Tag Archives: Mahendra

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.