China invaded India in 1962, the Indian government could no longer antagonize a buffer state so close to the other massive rival nation. Nepal’s insurgency funding from India swiftly ended and this led to a thirty year period of absolute rule by first Mahendra, and later his son Birendra.

King Mahendra

In the midst of this continued political turmoil was the birth of the Nepali communist parties. Although all political parties united in the 1950s to help overthrow the Rana regime, the first communist movement emerged during the 1947 strike of workers at a cloth mill in eastern Nepal. The leader, Man Mohan Adhikari was a member of the Communist Party of India, since there was no Nepali communist party at the time. Man Mohan’s contemporary, Pushpa Lal Shrestha, was serving as secretary of the Nepali National Congress when he grew disenfranchised with the party and decided to start his own communist party. By 1948 he had already translated and published the Communist Manifesto into Nepali. Although the party was not welcomed in the Panchayat system, it slowly gained support from people in the countryside who felt discriminated against by the caste system of the Hindu Kingdom and who continued to feel the poverty from the Rana years.

6 responses to “Return of the Kings

  1. The word Panchayat means village council of 5
    Pancha in Sanskrit is derived from the same Indo-European root as Penta
    This council in theory is supposed to consist of Elder Wise Men, one drawn from each caste

    In practise most Panchayats had 1 Brahmin to cover the need for a literate person and 4 men from the local landlord caste and other castes were not represented

    This was an exercise in so called Guided Democracy

    The electorate would not depend on the millions of citizens, but rather the several thousand landlords who were Panchayat members

    These few thousand mini-feudal lords had similar class interests with the King

    So some of the safety valves done in India partially, such as land reform, land to the tiller, affirmative action for Dalits and Tribals were not done
    And so compared to India, communist activists had much greater grass roots support

    Again as in India, the communist leadership mostly consisted of renegade Brahmins

    Shrestha and Adhikary, the communist leaders were Brahmins

  2. With ex-PM Koirala in exile in India, and India resorting to non-violent support for the democrats
    ( the violent option was ruled out after the 1962 war with China )

    King Mahendra played the Pakistan card
    He recognised Pakistan, allowed Pakistan to open an embassy, gave special royal dispensation to allow several Pakistani Muslim diplomats to marry Aristocratic Hindu Nepali women and convert them to islam and Pakistan gained a foothold into Nepali aristocracy

    He also allowed Pakistan to open hundreds of radical mosques and jihadi madrasas on the Terai border with India and these areas soon became talibanised
    Mahendra also let in thousands of Kashmiri muslims to settle in Nepal

    Finally the royalty turned a blind eye to the activities of the ISI ( Pakistani spy agency )
    so Nepal became a center for anti-Indian bomb plots, plane Hijackings, and pumping in counterfeit currency

    Prince Paras, the son of ex-King, Gyanendra has been accused in the press of allegedly being the local kingpin of counterfeit Indian currency mafia
    ( Counterfeit currency printed in Pakistan and distributed into India using Nepal as the launch pad )

  3. happinessandsimplicity

    I bet it makes P happy that you have put so much time into researching his home country, its history and culture and everything. That’s wonderful. It seems to me that you know an awful lot already… I know I’m impressed. :)

  4. happinessandsimplicity

    Also, it’s a nice easy read, with coherent sentences and paragraphs, logically flowing thoughts, punctuation, and a friendly ‘story’-type format.
    That’s not only good writing, it’s the only kind of writing I’ll read. ;)

  5. This stalemate continued for decades
    Mahendra died and his son Birendra took over
    and things continued as before

    In 1986, China invaded Indian borders again at Somdurung Chu
    This time, the Chinese invasion was repulsed with a bloody nose and low level skirmishes went on for 2 years
    One factor working in Indian favor was Indian air superiority

    The Indo-Nepal treaty had a clause forbidding Nepal from buying non-Indian weapons

    In 1987, China sold anti-aircraft weapons to Nepal at below market rates

    In early 1988, a ceasefire was arranged
    With the chinese threat temperorily removed,
    the Indian govt decided to topple Birendra

    Per UN treaties, neighbors of a land-locked country must give at least 2 trading routes

    In the case of Nepal , there were 21 trading routes. In addition, there was widespread smuggling all along the open borders

    The Indian govt shut down 19 of the 21 trading routes and shut down the smugglers
    It was still legal, because the 2 trading routes were still open

    After 16 months of Indian semi-blockade, the economic squeeze started to pinch

    Angry mobs came on the street demanding the ouster of Birendra

    Birendra got afraid of being lynched and agreed to a constitutional monarchy and the Indian blockade was lifted

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