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Nepal - Acknowledgments


The authors wish to thank the various individuals and organizations that provided assistance in the preparation of this book. Allen W. Thrasher, Asian Division, and Lygia M. Ballantyne and the staff of the New Delhi Field Office of the Library of Congress provided useful and timely research materials from Bhutan. Karl Ryavec of the Defense Mapping Agency verified hard-to-locate Nepalese and Bhutanese place-names and spellings. Staff from the Royal Nepalese Embassy in Washington provided photographs, statistical data, and the clarification of information. Staff of the Permanent Mission to the United Nations of the Kingdom of Bhutan kindly provided maps, photographs, and documentary information on Bhutan.

Special thanks goes to Brian C. Shaw for lending his expertise on Nepal and Bhutan in serving as reader of the completed manuscript. Additionally, Thierry Mathou, a member of the staff of the Embassy of France in Washington, who is preparing his own manuscript on Bhutan, reviewed the Bhutan text and provided helpful research materials and insights. Gopal Siwkoti, then an attorney with the Washington-based International Human Rights Law Group, also provided materials and shared his insights on the development of Nepalese politics during the prodemocracy movement. Tshering Dorji, director of the Department of Telecommunications of the Kingdom of Bhutan, graciously allowed the author of the Bhutan chapter to interview him when he visited the Library of Congress and reviewed and suggested corrections to the section on Bhutan's telecommunications. Thanks are also due Ralph K. Benesch, who oversees the Country Studies--Area Handbook Program for the Department of the Army.

Thanks also go to staff members of the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress who directly assisted with the book. Sandra W. Meditz reviewed the entire manuscript and made useful suggestions; David P. Cabitto prepared the layout and graphics; Marilyn Majeska supervised editing and managed production; Andrea Merrill provided invaluable assistance in preparing the tables; Timothy L. Merrill reviewed the maps and geography and telecommunications sections; Ly Burnham reviewed sections on demography; Alberta J. King provided secondary-source research assistance in the preparation of Chapter 6 and bibliographic assistance for other chapters; and Izella Watson and Barbara Edgerton performed word processing.

The following individuals are gratefully acknowledged as well: Harriet R. Blood for preparing the topography and drainage maps; Barbara Harrison and Beverly J. Wolpert for editing the body of the book; Catherine Schwartzstein for prepublication editorial review; Joan C. Cook for preparing the index; Joyce L. Rahim for wordprocessing support; and Linda Peterson of the Printing and Processing Section, Library of Congress for phototypesetting, under the direction of Peggy Pixley.


Nepal - Preface


This is the first edition of Nepal: Country Studies. It supersedes the 1973 Area Handbook for Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim. The material on Nepal is presented in the standard five-chapter format of the country study series. A sixth chapter, on Bhutan, covers the subjects addressed the five Nepal chapters, but in a single chapter. The material on Sikkim has been dropped; readers should consult India: A Country Study for information on Sikkim.

Nepal: Country Studies is an effort to present an objective and concise account of the social, economic, political, and national security concerns of contemporary Nepal and Bhutan within historical frameworks. A variety of scholarly monographs and journals, official reports of government and international organizations, and foreign and domestic newspapers and periodicals were used as sources. Brief commentary on some of the more useful and readily accessible sources appears at the end of each chapter. Full references to these and other sources appear in the Bibliography. The annual editions of the Bibliography of Asian Studies will provide the reader with additional materials on Nepal and Bhutan.

The authors have limited the use of foreign and technical terms, which are defined when they first appear. Spellings of contemporary place names generally are those approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names. All measurements are given in the metric system.

The body of the text reflects information available as of September 1991. Certain other portions of the text, however, have been updated. The Bibliography includes published sources thought to be particularly helpful to the reader.


Nepal - History


NEPAL HAS BEEN A KINGDOM for at least 1,500 years. During most of that period, the Kathmandu Valley has been Nepal's political, economic, and cultural center. The valley's fertile soil supported thriving village farming communities, and its location along trans-Himalayan trade routes allowed merchants and rulers alike to profit. Since the fourth century, the people of the Kathmandu Valley have developed a unique variant of South Asian civilization based on Buddhism and Hinduism but influenced as well by the cultures of local Newar citizens and neighboring Tibetans. One of the major themes in the history of Nepal has been the transmission of influences from both the north and the south into an original culture. During its entire history, Nepal has been able to continue this process while remaining independent.

The long-term trend in Nepal has been the gradual development of multiple centers of power and civilization and their progressive incorporation into a varied but eventually united nation. The Licchavi (fourth to eighth centuries) and Malla (twelfth to eighteenth centuries) kings may have claimed that they were overlords of the area that is present-day Nepal, but rarely did their effective influence extend far beyond the Kathmandu Valley. By the sixteenth century, there were dozens of kingdoms in the smaller valleys and hills throughout the Himalayan region. It was the destiny of Gorkha, one of these small kingdoms, to conquer its neighbors and finally unite the entire nation in the late eighteenth century. The energy generated from this union drove the armies of Nepal to conquer territories far to the west and to the east, as well as to challenge the Chinese in Tibet and the British in India. Wars with these huge empires checked Nepalese ambitions, however, and fixed the boundaries of the mountain kingdom. Nepal in the late twentieth century was still surrounded by giants and still in the process of integrating its many localized economies and cultures into a nation state based on the ancient center of the Kathmandu Valley.

Nepal took a fateful turn in the mid-nineteenth century when its prime ministers, theoretically administrators in service to the king, usurped complete control of the government and reduced the kings to puppets. By the 1850s, a dynasty of prime ministers called Rana had imposed upon the country a dictatorship that would last about 100 years. The Ranas distrusted both their own people and foreigners--in short, anyone who could challenge their own power and change their position. As the rest of the world underwent modernization, Nepal remained a medieval nation, based on the exploitation of peasants and some trade revenues and dominated by a tradition-bound aristocracy that had little interest in modern science or technology.

After the revolt against the Ranas in 1950, Nepal struggled to overcome its long legacy of underdevelopment and to incorporate its varied population into a single nation. One of the early casualties of this process was party-based democracy. Although political parties were crucial in the revolution that overthrew Rana rule, their constant wrangling conflicted with the monarchy's views of its own dignity and with the interests of the army. Instead of condoning or encouraging a multiparty democracy, King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev launched a coup in late 1960 against Bishweshwar Prasad (B.P.) Koirala's popularly elected government and set up a system of indirect elections that created a consultative democracy. The system served as a sounding board for public opinion and as a tool for economic development without exercising effective political power. Nepal remained until 1990 one of the few nations in the world where the king, wielding absolute authority and embodying sacred tradition, attempted to lead his country towards the twenty-first century.


Nepal - ANCIENT NEPAL, 500 B.C.-A.D. 700


Early Influences on Nepal

Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people were living in the Himalayan region in the distant past, although their culture and artifacts are only slowly being explored. Written references to this region appeared only by the first millennium B.C. During that period, political or social groupings in Nepal became known in north India. The Mahabharata and other legendary Indian histories mention the Kiratas, who still inhabited eastern Nepal in 1991. Some legendary sources from the Kathmandu Valley also describe the Kiratas as early rulers there, taking over from earlier Gopals or Abhiras, both of whom may have been cowherding tribes. These sources agree that an original population, probably of Tibeto-Burman ethnicity, lived in Nepal 2,500 years ago, inhabiting small settlements with a relatively low degree of political centralization.

Monumental changes occurred when groups of tribes calling themselves the Arya migrated into northwest India between 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C. By the first millennium B.C., their culture had spread throughout northern India. Their many small kingdoms were constantly at war amid the dynamic religious and cultural environment of early Hinduism. By 500 B.C., a cosmopolitan society was growing around urban sites linked by trade routes that stretched throughout South Asia and beyond. On the edges of the Gangetic Plain, in the Tarai Region, smaller kingdoms or confederations of tribes grew up, responding to dangers from larger kingdoms and opportunities for trade. It is probable that slow and steady migration of Khasa peoples speaking Indo-Aryan languages was occurring in western Nepal during this period; this movement of peoples would continue, in fact, until modern times and expand to include the eastern Tarai as well.

One of the early confederations of the Tarai was the Sakya clan, whose seat apparently was Kapilavastu, near Nepal's presentday border with India. Their most renowned son was Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 563-483 B.C.), a prince who rejected the world to search for the meaning of existence and became known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One. The earliest stories of his life recount his wanderings in the area stretching from the Tarai to Banaras on the Ganges River and into modern Bihar State in India, where he found enlightenment at Gaya--still the site of one of the greatest Buddhist shrines. After his death and cremation, his ashes were distributed among some of the major kingdoms and confederations and were enshrined under mounds of earth or stone called stupas. Certainly, his religion was known at a very early date in Nepal through the Buddha's ministry and the activities of his disciples.

The political struggles and urbanization of north India culminated in the great Mauryan Empire, which at its height under Ashoka (reigned 268-31 B.C.) covered almost all of South Asia and stretched into Afghanistan in the west. There is no proof that Nepal was ever included in the empire, although records of Ashoka are located at Lumbini, the Buddha's birthplace, in the Tarai. But the empire had important cultural and political consequences for Nepal. First, Ashoka himself embraced Buddhism, and during his time the religion must have become established in the Kathmandu Valley and throughout much of Nepal. Ashoka was known as a great builder of stupas, and his archaic style is preserved in four mounds on the outskirts of Patan (now often referred to as Lalitpur), which were locally called Ashok stupas, and possibly in the Svayambhunath (or Swayambhunath) stupa. Second, along with religion came an entire cultural style centered on the king as the upholder of dharma, or the cosmic law of the universe. This political concept of the king as the righteous center of the political system had a powerful impact on all later South Asian governments and continued to play a major role in modern Nepal.

The Mauryan Empire declined after the second century B.C., and north India entered a period of political disunity. The extended urban and commercial systems expanded to include much of Inner Asia, however, and close contacts were maintained with European merchants. Nepal was apparently a distant part of this commercial network because even Ptolemy and other Greek writers of the second century knew of the Kiratas as a people who lived near China. North India was united by the Gupta emperors again in the fourth century. Their capital was the old Mauryan center of Pataliputra (presentday Patna in Bihar State), during what Indian writers often describe as a golden age of artistic and cultural creativity. The greatest conqueror of this dynasty was Samudragupta (reigned ca. 353-73), who claimed that the "lord of Nepal" paid him taxes and tribute and obeyed his commands. It still is impossible to tell who this lord may have been, what area he ruled, and if he was really a subordinate of the Guptas. Some of the earliest examples of Nepalese art show that the culture of north India during Gupta times exercised a decisive influence on Nepali language, religion, and artistic expression.


Nepal - The Early Kingdom of the Licchavis


In the late fifth century, rulers calling themselves Licchavis began to record details on politics, society, and economy in Nepal. The Licchavis were known from early Buddhist legends as a ruling family during the Buddha's time in India, and the founder of the Gupta Dynasty claimed that he had married a Licchavi princess. Perhaps some members of this Licchavi family married members of a local royal family in the Kathmandu Valley, or perhaps the illustrious history of the name prompted early Nepalese notables to identify themselves with it. In any case, the Licchavis of Nepal were a strictly local dynasty based in the Kathmandu Valley and oversaw the growth of the first truly Nepalese state.

The earliest known Licchavi record, an inscription of Manadeva I, dates from 464, and mentions three preceding rulers, suggesting that the dynasty began in the late fourth century. The last Licchavi inscription was in A.D. 733. All of the Licchavi records are deeds reporting donations to religious foundations, predominantly Hindu temples. The language of the inscriptions is Sanskrit, the language of the court in north India, and the script is closely related to official Gupta scripts. There is little doubt that India exerted a powerful cultural influence, especially through the area called Mithila, the northern part of present-day Bihar State. Politically, however, India again was divided for most of the Licchavi period.

To the north, Tibet grew into an expansive military power through the seventh century, declining only by 843. Some early historians, such as the French scholar Sylvain Lévi, thought that Nepal may have become subordinate to Tibet for some time, but more recent Nepalese historians, including Dilli Raman Regmi, deny this interpretation. In any case, from the seventh century onward a recurring pattern of foreign relations emerged for rulers in Nepal: more intensive cultural contacts with the south, potential political threats from both India and Tibet, and continuing trade contacts in both directions.

The Licchavi political system closely resembled that of northern India. At the top was the "great king" (maharaja), who in theory exercised absolute power but in reality interfered little in the social lives of his subjects. Their behavior was regulated in accordance with dharma through their own village and caste councils. The king was aided by royal officers led by a prime minister, who also served as a military commander. As the preserver of righteous moral order, the king had no set limit for his domain, whose borders were determined only by the power of his army and statecraft--an ideology that supported almost unceasing warfare throughout South Asia. In Nepal's case, the geographic realities of the hills limited the Licchavi kingdom to the Kathmandu Valley and neighboring valleys and to the more symbolic submission of less hierarchical societies to the east and west. Within the Licchavi system, there was ample room for powerful notables (samanta) to keep their own private armies, run their own landholdings, and influence the court. There was thus a variety of forces struggling for power. During the seventh century, a family known as the Abhira Guptas accumulated enough influence to take over the government. The prime minister, Amsuvarman, assumed the throne between approximately 605 and 641, after which the Licchavis regained power. The later history of Nepal offers similar examples, but behind these struggles was growing a long tradition of kingship.

The economy of the Kathmandu Valley already was based on agriculture during the Licchavi period. Artworks and place-names mentioned in inscriptions show that settlements had filled the entire valley and moved east toward Banepa, west toward Tisting, and northwest toward present-day Gorkha. Peasants lived in villages (grama) that were administratively grouped into larger units (dranga). They grew rice and other grains as staples on lands owned by the royal family, other major families, Buddhist monastic orders (sangha), or groups of Brahmans (agrahara). Land taxes due in theory to the king were often allocated to religious or charitable foundations, and additional labor dues (vishti) were required from the peasantry in order to keep up irrigation works, roads, and shrines. The village head (usually known as pradhan, meaning a leader in family or society) and leading families handled most local administrative issues, forming the village assembly of leaders (panchalika or grama pancha). This ancient history of localized decision making served as a model for late twentieth-century development efforts.

One of the most striking features of present-day Kathmandu Valley is its vibrant urbanism, notably at Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhadgaon (also called Bhaktapur), which apparently goes back to ancient times. During the Licchavi period, however, the settlement pattern seems to have been much more diffuse and sparse. In the present-day city of Kathmandu, there existed two early villages--Koligrama ("Village of the Kolis," or Yambu in Newari), and Dakshinakoligrama ("South Koli Village," or Yangala in Newari)--that grew up around the valley's main trade route. Bhadgaon was simply a small village then called Khoprn (Khoprngrama in Sanskrit) along the same trade route. The site of Patan was known as Yala ("Village of the Sacrificial Post," or Yupagrama in Sanskrit). In view of the four archaic stupas on its outskirts and its very old tradition of Buddhism, Patan probably can claim to be the oldest true center in the nation. Licchavi palaces or public buildings, however, have not survived. The truly important public sites in those days were religious foundations, including the original stupas at Svayambhunath, Bodhnath, and Chabahil, as well as the shrine of Shiva at Deopatan, and the shrine of Vishnu at Hadigaon.

There was a close relationship between the Licchavi settlements and trade. The Kolis of present-day Kathmandu and the Vrijis of present-day Hadigaon were known even in the Buddha's time as commercial and political confederations in north India. By the time of the Licchavi kingdom, trade had long been intimately connected with the spread of Buddhism and religious pilgrimage. One of the main contributions of Nepal during this period was the transmission of Buddhist culture to Tibet and all of central Asia, through merchants, pilgrims, and missionaries. In return, Nepal gained money from customs duties and goods that helped to support the Licchavi state, as well as the artistic heritage that made the valley famous.


Nepal - MEDIEVAL NEPAL, 750-1750


Transition to the Medieval Kingdom

The period following the decline of the Licchavi Dynasty witnessed little growth in the geographical or administrative power of the Nepalese state. In fact, it is the least understood time in Nepal's history, with only a very few inscriptional sources supplemented by some dated religious manuscripts. It appears that the Kathmandu Valley and surrounding valleys officially remained part of a single political unit, although there were struggles for the throne among different royal lineages and notable families. Donations to religious foundations were dated by a new Newari era beginning in 879, a development suggesting the founding of a new dynasty. Surviving records show a movement away from Sanskrit and admixtures of early Newari, the language of the Newar people in the valley.

The main influences on Nepal continued to come from Mithila or Tirhut to the south. This area came intermittently under the domination of warriors allied to the Chalukya Dynasty from Karnataka in southern India. One of their lieutenants proclaimed himself king in 1097 and founded a capital at Simraongarh in the Tarai. From there he launched raids that allowed the Chalukyas to later claim domination over Nepal without exerting a perceptible impact on Nepalese history. By the late twelfth century, however, the king in Nepal was called Somesvaradeva (or Someswaradeva, reigned ca. 1178-85), a name of Chalukya kings, indicating some degree of political contact with Indian rulers. By the end of Somesvaradeva's reign, there was evidence of mounting political chaos and fighting for the throne.

Profound changes were occurring in the religious system of Nepal. The early patronage of Buddhism by the kings gave way to a more strictly Hindu devotion, based on the worship of a variety of deities but ultimately relying on Pashupatinath, the site of one of Hinduism's most sacred Shiva shrines. Within the Buddhist community, the role of the monks and monasteries changed slowly but radically. Early Buddhism had rested on the celibacy and meditation of monks and nuns who had withdrawn from the world in their own living complexes (vihara). As a more ritualistic vajrayana Buddhism expanded, a division grew up between the "teachers of the thunderbolt" (vajracharya) and ordinary monks (bhikshu), leading to caste-like divisions and the marriage of religious teachers. The higher-ranking teachers monopolized the worship in the monasteries and controlled the revenues brought in from monastic estates. Monasteries became social and economic centers, serving as workshops and apartments as well as shrines. These roles were kept intact well into the twentieth century.


Nepal - The Malla Kings


Beginning in the early twelfth century, leading notables in Nepal began to appear with names ending in the term malla, (wrestler in Sanskrit), indicating a person of great strength and power. Arimalla (reigned 1200-16) was the first king to be so called, and the practice of adopting such a name was followed regularly by rulers in Nepal until the eighteenth century. (The names of the Malla kings were also represented as, for example, Ari Malla.) This long Malla period witnessed the continued importance of the Kathmandu Valley as a political, cultural, and economic center of Nepal. Other areas also began to emerge as significant centers in their own right, increasingly connected to the Kathmandu Valley.

The time of the earlier Malla kings was not one of consolidation but was instead a period of upheaval in and around Nepal. In the twelfth century, Muslim Turks set up a powerful kingdom in India at Delhi, and in the thirteenth century they expanded their control over most of northern India. During this process, all of the regional kingdoms in India underwent a major reshuffling and considerable fighting before they eventually fell under Delhi's control. This process resulted in an increasing militarization of Nepal's neighbors and sections of Nepal as well. For example, in western Nepal, around Dullu in the Jumla Valley, an alternative seat of political and military power grew up around a separate dynasty of Mallas (who were not related to the Mallas of the Kathmandu Valley), who reigned until the fourteenth century. These Khasa kings expanded into parts of western Tibet and sent raiding expeditions into the Kathmandu Valley between 1275 and 1335. In 1312 the Khasa king, Ripumalla, visited Lumbini and had his own inscription carved on Ashoka's pillar. He then entered the Kathmandu Valley to worship publicly at Matsyendranath, Pashupatinath, and Svayambhunath. These acts were all public announcements of his overlordship in Nepal and signified the temporary breakdown of royal power within the valley. At the same time, the rulers in Tirhut to the south led raids into the valley until they were in turn overrun by agents of the Delhi Sultanate. The worst blow came in 1345-46, when Sultan Shams ud-din Ilyas of Bengal led a major pillaging expedition into the Kathmandu Valley, resulting in the devastation of all major shrines. In fact, none of the existing buildings in the valley proper dates from before this raid.

The early Malla period, a time of continuing trade and the reintroduction of Nepalese coinage, saw the steady growth of the small towns that became Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhadgaon. Royal pretenders in Patan and Bhadgaon struggled with their main rivals, the lords of Banepa in the east, relying on the populations of their towns as their power bases. The citizens of Bhadgaon viewed Devaladevi as the legitimate, independent queen. The betrothal in 1354 of her granddaughter to Jayasthitimalla, a man of obscure but apparently high birth, eventually led to the reunification of the land and a lessening of strife among the towns.

By 1370 Jayasthitimalla controlled Patan, and in 1374 his forces defeated those in Banepa and Pharping. He then took full control of the country from 1382 until 1395, reigning in Bhadgaon as the husband of the queen and in Patan with full regal titles. His authority was not absolute because the lords of Banepa were able to pass themselves off as kings to ambassadors of the Chinese Ming emperor who traveled to Nepal during this time. Nevertheless, Jayasthitimalla united the entire valley and its environs under his sole rule, an accomplishment still remembered with pride by Nepalese, particularly Newars. The first comprehensive codification of law in Nepal, based on the dharma of ancient religious textbooks, is ascribed to Jayasthitimalla. This legendary compilation of traditions was seen as the source of legal reforms during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

After the death of Jayasthitimalla, his sons divided the kingdom and ruled collegially, until Jayajyotirmalla, the last surviving son, ruled on his own from 1408 to 1428. His son, Yakshamalla (reigned ca. 1428-82), represented the high point of the Mallas as rulers of a united Nepal. Under his rule, a military raid was launched against the plains to the south, a very rare event in Nepalese history. Yakshamalla built the Mul Chok in 1455, which remains the oldest palace section in Bhadgaon. The struggles among the landed aristocracy and leading town families (pradhan), especially acute in Patan, were controlled during his reign. Outlying areas such as Banepa and Pharping were semi-independent but acknowledged the leadership of the king. Newari appeared more often as the language of choice in official documents. The royal family began to accept Manesvari (also known as Taleju), a manifestation of Shiva's consort, as their personal deity.


Nepal - The Three Kingdoms


After 1482, a crucial date in Nepalese history, the kingdom became divided. At first, the six sons of Yakshamalla attempted to reign collegially, in their grandfathers' pattern. Ratnamalla was the first to rebel against this system of joint rule, seizing Kathmandu in 1484 and ruling there alone until his death in 1520. Rayamalla, the eldest brother, ruled Bhadgaon with the other brothers until his death, when the crown there passed into the hands of his descendants. Banepa broke away under Ramamalla until its reincorporation into the Bhadgaon kingdom in 1649. Patan remained aloof, dominated by factions of its local nobility, until Sivasimhamalla, a descendant of Ratnamalla, conquered it in 1597 and united it with Kathmandu. On his death, however, Kathmandu and Patan were given to different grandsons and again separated. The center of Nepal thus remained split into three competing kingdoms, roughly based on Bhadgaon, Kathmandu, and Patan. The influence of these petty kingdoms outside the valley varied over time. Bhadgaon extended its feeble power as far as the Dudh Kosi in the east, Kathmandu controlled areas to the north and as far west as Nuwakot, and Patan included territories to the south as far as Makwanpur. The relationships among the kingdoms within the valley became quite convoluted. Although all three ruling houses were related and periodically intermarried, their squabbles over miniscule territorial gains or ritual slights repeatedly led to warfare. The kings attended coronation rituals or marriages at each other's capitals and then plotted the downfalls of their relatives.

The period of the three kingdoms--the time of the later Mallas--lasted until the mid-eighteenth century. The complete flowering of the unique culture of the Kathmandu Valley occurred during this period, and it was also during this time that the old palace complexes in the three main towns achieved much of their present-day forms. The kings still based their legitimate rule on their role as protectors of dharma, and often they were devout donors to religious shrines. Kings built many of the older temples in the valley, gems of late medieval art and architecture, during this late Malla period. Buddhism remained a vital force for much of the population, especially in its old seat of Patan. Religious endowments called guthi arranged for long-term support of traditional forms of worship or ritual by allowing temple or vihara lands to pass down through generations of the same families; this support resulted in the preservation of a conservative art, architecture, and religious literature that had disappeared in other areas of South Asia. Newari was in regular use as a literary language by the fourteenth century and was the main language in urban areas and trading circles based in the Kathmandu Valley. Maithili, the language of the Tirhut area to the south, became a popular court language during the seventeenth century and still was spoken by many people in the Tarai in the late twentieth century. In the west, Khas bhasha, or the language of the Khasa, was slowly expanding, only later to evolve into present-day Nepali.

The final centuries of Malla rule were a time of great political change outside the Kathmandu Valley. In India overlordship in Delhi fell to the powerful Mughal Dynasty (1526-1858). Although the Mughals never exercised direct lordship over Nepal, their empire had a major indirect impact on its institutional life. During the sixteenth century, when the Mughals were spreading their rule over almost all of South Asia, many dispossessed princes from the plains of northern India found shelter in the hills to the north.

Legends indicated that many small principalities in western Nepal originated in migration and conquest by exiled warriors, who added to the slow spread of the Khasa language and culture in the west. Along with these exiles came Mughal military technology, including firearms and artillery, and administrative techniques based on land grants in return for military service. The influence of the Mughals is reflected in the weapons and dress of Malla rulers in contemporary paintings and in the adoption of Persian terminology for administrative offices and procedures throughout Nepal.

Meanwhile, in Tibet domestic struggles during the 1720s led to decisive intervention by the powerful Qing rulers of China (1644-1911). A Chinese force installed the sixth Dalai Lama (the highest ranking Tibetan religious leaders) in Lhasa in 1728, and thereafter the Chinese stationed military governors (amban) in Lhasa to monitor local events. In 1729 representatives of the three Nepalese kingdoms sent greetings and presents to the Chinese emperor in Beijing, after which the Qing viewed Nepal as an outlying tributary kingdom (a perception not shared within Nepal). The expansion of big empires in both the north and south thus took place during a time when Nepal was experiencing considerable weakness in its traditional center. The three kingdoms lived a charmed life--isolated, independent, and quarreling in their mountain valley--as the systems around them became larger and more centralized.

By the seventeenth century, the mountain areas to the north of the valley and the Kiranti region to the east were the only areas that maintained traditional tribal communal systems, influenced to various degrees by Hindu ideas and practices. In the west and the south of the three kingdoms, there were many petty states ruled by dynasties of warrior (Kshatriya) status, many claiming an origin among princely, or Rajput, dynasties to the south. In the near west, around the Narayani River system (the Narayani was one of the seven Gandak rivers), there was a loose confederation of principalities called the Chaubisi (the Twenty-four), including Makwanpur and Palpa. In the far west, around the Karnali River system, there was a separate confederation called the Baisi (the Twenty-two), headed by the raja of Jumla. The confederations were in constant conflict, and their member states were constantly quarreling with each other. The kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhadgaon periodically allied themselves with princes among these confederations. All of these small, increasingly militarized states were operating individually at a higher level of centralized organization than ever before in the hills, but they were expending their resources in an almost anarchic struggle for survival. There was an awareness of the distinct culture of the Himalayan area but no real concept of Nepal as a nation.

The first contacts between the people of Nepal and Europeans also occurred during the period of the later Mallas. The Portuguese missionaries John Cabral and Stephen Cacella visited Lhasa in 1628, after which Cabral traveled to Nepal. The first Capuchin mission was founded in Kathmandu in 1715. These contacts, however, affected only a miniscule number of people. Of far greater importance was the growth of British power in India, notably in Bengal to the southeast of Nepal, during the eighteenth century. By 1764 the British East India Company, officially a private trading corporation with its own army, had obtained from a decaying Mughal Empire the right to govern all of Bengal, at that time one of the most prosperous areas in Asia. The company explored possibilities for expanding its trade or authority into Nepal, Bhutan, and toward Tibet, where the Nepalese had their own trading agencies in important settlements. The increasingly powerful company was emerging as a wild card that could in theory be played by one or more of the kingdoms in Nepal during local struggles, potentially opening the entire Himalayan region to British penetration.




The Expansion of Gorkha

Among the small hill states struggling for power during the later Malla period was Gorkha, founded in 1559 by Dravya Shah in an area chiefly inhabited by Magars. Legends trace his dynasty to warrior princes who immigrated from Rajputana in India during the fifteenth century. During its early fight for existence, the House of Gorkha stayed out of the two major confederations in western Nepal. No major expansion of the kingdom occurred until the reign of Ram Shah, from 1606 to 1633, who extended his territories slightly in all directions. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Gorkha continued a slow expansion and appeared increasingly often as an ally of one or more of the three kingdoms in their quarrels with each other, giving the rulers of the hill state experience in the affairs of the Kathmandu Valley. Nar Bhupal Shah (reigned 1716-42) extended his lands toward the Kairang Pass in the north and Nuwakot in the east. He attempted to take Nuwakot and failed, but he did arrange the marriage of his son to the daughter of the raja of Makwanpur.

This son, Prithvi Narayan Shah (reigned 1743-75), made full use of his position to achieve supreme power and was one of the great figures in Nepalese history. Following in his father's footsteps, he apparently dedicated himself at an early age to the conquest of the valley and the creation of a single state. Before going on the offensive, he traveled to Banaras, or Varanasi, to seek financial assistance and purchase armaments, thus obtaining a personal view of conditions in the outside world, especially the position of the British East India Company. On his return to Gorkha, he established a number of arsenals and trained his troops to use the more modern weapons he had obtained in India. He arranged alliances with, or bought the neutrality of, neighboring states.

When King Ranajit of Bhadgaon (reigned 1722-69) quarreled with King Jayaprakasa of Kathmandu (reigned 1735-68), Prithvi Narayan Shah took Nuwakot and laid siege to Kirtipur, which was controlled by the king of Patan, Tej Narasimha (reigned 1765-68). During the fighting, Prithvi Narayan Shah was almost killed, and when his troops failed to take the town, he withdrew. At this point, he changed direction, as the Gorkhas were to do effectively time and again. The Gorkhas instituted a blockade of the entire valley, closed off all trade routes, and began executing blockade runners. Gorkha agents remained active in the towns, and the army attempted to starve the valley into submission.

When a second siege of Kirtipur also was unsuccessful, Prithvi Narayan Shah turned his attention toward Lamji, one of the Chaubisi principalities, and overran it after several bloody battles. The Gorkha army reappeared at Kirtipur. After a siege of six months, the town was treacherously delivered to the Gorkhas, and its inhabitants were deliberately mutilated. The Gorkhas moved on to Patan in 1767, but their attention was diverted by the appearance of a 2,400-man expeditionary force sent by the British East India Company to aid the traditional kings of the valley. The British column, ravaged by malaria contracted in the Tarai, had to withdraw quickly without accomplishing anything other than delaying the Gorkhas. This token opposition by the British, however, was not forgotten by Prithvi Narayan Shah and his successors. With the field again clear, on September 29, 1768, Gorkha troops infiltrated Kathmandu while the population was celebrating a religious festival and took the town without a fight. Jayaprakasa fled to Bhadgaon with Tej Narasimha and Prithvi Narayan Shah was crowned king of Kathmandu. He soon entered Patan unopposed and then moved against villages east of Bhadgaon, arriving before the town the next year. His troops were admitted into Bhadgaon by nobles who had been bought off. Ranajit retired to Banaras, Jayaprakasa retired to die at the shrine of Pashupatinath, and Tej Narasimha died in prison. For the first time, the hill ruler, the raja of Gorkha, had become sole ruler in the Kathmandu Valley. One of his first acts in 1769 was to expel permanently from his territories all foreigners, including traders, Roman Catholic missionaries, and even musicians or artists influenced by northern India's style.

The conquest of the three kingdoms was only the beginning of a remarkable explosion of Gorkha military power throughout the Himalayan region. Prithvi Narayan Shah quickly made a movement toward the Chaubisi states in the west, but after encountering resistance in Tanahu, the Gorkha armies drove east into the Kirata country, overrunning all of eastern Nepal by 1773. They were poised for the invasion of Sikkim, but because its rulers came from Tibet, Sikkim was viewed as a client of Tibet (and thus of the Chinese). A warning from Tibet and the death of Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1775 stalled hostilities, but a full-scale invasion began in 1779. Resistance was encountered until 1788, when Gorkha forces drove the ruler of Sikkim into exile in Tibet and occupied all of western Sikkim. Guerrilla warfare continued as the Gorkhas constructed a base near Vijaypur to administer the eastern conquests. In the west, a marriage alliance with the rajas of Palpa kept them quiet while General Ram Krishna Rana conquered Tanahu and Lamjung (Gorkha's traditional rival) and advanced to Kaski by 1785. By 1790 all rulers as far as the Kali River had submitted to the Gorkhas or had been replaced. Even farther to the west lay Kumaon, in the throes of civil strife between two coalitions of zamindar (large landowners responsible for tax collection in their jurisdictions), who struggled to control the monarchy. One group invited the intervention of the Gorkhas, who defeated local forces in two battles and occupied the capital, Almora, in 1790. The Gorkhas were poised for greater adventures, but by then they were irritating bigger players and began to encounter resistance to their ambitions.


Nepal - The Struggle for Power


The premature death of Pratap Singh Shah (reigned 1775-77), the eldest son of Prithvi Narayan Shah, left a huge power vacuum that remained unfilled for decades, seriously debilitating the emerging Nepalese state. Pratap Singh Shah's successor was his son, Rana Bahadur Shah (reigned 1777-99), aged two and one-half years at his accession. The acting regent until 1785 was Queen Rajendralakshmi, followed by Bahadur Shah (reigned 1785-94), the second son of Prithvi Narayan Shah. Court life was consumed by rivalry centered on alignments with these two regents rather than on issues of national administration. In 1794 the king came of age, and in 1797 he began to exercise power on his own. Rana Bahadur's youth had been spent in pampered luxury amid deadly intrigue and had made him incapable of running either his own life or the country. He became infatuated with a Maithili Brahman widow, Kantavati, and cleared the way to the throne for their illegitimate son, Girvan Yuddha Shah. Disconsolate after the death of his mistress in 1799, Rana Bahadur began to engage in such irrational behavior that leading citizens demanded his abdication. He was forced to turn his throne over to Girvan Yuddha Shah, aged one and one-half years, and retired to Banaras.

During the minority of the king, Damodar Pande took over the administration as mukhtiyar, or prime minister (1799-1804), with complete control over administration and the power to conduct foreign affairs. He set a significant precedent for later Nepalese history, which has seen a recurring struggle for effective power between king and prime minister. The main policy of Damodar Pande was to protect the young king by keeping his unpredictable father in Banaras and to play off against each other the schemes of the retired king's wives. By 1804 this policy had failed. The former king engineered his return and took over as mukhtiyar. Damodar Pande was executed and replaced by Bhimsen Thapa as chief administrator (kaji). In a bizarre turn of events on April 25, 1806, Rana Bahadur Shah quarreled in open court with his half-brother, Sher Bahadur. The latter drew his sword and killed Rana Bahadur Shah before being cut down by a nearby courtier. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Bhimsen Thapa became prime minister (1806-37), and the junior queen, Tripurasundari, became regent (1806-32). They cooperated to liquidate ninety-three of their enemies. The death of Girvan Yuddha Shah in 1816 and the accession of his infant son meant the retention of the regency.

The struggle for power at the court had unfortunate consequences for both foreign affairs and for internal administration. All parties tried to satisfy the army in order to avoid interference in court affairs by leading commanders, and the military was given a free hand to pursue ever larger conquests. As long as the Gorkhas were invading disunited hill states, this policy--or lack of policy--was adequate. Inevitably, continued aggression led Nepal into disastrous collisions with the Chinese and then with the British. At home, because power struggles centered on control of the king, there was little progress in sorting out procedures for sharing power or expanding representative institutions. A consultative body of nobles, a royal court called the Assembly of Lords (Bharadari Sabha), was in place after 1770 and it had substantial involvement in mayor policy issues. The assembly consisted of high government officials and leading courtiers, all heads of important Gorkha families. In the intense atmosphere surrounding the monarch, however, the Assembly of Lords broke into factions that fought for access to the prime minister or regent, and alliances developed around patron/client relationships.

Five leading families contended for power during this period--the Shahs, Choutariyas, Thapas, Basnyats, and Pandes. Working for these families and their factions were hill Brahmans, who acted as religious preceptors or astrologers, and Newars, who occupied secondary administrative positions. No one else in the country had any influence on the central government. When a family or faction achieved power, it killed, exiled, or demoted members of opposing alliances. Under these circumstances, there was little opportunity for either public political life or coordinated economic development.


Nepal - The Enclosing of Nepal


The Gorkha state had its greatest success in expanding to the east and west, but it also pressed northward toward Tibet. There was a longstanding dispute with the government of Tibet over trade issues, notably the status of Nepalese merchants in Lhasa and other settlements and the increasing debasement of coinage used in Tibet. There also was a dispute over control of the mountain passes into Tibet, including the Kuti and Kairang passes north of Kathmandu. In the 1780s, Nepal demanded that Tibet surrender territory around the passes. When the Tibetans refused, the Nepalese closed trade routes between Lhasa and Kathmandu. In 1788 the Nepalese overran Sikkim, sent a punitive raid into Tibet, and threatened Shigatse, seat of the Panchen Lama, the second highest-ranking lama in Tibet. They received secret assurances of an annual payment from the Tibetan and local Chinese authorities, but when the agreement was not honored they invaded again in 1791, pillaging the monastery at Shigatse before withdrawing to Nepal. These acts finally moved the emperor in Beijing to send a huge army to Tibet. Alarmed, the government in Kathmandu concluded a trading agreement with the British East India Company, hoping for aid in their struggle. They were to be disappointed because the British had no intention of confronting China, where there were so many potential trading opportunities.

In 1792 the Chinese forces easily forced the Nepalese out of Tibet and pursued them to within thirty-five kilometers of Kathmandu. The Nepalese were forced to sign a humiliating treaty that took away their trading privileges in Tibet. It made them subordinate to the Qing Empire and required them to pay tribute to Beijing every five years. Thus, Nepal was enclosed on the north, and the British had again shown themselves to be untrustworthy.

The kingdom of Garhwal to the west was mostly hill country but included the rich vale of Dehra Dun. During the late eighteenth century, the kingdom had been devastated by conquerors as varied as Afghans, Sikhs from the Punjab, and Marathas from western India. The armies of Nepal were poised to attack Garhwal in 1790, but the affair with Tibet shifted their attention. In 1803 after Garhwal was devastated by an earthquake, the Nepalese armies moved in, defeated and killed the raja of Garhwal in battle, and annexed a ruined land. General Amar Singh Thapa moved farther west and during a three-year campaign defeated or bought off local princes as far as Kangra, the strongest fort in the hills. The Nepalese laid siege to Kangra until 1809, when Ranjit Singh, ruler of the Sikh state in the Punjab, intervened and drove the Nepalese army east of the Sutlej River. Amar Singh Thapa spent several years putting down rebellions in Garhwal and Kumaon, towns that submitted to military occupations but were never fully integrated into Gorkha. The Nepalese were being checked in the west.

There had been little direct contact with the lands controlled by the British East India Company or its clients, but by the early 1800s a confrontation was becoming more likely. Just as Nepal had been expanding toward the west throughout the late eighteenth century, so the company had steadily added to its annexed or dependent territories all the way to the Punjab. Amar Singh Thapa claimed lowland areas of Kumaon and Garhwal as part of his conquests, but David Ochterlony, the British East India Company's representative in the west, kept up constant diplomatic resistance against such claims, which were not pressed. In 1804 Palpa was finally annexed by Gorkha and along with it came claims to parts of the Butawal area in the Tarai. As Nepalese troops slowly occupied those tracts, local landlords complained to the company that their rights were being violated. Similar claims to Saran District led to armed clashes between Nepalese troops and the forces of local landlords. During these proceedings, there was constant diplomatic intercourse between the government of Nepal and the British East India Company and little desire on either side for open hostilities. The Gorkha generals, however, were quite confident in their ability to wage warfare in the mountains, and the company, with its far greater resources, had little reason to give in to this aggressive state, which blocked commerce in the hills. After retreating before a reoccupation by company troops, Nepalese forces counterattacked against police outposts in Butawal, killing eighteen police officers on April 22, 1814. The fragile state of Nepal was at war with the British Empire.

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 initial British campaign was an attack on two fronts. In the eastern theater, two columns totaling about 10,000 troops were supposed to coordinate their attacks in the Makwanpur-Palpa area, but poor leadership and unfamiliarity with hill warfare caused the early collapse of these campaigns. In the west, another 10,000 troops in two columns were to converge on the forces of Amar Singh Thapa. One of the western columns failed miserably, but the main force under Ochterlony outmaneuvered the Nepalese army and defeated General Thapa on May 9, 1815, leading to the complete loss of Kumaon by Nepal. The Nepalese forces had already proved their abilities, so the British East India Company took no chances the next year, marshalling 35,000 men and more than 100 artillery pieces under Ochterlony for a thrust toward Makwanpur. Simultaneous operations by the chogyal, or king, of Sikkim were driving the Nepalese army from the east. Major battles before Makwanpur in late February 1816 resulted in the final defeat of Nepalese forces by early March. Diplomats had already begun preparing a peace treaty, which reached Ochterlony on March 5.

The Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-16) was a total disaster for Nepal. According to the Treaty of Sagauli, signed in 1816, Nepal lost Sikkim, the territories west of the Kali River (Kumaon and Garhwal), and most of its lands in the Tarai. The British East India Company was to pay 200,000 rupees annually to Nepal to make up for the loss of revenues from the Tarai. Kathmandu was also forced to accept a British resident, which was extremely disturbing to the government of Nepal because the presence of a resident had typically preceded outright British conquest throughout India. In effect, the treaty proved to be less damaging, for the company soon found the Tarai lands difficult to govern and returned some of them to Nepal later in 1816, simultaneously abolishing the annual payments. The return of Tarai territory was important for the survival of Nepal because the government relied on the area as a source of land grants, and it is doubtful that the country as it was then run could have survived without this source of endowments. The presence of the resident, too, turned out to be less difficult than first imagined because all later governments in Kathmandu took stringent measures to isolate him by restricting his movements and keeping a close eye on the people he met. Nevertheless, the glory days of conquest were over, and Nepal had been squeezed into the boundaries it still had in the early 1990s.


Nepal - Infighting among Aristocratic Factions


The Gorkha aristocracy had led Nepal into disaster on the international front but preserved the political unity of the country, which at the end of the Anglo-Nepalese War in 1816 still was only about twenty-five years old as a unified nation. The success of the central government rested in part on its ability to appoint and control regional administrators, who also were high officers in the army. In theory these officials had great local powers; in practice they spent little energy on the daily affairs of their subjects, interfering only when communities could not cope with problems or conflicts. Another reason for Gorkha success in uniting the country was the willingness to placate local leaders by preserving areas where former kings and communal assemblies continued to rule under the loose supervision of Kathmandu, leaving substantial parts of the country out of the control of regional administrators. Even within the areas directly administered by the central government, agricultural lands were given away as jagir to the armed services and as birta to court favorites and retired servicemen. The holder of such grants in effect became the lord of the peasants working there, with little if any state interference. From the standpoint of the average cultivator, the government remained a distant force, and the main authority figure was the landlord, who took part of the harvest, or (especially in the Tarai) the tax collector, who was often a private individual contracted to extort money or crops in return for a share. For the leaders in the administration and the army, as military options became limited and alternative sources of employment grew very slowly, career advancement depended less on attention to local conditions than on loyalty to factions fighting at court.

Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa, in collusion with the queen regent, Tripurasundari, remained in power despite the defeat of Nepal. He faced constant opposition at court from factions centered around leading members of other families, notably the Pandes, who decried what they felt was his craven submission to the British. Bhimsen Thapa managed to keep his opposition under control by maintaining a large army and modernizing its equipment and by convincing the suspicious British that he had no intention of using the army. During the minority of King Rajendra Bikram Shah (reigned 1816-47), the prime minister kept the king in isolation--he did not even have the freedom to leave the palace without permission. Bhimsen Thapa appointed members of his own family to the highest positions at court and in the army, giving his brother, Ranbir Singh Thapa, control over the western provinces and his nephew, Mathbar Singh Thapa, control over the eastern provinces. The Pandes and other opponents were frozen out of power. Aside from the army and some attention to increasing trade, little effort could be expended on issues of national development.

The power balance began to change after the king came of age and Queen Tripurasundari died in 1832. The prime minister lost his main support at a time when the young ruler was coming under greater influence from the Pande faction at court. In 1833 Brian Hodgson became British resident and began a more aggressive campaign to increase British influence and trading opportunities; because Bhimsen Thapa opposed him, Hodgson openly favored Bhimsen Thapa's opponents. In 1837 the king announced his intention to rule independently, deprived both Bhimsen Thapa and Mathbar Singh of their military powers, and promoted some members of the Pande faction. Shortly afterward the youngest son of the elder queen died, and Bhimsen Thapa was arrested on a trumped up charge of poisoning the prince. All the property of the Thapas was confiscated. An eight-month trial led to an acquittal, but the Thapas were in disarray. When Rana Jang Pande, head of his family, became prime minister, he reimprisoned Bhimsen Thapa. The man who had ruled the country with an iron hand committed suicide in prison in August 1839. This series of events marked the end of the longest stable period in the early history of the Shah Dynasty of Nepal, dominated by the prime minister in the name of the king.

The fall of Bhimsen Thapa did nothing to solve the factional fighting at court. The Pandes were dismissed, and Fateh Jang Chautaria was appointed prime minister in November 1840. His ministry was unable to control renewed competition between a resurgent Thapa coalition and the disgraced Pandes, who preferred the abdication of the king in favor of the heir apparent. The king became increasingly attentive to the advice of his wives. Under intense pressure from the aristocracy, the king decreed in January 1843 that he would rule the country only with advice and agreement of his junior queen, Lakshmidevi, and commanded his subjects to obey her even over his own son, Surendra. The queen, seeking support of her own son's claims to the throne over those of Surendra, invited back from exile Mathbar Singh Thapa, who was popular in army circles. Upon his arrival in Kathmandu, an investigation of his uncle's death took place, and a number of his Pande enemies were executed. By December 1843, Mathbar Singh was appointed prime minister, but he proved no more capable of extinguishing court intrigues than had his predecessors. Against the wishes of the queen, he supported heir apparent Surendra. Once Mathbar Singh had alienated the person who officially wielded state authority, his days were numbered. On May 17, 1845, he was killed, most likely on the queen's orders. The assassin apparently was Jang Bahadur Kunwar, his nephew, then a minor but rising star in court politics.




The death of Mathbar Singh set the stage for one of the crucial sequences of events in modern Nepalese history--the destruction of the old aristocracy and the establishment of a dictatorship of the prime minister. These events provided the long period of stability the country needed but at the cost of political and economic development.

The Kot Massacre

After three months of squabbling, a coalition ministry was formed in September 1845, again headed by Fateh Jang Chautaria. The real power behind the throne was the favorite of Queen Lakshmidevi, Gagan Singh, who controlled seven regiments in the army compared to the three under the prime minister. Abhiman Singh and Jang Bahadur also served as commanders, each with three regiments. Plots and counterplots continued until Gagan Singh was found murdered during the night of September 14, 1846. The queen was beside herself at the death of her favorite, whom she had hoped to use to elevate her own son to the monarchy. She commanded Abhiman Singh to assemble the entire military and administrative establishment of Kathmandu immediately at the courtyard of the palace armory (kot).

Emotions ran high among the assembled bands of notables and their followers, who listened to the queen give an emotional harangue blaming the Pandes and demanding that the prime minister execute the Pande leader whom she suspected of the murder. While Abhiman Singh hesitated, fighting broke out in the crowd, and he was wounded. During the free-for-all that followed, swords and knives were used on all sides to dispatch opponents. Through some scheme that has never been explained adequately, the only leader with organized bodies of troops in the kot area was Jang Bahadur, whose troops suppressed the fighting, killing many of his opponents in the process. When the struggle subsided, the courtyard was strewn with the bodies of dozens of leading nobles and an unknown number of their followers--the cream of the Nepalese aristocracy. The Pande and Thapa families in particular were devastated during this slaughter.

Why the Kot Massacre took place has never been established, although the queen herself was obviously at fault for calling the assembly and whipping it into a frenzy. It has always seemed suspicious that the king was notably absent when the fighting began and that Jang Bahadur was the only leader who was ready for trouble. The extent of the carnage was apparently unexpected. Jang Bahadur was the only true beneficiary of the massacre and became the only military leader in a position of strength in the capital. The next day, he became prime minister and immediately launched a purge that killed many of his aristocratic competitors and drove 6,000 people into exile in India.


Nepal - Jang Bahadur


History has not been kind to Jang Bahadur during the twentieth century. He was blamed for setting up a dictatorship that repressed the entire nation for more than 100 years and left it in a primitive economic condition. From the standpoint of the nineteenth century during which he lived, however, he was a pillar of strength who eliminated the useless factional fighting at court, introduced innovations into the bureaucracy and the judiciary, and made efforts to "modernize" Nepal. In this sense, he remains one of the most important figures in Nepalese history.

Jang Bahadur Kunwar's early career paralleled that of many members of the lower aristocracy in Nepal, despite the Kunwar family's claims of descent from Indian princes. Jang Bahadur's great-grandfather was an important military leader under Prithvi Narayan Shah in the eighteenth century, and during the war with China (1791-92) his grandfather was also a military leader, who became one of the four chief administrators (kaji) of the Gorkha-Nepalese state. His father, Bala Narasimha Kunwar, was in court the day Rana Bahadur Shah was murdered and killed the murderer on the spot. For this action, he was rewarded with the position of kaji, which was made hereditary in his family. Jang Bahadur joined the military service in 1832-33 at the age of sixteen. As maternal grandson of Bhimsen Thapa, he lost his job and his property when the latter fell. After wandering in north India for several years, he returned to Nepal as a captain in the artillery in 1840. In November 1841, he was asked by the king to join his bodyguard, and in January 1842 he began work as kaji in the palace. When Mathbar Singh returned to power, Jang Bahadur rose with him but Mathbar Singh disliked his ambition and had him removed to a lesser position on the staff of the heir apparent. When Fateh Jang Chautaria came to power, Jang Bahadur became fourth in the hierarchy of the coalition government and took pains to flatter the queen while showing no signs of ambition to Gagan Singh. A career opportunist, he was ready and waiting when the time came to act at the Kot Massacre.

Queen Rajendralakshmi was not pleased by the new prime minister. She conspired to eliminate Jang Bahadur and elevate her son to the throne. The Basnyat Conspiracy, so called because many of its participants belonged to one of the last leading noble families, the Basnyats, was betrayed, and its ringleaders were rounded up and executed in 1846. A meeting of leading notables packed with Rana supporters found the queen guilty of complicity in the plot, stripped her of her powers, and sent her into exile in Banaras along with King Rajendra. The king still had illusions of grandeur and began plotting his return from India. In 1847 Jang Bahadur informed the troops of the exiled king's treasonous activities, announced his dethronement, and elevated Rajendra's son to the throne as Surendra Bikram Shah (1847-81). Rajendra was captured later that year in the Tarai and brought back as a prisoner to Bhadgaon, where he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

By 1850 Jang Bahadur had eliminated or overawed all of his major rivals, installed his own candidate on the throne, appointed his brothers and cronies to all the important posts, and ensured that major administrative decisions were made by himself as prime minister. At this point, he took the unprecedented step of traveling to Britain, leaving from Calcutta in April 1850 and returning to Kathmandu in February 1851. Although he unsuccessfully tried to deal directly with the British government while he was there, the main result of the tour was a great increase in goodwill between the British and Nepal. Recognizing the extent of the world and the power of industrialized Europe, he became convinced that close cooperation with the British was the best way to guarantee Nepal's independence. From then on, European architecture, fashion, and furnishings became more prevalent in Kathmandu and among the Nepalese aristocracy in general.

As part of his modernization plans, Jang Bahadur commissioned leading administrators and interpreters of texts on dharma to revise and codify the legal system of the nation into a single body of laws, a process that had not been carried out since the seventeenth century under Ram Shah of Gorkha. The result was the 1,400-page Muluki Ain of 1854, a collection of administrative procedures and legal frameworks for interpreting civil and criminal matters, revenue collection, landlord and peasant relations, intercaste disputes, and marriage and family law. In contrast to the older system, which had allowed execution or bodily mutilation for a wide range of offenses, the Muluki Ain severely limited-- without abolishing--corporal punishment. For example, the old system gave wide scope for blood vengeance by aggrieved parties, such as cuckolded husbands, but the Muluki Ain restricted such opportunities. Substitutions included confiscation of property or prison terms. Torture to obtain confessions was abolished. Strict penalties were set down for the abusers of judicial positions and also for persons maliciously accusing judges of corruption. There were statutes of limitations for judicial actions. Caste-based differences in the degree of punishments remained throughout, with higher castes (for example, Brahmans) exempt from the corporal punishments and heavy fines that lower-caste members incurred for the same crimes. This distinction was in keeping with the traditional approach of the dharma shastras, or ancient legal treatises.

After his return from Europe, Jang Bahadur took steps to increase his hold over the country. He reduced the king to a prisoner in his own palace, surrounded by agents of the prime minister and restricted and supervised at all times. No one outside the king's immediate family could see the king without permission from the prime minister. All communications in the name of the king were censored, and he was allowed to read only approved literature. In 1856 the king issued a royal decree (sanad) that formalized the dominance of the Kunwar family. There were three main provisions in this crucial document. First, the prime minister had complete authority over all internal administration, including civil, military, and judicial affairs, and all foreign relations, including the powers to make war and peace. Second, Jang Bahadur was made great king (maharajah) of Kaski and Lamjung districts, in effect serving as their independent ruler. The Shah king retained the title of maharajadhiraja (supreme king) and the right to use the honorific term shri five times with his name. The prime minister could use shri three times with his name. In this way, Jang Bahadur stopped short of taking the throne outright but elevated his family to a level second only to the royal house, which remained as a symbol of the nation. Finally, provisions were established for hereditary succession to the post of prime minister. Brothers and then sons would inherit the position in order of seniority. These provisions meant that the dictatorship of the Kunwar family, a virtual monarchy within the monarchy, would be passed down in the family for generations, with no legal mechanism for changing the government. Later, Jang Bahadur established official Rolls of Succession that ranked all his descendants in relation to their hereditary rights to the office of prime minister.

Jang Bahadur sealed the arrangement with the Shah Dynasty by arranging marriages between his heirs and the royal house. In 1854 his eldest son, Jagat Jang (aged eight), married the eldest daughter (aged six) of Surendra Bikram Shah. In 1855 his second son married the second daughter of the king. The ultimate test was passed in 1857, when heir apparent Trilokya Bir Bikram married two daughters of Jang Bahadur. A son of this union ascended to the throne in 1881.

Nepal began to experience some successes in international affairs during the tenure of Jang Bahadur. To the north, relations with Tibet had been mediated through China since Nepal's defeat in 1792, and during the early nineteenth century embassies had to make the arduous journey to Beijing every five years with local products as tribute to the Qing emperor. By 1854, however, China was in decline and had fallen into a protracted period of disturbances, including the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64), revolts by Muslim ethnic groups north of Tibet, and war with European powers. The Nepalese mission to Beijing in 1852, just after the death of the sixth Panchen Lama, was allegedly mistreated in Tibet. Because of this slight, the Nepalese government sent a protest letter to Beijing and Lhasa outlining several grievances, including excessive customs duties on Nepalese trade. In 1855 Nepalese troops overran the Kuti and Kairang areas. Hostilities lasted for about a year, with successes and failures on both sides, until a treaty negotiated by the Chinese resident and ratified in March 1856 gave Nepalese merchants duty-free trade privileges, forced Tibet to pay an annual tribute of 10,000 rupees to Nepal, and allowed a Nepalese resident in Lhasa. In return, Nepal gave up territorial gains and agreed that it, as well as Tibet, would remain a tributary state subject to China. As the Qing Empire disintegrated later in the century, this tributary status was allowed to lapse, and even Tibet began to shake off its subordination.

The outbreak of disorder to the south also allowed the Nepalese army to take a more active role in international affairs. Beginning in May 1857, a series of related uprisings throughout north India-- known as the Sepoy Rebellion--threatened to topple the power of the British East India Company. The uprisings began with widespread mutinies in the company's army and spread to include peasant revolts and alliances of the old Mughal aristocracy against the foreigner. Most of the major cities west of Bengal fell into rebel hands, and the aged Mughal emperor was proclaimed the leader of a national revolution. Initially there was some fear in British circles that Nepal would side with the rebels and turn the tide irrevocably against the British East India Company, but Jang Bahadur proved to be a loyal and reliable ally. At that point, immediately following hostilities in Tibet, the army of Nepal had grown to around 25,000 troops. Jang Bahadur sent several columns ahead and then marched with 9,000 troops into northern India in December 1857. Heading an army of 15,000 troops, he fought several hard battles and aided the British in their campaigns around Gorakhpur and Lucknow. The prime minister returned to Nepal triumphantly in March 1858 and continued to aid the British in rooting out "rebels" who had been dislocated during the chaos and sought refuge in the Tarai.

After the Sepoy Rebellion had been crushed and Britain had abolished the British East India Company and taken direct control of India in 1858, Nepal received a reward for its loyalty. Western sections of the Tarai that had been ceded through the Treaty of Sagauli in 1816 were returned. Henceforth, the British were firm supporters of Jang Bahadur's government, and Nepal later became an important source of military recruits for the British army.

In 1858 King Surendra bestowed upon Jang Bahadur Kunwar the honorific title of Rana, an old title denoting martial glory used by Rajput princes in northern India. He then became Jang Bahadur Rana, and the later prime ministers descended from his family added his name to their own in honor of his accomplishments. Thus they all became "Jang Bahadur Ranas," and their line became known as the house of the Ranas. Jang Bahadur remained prime minister until 1877, suppressing conspiracies and local revolts and enjoying the fruits of his early successes. He exercised almost unlimited power over internal affairs, taking for his own use whatever funds were available in the treasury. He lived in the high style of an Anglicized native prince in the British Raj, although unlike the Indian princes he was the ruler of a truly independent nation, an ally rather than a subordinate of the British. He died as he had lived, a man of action, during a hunting expedition in the Tarai.


Nepal - The Ranas


After the death of Jang Bahadur, his eldest surviving brother, Ranoddip Singh, became prime minister (1877-85). Because he was childless, his term in office was full of plots by Jang Bahadur's sons and nephews over succession. These plots were complicated by the death of King Surendra Bikram Shah in 1881 and the royal accession of Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah (reigned 1881-1911) at the age of six. Finally, the doddering Ranoddip Singh was assassinated, and Bir Shamsher, son of Jang Bahadur's youngest and closest brother, became prime minister (1885-1901). Bir Shamsher immediately launched a purge of his opponents. While in power, he brought piped water to the Kathmandu Valley, built a suspension bridge at Kulekhani, and set up a palace school where English was taught. His successor for three months was the progressive Dev Shamsher, who emancipated all female slaves, established a network of Nepalilanguage schools called Bhasa Pathsalas, and started the first Nepali-language newspaper, Gorkhapatra (Gorkha Newsletter). A coalition of his brothers, upset with his radical tendencies, forced Dev Shamsher's resignation and retirement to India.

Chandra Shamsher took over (1901-29) and attempted to resolve the unending family feuds over succession rights by amending the Rolls of Succession that had originally been set up by Jang Bahadur. The modified Rolls of Succession contained three schedules: "A" class Ranas were the direct, legitimate offspring of Ranas, who could dine with any high-caste Chhetri family; "B" class Ranas usually were born of second wives and could take part in all forms of social interaction with high-caste Chhetris except the sharing of boiled rice; and "C" class Ranas were the offspring of wives and concubines of lower status with whom interdining was forbidden. The "A" class Ranas could fill the highest positions in the army or civil administration, but "B" or "C" class Ranas at that time could only reach the level of colonels in the army and could never become prime ministers. At the time, this plan seemed adequate for finalizing everyone's position in the state and stopping conspiracy. In the long run, however, the rigid Rolls of Succession alienated large numbers of aristocrats who saw little room for advancement in the Rana system, lost interest in preserving it, and even began opposing it. The alienation increased when Juddha Shamsher (in power 1932-45) removed all "C" class Ranas, including some of his own sons, from the swollen Rolls of Succession and appointed many of them to administrative positions in districts far from the capital. In this way, the Rana dictatorship slowly created opposition within its own ranks.

Prithvi Narayan Shah and his successors had used the older administrative systems of Gorkha and the kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley to run the central government of a united Nepal that was in theory accountable to the king. Jang Bahadur had inherited control over these systems and proceeded to undercut their power by packing them with his own officials or by establishing parallel offices that duplicated functions and, in effect, took over the work of older offices. There had always been an Assembly of Lords filled by leading aristocrats, military leaders, administrators, or head priests. In the past, this assembly had met periodically to advise the king and make important decisions. Under Jang Bahadur and his successors, it was full of Ranas and their henchmen. Aside from the codification of the Muluki Ain, the assembly functioned as a rubber stamp for Rana decisions. Accounting procedures and records had been kept by an Office of Accounts, a State Treasury, and a Land Revenue Office. Under Jang Bahadur, separate offices staffed by his appointees kept records of military grants, religious endowments, land revenue, treasury correspondence, and military correspondence--in other words, the most important components of the older royal administration. Special offices for the investigation of corruption and for police matters (staffed by army personnel) formed the core of a police state. There were few avenues open for government personnel to work outside of a network dominated by Rana interests; those who did could be detected and were either punished or coopted into the Rana system. The government of late nineteenth-century Nepal thus stripped the monarchy of any real power and maintained a late medieval administrative framework.

Because their power was ultimately illegitimate, resting on the abdication of responsibilities by the king and his virtual incarceration, the Ranas became expert at preventing any kind of challenge. In the process, they succeeded in isolating Nepal from many of the changes happening throughout the world and even in nearby India.

The Ranas were not totally inactive during the period of dictatorship, however. On the legal front, suttee, or the suicide of a wife by throwing herself onto her husband's funeral pyre, was abolished in 1920, and slavery was abolished in 1929. Tri-Chandra College was established in 1918, and by the 1940s there were several high schools in the country and two Nepali literary magazines. The Ranas also attended to economic development by founding the Pharping Hydroelectric Company in 1911 and establishing the Nepal Industrial Board, a jute mill, a match factory, two cotton mills, the Nepal Plywood and Bobbin Company, and several rice mills during the 1930s. As for public health, the first tuberculosis clinic was set up in 1934. In view of the population of approximately 6 million in the 1930s, these accomplishments seem pitiful. 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. In gratitude the British government in 1919 bestowed on Nepal an annual payment of 1 million Indian rupees (US$476,000) in perpetuity and in 1920 transformed the British resident in Kathmandu into an envoy. A Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship signed in 1923 confirmed the independence of Nepal and its special relationship with British India. As long as British rule remained stable in India and the army offered a safety valve to release social pressures in Nepal, the Ranas were able to use their total control over internal affairs to isolate their country, a situation that could not long endure.


Nepal - The Growth of Political Parties


The earliest opposition to the Rana regime that departed from the conspiratorial politics of the palace began during the rule of Chandra Shamsher, a conservative who was not interested in modern political participation, even though large numbers of Nepalese soldiers had been exposed to new ideas during and after World War I. Just after the war, Thakur Chandan Singh, a retired army officer, started two weekly newspapers in Kumaon, Tarun Gorkha (Young Gorkha) and Gorkha Samsar (Gorkha World). At the same time, Devi Prasad Sapkota, a former officer in the Foreign Department, founded the weekly Gorkhali in Banaras. These journals were forums where Nepalese exiles could criticize the backwardness and repression of the Rana regime. During the 1930s, a debating society called Nagrik Adhikar Samiti (Citizen's Rights Committee) was founded in Kathmandu to discuss religious issues, but its discussions veered into politics. When one of its meetings featured a political speech denouncing the Rana regime, the government banned the debating society. By 1935 the first Nepalese political party, the Praja Parishad (People's Council), began among Nepalese exiles and set up cells within the country. In Bihar it published a periodical, Janata (The People), advocating a multicaste, democratic government and the overthrow of the Ranas. The Rana police managed to infiltrate the organization and arrested 500 persons in Kathmandu. Four leaders were executed (they were still were commemorated as martyrs in 1991), and others received long prison terms, but the survivors escaped to India to carry on their political agitation.

In India the British were having their own problems with an independence movement headed by the Indian National Congress, led by Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Under Gandhi's leadership, the Indian National Congress pursued nonviolent campaigns of civil disobedience that mobilized millions, including members of all castes and women, into agitations for reform and the end of foreign rule. Simultaneously, there was a growth in terrorism and police repression that seriously destabilized all of South Asia. Lacking a British promise of independence, the Indian National Congress opposed participation in World War II (1939-45), but even with many of its leaders in jail during the war there was continuing public disorder and police violence. After the war ended, the British realized that their position in South Asia had become untenable, and they prepared to leave. With China in the middle of a communist revolution, their old allies the British preparing to leave India, and thousands of soldiers returning from abroad, the Rana government could no longer avoid making radical changes in Nepal.

Many of the Nepalese exiles in India had worked closely with the Indian National Congress during its struggles with the British, realizing that only after the elimination of its colonial support would the Rana regime fall. In Banaras in October 1946, a group of middle-class Nepalese exiles formed the All-India Nepali National Congress (Akhil Bharatiya Nepali Rashtriya Congress). Many of its members were students who had agitated and subsequently had been jailed during movements in India. During its council in Calcutta in January 1947, the new organization dropped its "All-India" prefix and merged with two other groups, the Nepali Sangh (Nepalese Society) of Banaras and the Gorkha Congress of Calcutta, which had closer connections with lower-class Ranas. The Nepali National Congress (Nepali Rashtriya Congress) was officially dedicated to the ouster of the Rana dictatorship by peaceful means and to the establishment of democratic socialism. One of its first mass actions was participation in a labor strike in the jute mills of Biratnagar in the Tarai, which disrupted traffic at the Indian railhead in Jogbani, and required army intervention. Although this action garnered much publicity for the party and brought thousands of protesters into the streets even in Kathmandu, the strike was suppressed, and its leaders, including Bishweshwar Prasad (B.P.) Koirala, were imprisoned.

B.P. Koirala (1914-82) became the leader most closely identified with the Nepali National Congress. His father, a Brahman businessman, spent a good deal of time in Bihar and Bengal. He had become involved with political activists and progressive ideas, especially those of Gandhi, and participated in anti-Rana agitations including the publication of Gorkhali at Banaras. B.P. Koirala thus grew up in an atmosphere oriented toward radical Gandhian action. By 1937 he was studying law in Calcutta and had started working for the Congress Socialist Party. He was arrested in India a number of times and spent 1942 to 1945 in jail after instigating Nepalese soldiers to rebel against the government. His views during his early years, influenced by Gandhi, tended toward radical democratic decentralization and included cottage industries instead of large factories as models for economic development. His wing of the Nepali National Congress stressed nonviolent confrontation and general strikes, but he was not opposed to force should all other paths prove ineffective. He advocated a constitutional monarchy as a transitional political form for Nepal.

The strong-willed, conservative Juddha Shamsher resigned as prime minister in November 1945, passing on his job to Padma Shamsher, who announced that he was a servant of the nation who would liberalize the Rana regime. Padma Shamsher's repression of the Biratnagar strike, however, showed that he was not interested in the kind of political and labor reforms advocated by the Congress. In the aftermath of the repression, on May 16, 1947, he delivered a speech outlining important reforms, including the establishment of an independent judiciary, elections for municipality and district boards, expansion of education, publication of the national budget, and the formation of a special committee to consider plans for further liberalization. The Nepali National Congress called off its continuing agitations, and B.P. Koirala and other top leaders were released from detention in August. In January 1948, the prime minister announced the first constitution of Nepal, which set up a bicameral Parliament, a separate High Court, and an executive power vested in the prime minister who was to be assisted by a five-member Council of Ministers. Although this constitution reserved almost all powers for the executive branch and kept the same rules of succession as before for both king and prime minister, the Nepali National Congress agreed to function within its framework. Beset by conflicting forces from all sides, however, Padma Shamsher resigned his position in early 1948.


Nepal - The Return of the King


When the arch-conservative Mohan Shamsher took over as prime minister in 1948, he quickly outlawed the Nepali National Congress and showed no interest in implementing the new constitution that was scheduled to take effect in April. He rejected the more progressive wing among the Rana aristocracy, leading several well-known opponents to found the Nepal Democratic Congress (Nepal Prajatantrik Congress) in Calcutta in August 1948. This group was well funded and publicly advocated the overthrow of the Ranas by any means, including armed insurrection. It tried to foment army coups in January 1949 and January 1950 but failed. When the Rana government arrested B.P. Koirala and other organizers in October 1948 and subjected regime opponents to harsh conditions and even torture in jail, its democratic opponents turned against it again. Even the release of B.P. Koirala in June at the insistence of Indian political leaders did little to help the negative political climate. When Mohan Shamsher convened Parliament in September 1950, supposedly in keeping with the constitution, it was so full of Rana appointees that no one in the opposition took the legislature seriously. The Nepali National Congress absorbed the Nepal Democratic Congress in March 1950 and became the Nepali Congress Party, and it formally decided to wage an armed struggle against the Rana regime. On November 6, King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, who had long been making anti-Rana statements, escaped from the palace and sought asylum in the Indian embassy in Kathmandu. Armed attacks by 300 members of the Nepali Congress Party's Liberation Army (Mukti Sena) began in the Tarai on November 11, initiating revolution in Nepal.

Mohan Shamsher found himself in a very unfavorable international climate. The British had left India in 1947, and in their place was a democratic government dominated by the Indian National Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru. The government of India had no interest in preserving the autocratic rule of native princes and had forcibly taken over the lands of the few princes who had opposed union with the new India. Furthermore, members of the underground Nepalese opposition had helped their Indian colleagues during the struggle against the British. B.P. Koirala had met with Nehru and with Gandhi as well. Changes to the north added an element of power politics to the situation. The Chinese revolution had ended in 1949 with the victory of the Chinese Communist Party, ending 100 years of weakness. Tibet again came under China's control in 1950. India, faced with an expansive military power operating under a radically different political philosophy on its long northern borders, could not afford a destabilized Nepal. Thus, the king was assured of asylum in the Indian embassy, and the Liberation Army of the Nepali Congress Party was able to operate freely from bases along the Indian border with Nepal.

The revolution consisted of scattered fighting, mostly in the Tarai, and growing demonstrations in the towns of the hills. The initial strategy of the insurgents was to capture the rich Tarai area, which produced much of the country's grain. Rebels were able to capture several towns there but never were able to hold them against counterattacks by the army. Armed struggles did not develop in the Kathmandu Valley, but demonstrations of up to 50,000 people demanding the return of the king occurred in late November. Meanwhile, insurgents were infiltrating hill areas in the west and the east, where army operations were more difficult. After several weeks of growing demonstrations and dissension in the ranks of local commanders, Palpa fell from government control on January 6, 1951. Rebels took over in Pokhara for a day on January 9-10 and occupied Gorkha for part of January 10. Sporadic fighting in western Nepal led to the fall of many towns in mid-January. By this time, some "C" class Rana officers had resigned their commissions in protest, and troops were beginning to surrender to the rebels.

Negotiations between the Indian government and the Ranas had begun on December 24, 1950 in Delhi, finally leading to a proclamation on January 8, 1951 by Mohan Shamsher, who promised restoration of the king, amnesty for all political prisoners, and elections based on adult suffrage no later than 1952. The king formally agreed two days later, and a cease-fire went into effect on January 16. Further negotiations among the Ranas, the king, and the Nepali Congress Party produced an interim ministry headed by Mohan Shamsher with five Ranas and five Nepali Congress Party members. The king returned to Kathmandu, and the new ministry was sworn in during February 1951.

The coalition ministry was a mixture of ultra-conservatives who believed that they were born to rule and radical reformers who had almost no administrative experience. It was able to enact a new interim constitution in March 1951, set up a separate judicial branch, transfer all executive powers back to the king (including supreme command of the armed forces and power to appoint government officials and manage finances), call for a welfare state, set forth a Bill of Rights, and start procedures for the formation of local-level assemblies, or panchayat. The ministry started plans to abolish birta lands used by Ranas to reward their own family members, eliminated bonded labor, and established a women's college and a radio station. The ministry was beset by law and order problems caused by loose bands of Liberation Army fighters who had refused to stop fighting, bands of robbers who were victimizing the Tarai, and ultra-conservative conspiracies that instigated a mob attack on the house of B.P. Koirala, who had become the minister of home affairs in April. The final embarrassment occurred when police fired on a student demonstration and killed a student. The entire bloc of Nepali Congress Party ministers resigned in November, which allowed the king to appoint a new government for the first time since the nineteenth century. The king used the opportunity to exclude for good the conservative Rana power bloc. A royal proclamation on November 16, 1951, established a new government led by Matrika Prasad (M.P.) Koirala, the half-brother of B.P. Koirala, who had run the Nepali Congress Party during the revolutionary struggle.


Nepal - The Democratic Experiment


In the early 1950s, a political style appeared that characterized much of the era after the overthrow of the Ranas. On one side stood the king, who controlled the most powerful force in the nation--the army--and found it an increasingly useful tool with which to wield his prestige and constitutional authority. On the other side stood the political parties. First there was the Nepali Congress Party, which claimed to stand for the democratic will of the people. Then there were a multitude of breakaway factions or other small parties representing a wide range of interests. The Communist Party of Nepal, for example, was established in Calcutta in 1949 but had refused to take part in the armed struggle and condemned it as a "bourgeois" revolution; despite its own difficulties with factional disputes, this party was destined to grow in a country riddled with problems. In the Kathmandu Valley, other leaders who had been locked out of high positions in the first coalition government formed a revitalized Praja Parishad. Opponents of the "antidemocratic" character of the Nepali Congress leadership and their pro-India stance, which they claimed went against the interests of Nepal, broke away to form a revitalized Nepali National Congress. In 1951 a united front of the communists and the Praja Parishad formed to oppose the Nepali Congress ministers. The themes of politics in the early 1950--class, opposition to authoritarian trends within party leadership, and nationalistic propaganda, combined with agitational united front tactics--have remained standard features of party politics in Nepal. As the various political parties slashed at each other and the king maneuvered for greater power, the country began experimenting with a limping democracy.

Nepal faced an enormous task. When the Ranas fell, only 2 percent of the adult population was literate, the infant mortality rate was more than 60 percent, and average life expectancy was thirty-five years. Less than 1 percent of the population was engaged in modern industrial occupations, and 85 percent of employment and income came from agriculture, mostly performed by tenants using archaic methods and working under uncertain contracts. There were only approximately 100 kilometers of railroad tracks and a few kilometers of paved roads in the entire nation. Telephones, electricity, and postal services combined served only 1 percent of the population and only in certain pockets. Nepalese currency circulated only in and around the Kathmandu Valley. Government expenditures went almost entirely for salaries and benefits for army, police, and civil servants, with any savings going to the prime minister. Health and education received less than 1 percent of the government's expenditures. The nation still contained autonomous principalities (rajya) based on deals with former local kings, and landlords acted as small dictators on their own lands. Caste, ethnic, and linguistic differences abounded, but only three groups--Chhetris, Brahmans, and some Newars--had any say in the national government. The Tarai, the richest area in the nation, had been systematically ignored by the government and exploited for 200 years, and many of its people felt more at home in India than Nepal. National integration was a major problem.

Between November 1951 and February 1959, there was a succession of short-lived governments ruling under terms of the interim constitution or under the direct command of the king, attempting to fashion an environment favorable for the calling of a constituent assembly that would frame a permanent constitution. As soon as the king found a ministry uncooperative or so beset by contradictions that it could not function, he replaced it with members who had smaller bases of support. At no time during this period did the faction of the Nepali Congress Party headed by B.P. Koirala, which commanded the widest allegiance, have any chance of forming a government because the king continued to postpone elections for an assembly.

When King Tribhuvan died, his son Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev (reigned 1955-72) carried on as before, experimenting with types of councils or ministries that would do his will behind a democratic façade. Under pressure from large-scale civil disobedience campaigns, the king announced that elections for a representative assembly would take place on February 18, 1959. As political parties of all persuasions were busily preparing for the elections, the king had his own commission draw up a new constitution. He presented it as a gift to the nation on February 12, 1959, with the elections only one week away. In the first national elections in the history of the nation, the Nepali Congress won a clear victory, taking 74 out of 109 seats. B.P. Koirala at last became prime minister.

Under the terms of the new constitution, there were two legislative houses: an Upper House (Maha Sabha) of 36 members, half elected by the lower house and half nominated by the king; and a Lower House (Pratinidhi Sabha) of 109 members, all elected by universal adult suffrage. The leader of the majority party in the Lower House became prime minister and governed with a cabinet of ministers. The king could act without consulting the prime minister, and even could dismiss him. The king also had control over the army and foreign affairs and could invoke emergency powers suspending all or part of the constitution.

Against this background of formidable royal rights, the Koirala government was able to accomplish some major tasks. It finally abolished birta tenure in October 1959 and the autonomy of principalities (rajya) in the western hills. In 1960 the government revised a crucial Trade and Transit Treaty with India. It also negotiated another agreement with India on the Gandak River Project, guaranteeing territorial jurisdiction and free provision of water to Nepal. Diplomatic relations were established with the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France, and Pakistan. Koirala himself addressed the United Nations, visited China, and presided over the signing of a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China in 1960. In the economic sphere, the First Five-Year Plan (1956-61) had been poorly conceived and executed, but the Koirala government took steps to plan effectively for the Second Plan (1962-65).

The king initially was on good terms with the Koirala government, even taking the unprecedented step of playing soccer with his brothers at the National Stadium against a team that included the prime minister and his associates. At the same time, he was publicly opposed to democracy in principle and would not tolerate any official interference in the divine powers believed to be conferred on him as king. The army, the former aristocracy, conservative landowning groups, and the king all were uneasy about the reforms of the Koirala government and the negative propaganda of opposition groups inside Parliament, including the Gorkha Parishad and the Communist Party of Nepal. When destabilizing the Nepali Congress ministry proved difficult, the king used the nation's chronic violence--widely believed to be orchestrated by the monarch himself--as a reason to act directly. On December 15, 1960, with the army's support and with little warning, the king used his emergency powers to dismiss the cabinet and arrest its leaders on the charge that they had failed to provide national leadership or maintain law and order. B.P. Koirala spent the next eight years in prison and another eight years in exile. The experiments in liberal socialism and democracy, at least as defined by the Nepali Congress, were at an end.


Nepal - The Panchayat System under King Mahendra


On December 26, 1961, King Mahendra appointed a council of five ministers to help run the administration. Several weeks later, political parties were declared illegal. At first the Nepali Congress leadership propounded a nonviolent struggle against the new order and formed alliances with several political parties, including the Gorkha Parishad and the United Democratic Party, which had been strong critics of the Nepali Congress when it ran the government. Early in 1961, however, the king had set up a committee of four officials from the Central Secretariat to recommend changes in the constitution that would abolish political parties and substitute a "National Guidance" system based on local panchayat led directly by the king. By late 1961, violent actions organized by the Nepali Congress in exile began along the Indian border, increasing in size and number during early 1962.

The political situation changed completely when war broke out between India and China on October 20, 1962. In a series of rapid movements, Chinese troops occupied mountain areas east and west of Nepal in an attempt to resolve border disputes with India by simply occupying disputed territories. The reversal suffered by Indian forces took the leadership in India by surprise and forced it to reevaluate the strategic situation in the Himalayas. Because India needed strong friends rather than insurrections in the region, it withdrew support from insurgents along the border with Nepal and established closer relations with the king's government. In Nepal, King Mahendra extended the state of emergency indefinitely. The army trained by India during the 1950s proved itself capable of handling guerrilla warfare. In the midst of increasing desertions from his cause, the leader of the Nepali Congress, Subarna Shamsher, called off the armed struggle.

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. To many of the unlettered citizens of the country, the king was a spiritual force as well, representing the god Vishnu upholding dharma on earth. Within a span of ten years, the king had, in effect, reclaimed the unlimited power exercised by Prithvi Narayan Shah in the eighteenth century.

The first elections to the National Panchayat took place in March and April 1963. Although political parties officially were banned and the major opposition parties publicly refused to participate, about one-third of the members of the legislative were associated with the Nepali Congress. Support of the king by the army and the government bureaucracy prevented opposition to his rule from developing within the panchayat system. Real power came from the king's secretariat, and in the countryside influence rested in the offices of zonal commissioners and their official staffs or the parallel system of development officers. The Nepali Congress leadership made increasingly conciliatory statements and began to announce its faith in democratic ideals under the leadership of the king. In 1968 the king began to release political prisoners, including B.P. Koirala, who was freed on October 30. At this point, a three-way split developed in the Nepali Congress. B.P. Koirala went to India, where he headed a wing committed to democratic revolution and violent overthrow of the panchayat system. He was a symbol for youth but powerless politically. Subarna Shamsher's wing continued to advocate local cooperation with the king outside the panchayat system. A third wing tried to work within the panchayat system in the expectation that it would evolve into a democratic system. The disunity of the political opposition left King Mahendra to do as he wished.

Under the direct leadership of the king, the government implemented some of the major projects that were initiated under the previous democratic regime and oversaw further steps toward the development of the country. Land reforms led to the confiscation of large Rana estates. Rajya reform abolished special privileges of some aristocratic elites in western Nepal. A new legal code promulgated in 1963 replaced the Muluki Ain of 1854. A major land reform program launched in 1964 essentially was a failure. The new panchayat system managed to bring 50,000 to 60,000 people into a single system of representative government in a way that had been rendered impossible for the elite-based political parties. Nepal was able to carry out its second plan (1962-65) and third plan (1965-70), and to begin the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1970-75). Eradication of malaria, construction of the Mahendra Highway, or East-West Highway, along the southern foot of the hills, and land settlement programs contributed to a massive movement of population from the hills into the Tarai, resulting in a large increase in the area devoted to agriculture.

The death of Mahendra in January 1972 and the accession of Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev allowed the possibility of turmoil. The new king was associated with young, educated, administrative experts who were dedicated to economic development, but not to sharing power with political parties. Students at Tribhuvan University went on an indefinite strike in August to support a ten-point charter of demands. That month, 100 armed men attacked an eastern Tarai village and killed a constable in a revolutionary action supposedly linked to the policies of B.P. Koirala. In June 1973, terrorists hijacked a Royal Nepal Airlines airplane to India and escaped with 30 million Indian rupees (approximately US$4.6 million). Other armed attacks and assassination attempts occurred into 1974. These isolated incidents had relatively little impact on a government that the army and the bureaucracy supported and that monopolized the allocation of all resources to local development projects.

In 1975 the king appointed a seven-member Reform Commission to investigate making changes in the panchayat system, but during that year Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in her country, jailing members of the opposition and curtailing democracy there. In this climate, the recommendations of the Reform Commission in Nepal led to a 1975 constitutional amendment that made cosmetic changes in the panchayat system but only increased its rigidity. The changes included the establishment of five development regions to promote planning and the increase in membership of the National Panchayat from 90 to 134 persons. The king was to nominate 20 percent of its members.


Nepal - King Birendra


When it became apparent that the panchayat system was going to endure, B.P. Koirala and other political exiles began to tone down their revolutionary rhetoric and advocate a reconciliation with the king. On December 30, 1976, Koirala and his close associate, Ganeshman Singh, flew to Kathmandu hoping to "make a fresh attempt." They were arrested for antinational activities and violence, and a tribunal was set up for a trial. After considerable agitation, Koirala was released in June 1977 because of ill health. He met briefly with the king and then went to the United States for treatment. When he returned to Nepal in November 1977, he was again arrested at the airport. After further public agitations on his behalf, he underwent five treason trials in early 1978 and was ultimately acquitted. Thereafter, despite factional splits, the Nepali Congress resembled other opposition parties in its acceptance of the king's power. Thus, the pattern of modern Nepalese politics was established--loyalty to the king and opposition to his government. In practice, there were continuing student demonstrations against the panchayat system and for human rights in 1977 and 1978.

On May 24, 1979, King Birendra announced on Radio Nepal that there would be a national referendum in the near future, during which the people could decide to support or reject the panchayat system of government. This referendum represented the first time in modern history that the monarch had publicly consulted his subjects. Political freedom was allowed to all citizens during the period of preparation for the referendum, and there was intense realignment of political factions inside and outside the panchayat system. Finally, on May 2, 1980, out of a potential 7.2 million voters, 4.8 million cast their ballots. The outcome supported the panchayat system, with 54.7 percent for and 45.3 percent against it. Koirala and the Nepali Congress accepted the results. Although the referendum was a victory for the king, its narrow margin clearly indicated the need for change. Accordingly, the king quickly confirmed freedom of speech and political activity and announced the formation of an eleven-member Constitution Reforms Commission. The result, in December 1980, was the Third Amendment of the 1962 constitution, setting up direct elections to the National Panchayat, which would then submit a single candidate for prime minister to the king for approval. A Council of Ministers would thenceforth be responsible to the National Panchayat, not to the king.

In March 1981, the Constitution Reforms Commission announced that elections to the National Panchayat would take place on May 9, 1981. Aside from pro-Moscow factions of the Communist Party of Nepal and a "Group of 38" from the Nepali Congress, political parties rejected the amended constitution and refused to participate in the elections. The Nepali Congress led by Koirala observed an "election boycott week" from May 1 to 8, but on election day a 52 percent turnout of voters chose 111 representatives to the National Panchayat. Surya Bahadur Thapa was returned as prime minister, and the king formed a twenty- eight-member Council of Ministers in June 1981.

Opposition politics were in a state of disarray, dominated by the terminal illness of Koirala, who died in July 1982. The victory of the king was not complete, however. During the elections, more than 70 percent of the candidates favored by the king lost. The panchayat system, a major source for local patronage, was becoming the stage for factional fights and shuffling coalitions. On many college campuses, elections for student unions went to communists after violent clashes.

The trend toward factionalism in the National Panchayat intensified in 1983, when a serious food crisis and charges of corruption caused the fall of Surya Bahadur Thapa's government. Lokendra Bahadur Chand took over as prime minister, but two blocs, or samuha had emerged in the National Panchayat around Thapa and Chand. The factional fighting did not prevent the celebration in 1986 of the panchayat system's twenty-fifth anniversary, which created an opportunity for the second general election to the National Panchayat. The Nepali Congress and most other opposition parties again boycotted the elections, although the communists and a few other small parties did participate. The elections drew 60 percent of the voters, and 60 percent of the members of the National Panchayat supported Marich Man Singh Shrestha as prime minister.

Before elections to the local panchayat the following year, the Nepali Congress announced that it would continue its boycott but then changed its strategy and allowed its members to run for local seats, claiming that it could "capture the outposts" of the system and politicize the people. The poor showing of the Nepali Congress candidates embarrassed the party, however, and revealed its isolation from many rural voters.

Despite low growth figures, throughout the 1980s Nepal at least had made some progress in economic development, but it remained in any case one of the poorest countries in the world. The king was achieving a higher profile in international affairs, canvassing widespread support for the declaration of Nepal as a zone of peace and participating in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). These modest trends encountered a sudden interruption in 1989 when a major international incident with India occurred. On March 1, the Indian embassy announced that trade and transit treaties with Nepal, renewed regularly since the 1950s, would expire twenty-two days later. Both the Indian and Nepalese governments accused each other of delaying negotiations. When March 23 arrived, India declared the treaties had expired and closed all but two border entry points with Nepal. These closures caused huge backups on the border and delayed or halted the bulk of foreign trade, including crucial shipments of oil and gasoline and the tourist trade, a major source of foreign exchange carefully cultivated under King Birendra. There was a severe decline in agricultural production, layoffs in factories increased, and the inflation rate in 1987-88 rose to 11 percent. The growth rate of the economy, a healthy 9.7 percent in 1987-88, declined to 1.5 percent in 1988-89.

The Nepali Congress, early in its history accused of bowing to Indian opinion, in September organized a National Awakening Week during which 3,500 party members committed nonviolent civil disobedience. Student demonstrations against India began to take on antigovernment tones, and all campuses in Kathmandu closed for two months. The crisis demonstrated the fragility of the political and economic system in Nepal--an old culture but a young nation-- landlocked between two giants and directed by a medieval monarchy.


Nepal - Geography


The Land

Sandwiched between two Asian giants--China and India--Nepal traditionally has been characterized as "a yam caught between two rocks." Noted for its majestic Himalayas, which in Sanskrit means the abode of snow, Nepal is very mountainous and hilly. Its shape is roughly rectangular, about 650 kilometers long and about 200 kilometers wide, and comprises a total of 147,181 square kilometers of land. It is slightly larger than Bangladesh or the state of Arkansas. Nepal is a landlocked country, surrounded by India on three sides and by China's Xizang Autonomous Region (Tibet) to the north. It is separated from Bangladesh by an approximately fifteenkilometer -wide strip of India's state of West Bengal, and from Bhutan by the eighty-eight-kilometer-wide Sikkim, also an Indian state. Such a confined geographical position is hardly enviable. Nepal is almost totally dependent on India for transit facilities and access to the sea--that is, the Bay of Bengal--even for most of the goods coming from China.

For a small country, Nepal has great physical diversity, ranging from the Tarai Plain--the northern rim of the Gangetic Plain situated at about 300 meters above sea level in the south--to the almost 8,800-meter-high Mount Everest, locally known as Sagarmatha (its Nepali name), in the north. From the lowland Tarai belt, landforms rise in successive hill and mountain ranges, including the stupendous rampart of the towering Himalayas, ultimately reaching the Tibetan Plateau beyond the Inner Himalayas. This rise in elevation is punctuated by valleys situated between mountain ranges. Within this maze of mountains, hills, ridges, and low valleys, elevational (altitudinal) changes rersulted in ecological variations.

Nepal commonly is divided into three broad physiographic areas: the Mountain Region, the Hill Region, and the Tarai Region. All three parallel each other, from east to west, as continuous ecological belts, occasionally bisected by the country's river systems. These ecological regions were divided by the government into development sectors within the framework of regional development planning.

The rhythm of life in Nepal, as in most other parts of monsoonal Asia, is intricately yet intrinsically intertwined with its physical environment. As scholar Barry Bishop learned from his field research in the Karnali region in the northwest, the livelihood patterns of Nepal are inseparable from the environment.

<> The Mountain Region
<> The Hill Region
<> The Tarai Region
<> Climate
<> Rivers


Nepal - The Mountain Region


The Mountain Region (called Parbat in Nepali) is situated at 4,000 meters or more above sea level to the north of the Hill Region. The Mountain Region constitutes the central portion of the Himalayan range originating in the Pamirs, a high altitude region of Central Asia. Its natural landscape includes Mount Everest and the other seven of the world's ten highest peaks, which are the legendary habitat of the mythical creature, the yeti, or abominable snowman. In general, the snow line occurs between 5,000 and 5,500 meters. The region is characterized by inclement climatic and rugged topographic conditions, and human habitation and economic activities are extremely limited and arduous. Indeed, the region is sparsely populated, and whatever farming activity exists is mostly confined to the low-lying valleys and the river basins, such as the upper Kali Gandaki Valley.

In the early 1990s, pastoralism and trading were common economic activities among mountain dwellers. Because of their heavy dependence on herding and trading, transhumance was widely practiced. While the herders moved their goths (temporary animal shelters) in accordance with the seasonal climatic rhythms, traders also migrated seasonally between highlands and lowlands, buying and selling goods and commodities in order to generate muchneeded income and to secure food supplies.


Nepal - The Hill Region


Situated south of the Mountain Region, the Hill Region (called Pahar in Nepali) is mostly between 1,000 and 4,000 meters in altitude. It includes the Kathmandu Valley, the country's most fertile and urbanized area. Two major ranges of hills, commonly known as the Mahabharat Lekh and Siwalik Range (or Churia Range), occupy the region. In addition, there are several intermontane valleys. Despite its geographical isolation and limited economic potential, the region always has been the political and cultural center of Nepal, with decision-making power centralized in Kathmandu, the nation's capital. Because of immigration from Tibet and India, the hill ranges historically have been the most heavily populated area. Despite heavy out-migration, the Hill Region comprised the largest share of the total population in 1991.

Although the higher elevations (above 2,500 meters) in the region were sparsely populated because of physiographic and climatic difficulties, the lower hills and valleys were densely settled. The hill landscape was both a natural and cultural mosaic, shaped by geological forces and human activity. The hills, sculpted by human hands into a massive complex of terraces, were extensively cultivated.

Like the Mountain Region, the Hill Region was a food-deficit area in the early 1990s, although agriculture was the predominant economic activity supplemented by livestock raising, foraging, and seasonal migrating of laborers. The vast majority of the households living in the hills were land-hungry and owned largely pakho (hilly) land. The poor economic situation caused by lack of sufficient land was aggravated by the relatively short growing season, a phenomenon directly attributable to the climatic impact of the region's higher altitude. As a result, a hill farmer's ability to grow multiple crops was limited. The families were forced to adapt to the marginality, as well as the seasonality, of their environment, cultivating their land whenever they could and growing whatever would survive. Bishop has noted that "as crop productivity decreases with elevation, the importance of livestock in livelihood pursuits . . . increases. For many Bhotia [or Bhote] living in the highlands . . . animal husbandry supplants agriculture in importance." During the slack season, when the weather did not permit cropping, hill dwellers generally became seasonal migrants, who engaged in wage labor wherever they could find it to supplement their meager farm output. Dependence on nonagricultural activities was even more necessary in the mountain ecological belt.


Nepal - The Tarai Region


In complete topographic contrast to the Mountain and Hill regions, the Tarai Region is a lowland tropical and subtropical belt of flat, alluvial land stretching along the Nepal-India border, and paralleling the Hill Region. It is the northern extension of the Gangetic Plain in India, commencing at about 300 meters above sea level and rising to about 1,000 meters at the foot of the Siwalik Range. The Tarai includes several valleys (dun), such as the Surkhet and Dang valleys in western Nepal, and the Rapti Valley (Chitwan) in central Nepal.

The word tarai, a term presumed to be derived from Persian, means "damp," and it appropriately describes the region's humid and hot climate. The region was formed and is fed by three major rivers: the Kosi, the Narayani (India's Gandak River), and the Karnali. A region that in the past contained malaria-infested, thick forests, commonly known as char kose jhari (dense forests approximately twelve kilometers wide), the Tarai was used as a defensive frontier by Nepalese rulers during the period of the British Raj (1858-1947) in India. In 1991 the Tarai served as the country's granary and land resettlement frontier; it became the most coveted internal destination for land-hungry hill peasants.

In terms of both farm and forest lands, the Tarai was becoming Nepal's richest economic region. Overall, Tarai residents enjoyed a greater availability of agricultural land than did other Nepalese because of the area's generally flat terrain, which is drained and nourished by several rivers. Additionally, it has the largest commercially exploitable forests. In the early 1990s, however, the forests were being increasingly destroyed because of growing demands for timber and agricultural land.


Nepal - Climate


Nepal has a great deal of variation in climate. Its latitude is about the same as that of Florida, and a tropical and subtropical climate exists in the Tarai Region. Outside the Tarai, however, the climate is completely different. The remarkable differences in climatic conditions are primarily related to the enormous range of altitude within such a short north-south distance. The presence of the east-west-trending Himalayan massifs to the north and the monsoonal alteration of wet and dry seasons also greatly contribute to local variations in climate. Scholar Sharad Singh Negi identifies five climatic zones in Nepal based on altitude: the tropical and subtropical zone of below 1,200 meters in altitude; the cool, temperate zone of 1,200 to 2,400 meters in altitude; the cold zone of 2,400 to 3,600 meters in altitude; the subarctic climatic zone of 3,600 to 4,400 meters in altitude; and the arctic zone above 4,400 meters in altitude. In terms of natural vegetational regimes or distribution patterns, altitude again plays a significant role. Below 1,200 meters, the dominant form of vegetation consists of tropical and subtropical rain forests.

Altitude also affects annual rainfall or precipitation patterns. Up to about 3,000 meters, annual rainfall totals increase as the altitude increases; thereafter, annual totals diminish with increasing altitude and latitude. In addition to this latitudinal differentiation in rainfall, two other patterns can be discerned. First, given the northwestward movement of the moisture-laden summer monsoon (June to September), the amount of annual rainfall generally decreases from east to west. However, there are certain pockets with heavy annual rainfall totals, for example, the Pokhara Valley in central Nepal. Second, the horizontal extension of hill and mountain ranges creates a moist condition on southand eastfacing slopes whereas it produces a major rain shadow on the northern sides of the slopes. The aridity increases with altitude and latitude, especially on the northern slopes, and reaches its climax in the inner Himalayan region and on the Tibetan Plateau. Eastern Nepal receives approximately 2,500 millimeters of rain annually, the Kathmandu area about 1,420 millimeters, and western Nepal about 1,000 millimeters.

The towering Himalayas play a critical role, blocking the northwesterly advances of moist, tropical air from the Bay of Bengal, and ultimately leading to its conversion to rain in the summer. In the winter, this range prevents the outbursts of cold air from Inner Asia from reaching southern Nepal and northern India, thus ensuring warmer winters in these regions than otherwise would be the case.

In addition, there are seasonal variations in the amount of rainfall, depending on the monsoon cycle. Bishop divides the monsoon cycle into four seasons: premonsoon, summer monsoon, postmonsoon, and winter monsoon. The premonsoon season generally occurs during April and May; it is characterized by the highest temperatures, reaching 40° C during the day in the Tarai Region and other lowlands. The hills and mountains, however, remain cool.

The summer monsoon, a strong flow of moist air from the southwest, follows the premonsoon season. For the vast majority of southern Asians, including Nepalese, the term monsoon is synonymous with the summer rainy season, which makes or breaks the lives of hundreds of millions of farmers on the subcontinent. Even though the arrival of the summer monsoon can vary by as much as a month, in Nepal it generally arrives in early June, is preceded by violent lightning and thunderstorms, and lasts through September, when it begins to recede. The plains and lower Himalayas receive more than 70 percent of their annual precipitation during the summer monsoon. The amount of summer monsoon rain generally declines from southeast to northwest as the maritime wedge of air gradually becomes thinner and dryer. Although the success of farming is almost totally dependent on the timely arrival of the summer monsoon, it periodically causes such problems as landslides; subsequent losses of human lives, farmlands, and other properties (not to mention great difficulty in the movement of goods and people); and heavy flooding in the plains. Conversely, when prolonged breaks in the summer monsoon occur, severe drought and famine often result.

The postmonsoon season begins with a slow withdrawal of the monsoon. This retreat leads to an almost complete disappearance of moist air by mid-October, thus ushering in generally cool, clear, and dry weather, as well as the most relaxed and jovial period in Nepal. By this time, the harvest is completed and people are in a festive mood. The two biggest and most important Hindu festivals-- Dashain and Tihar (Dipawali)--arrive during this period, about one month apart. The postmonsoon season lasts until about December.

After the postmonsoon, comes the winter monsoon, a strong northeasterly flow, which is marked by occasional, short rainfalls in the lowlands and plains and snowfalls in the high-altitude areas. The amount of precipitation resulting from the northeast land trade winds varies considerably but increases markedly with elevation. The secondary winter precipitation in the form of snowfalls in the Himalayas is important for generating a sufficient volume of spring and summer meltwaters, which are critical for irrigation in the lower hills and valleys where agriculture predominates. Winter precipitation is also are indispensable for the success of winter crops, such as wheat, barley, and numerous vegetables.


Nepal - Rivers


Nepal can be divided into three major river systems from east to west: the Kosi River, the Narayani River (India's Gandak River), and the Karnali River. All ultimately become major tributaries of the Ganges River in northern India. After plunging through deep gorges, these rivers deposit their heavy sediments and debris on the plains, thereby nurturing them and renewing their alluvial soil fertility. Once they reach the Tarai Region, they often overflow their banks onto wide floodplains during the summer monsoon season, periodically shifting their courses. Besides providing fertile alluvial soil, the backbone of the agrarian economy, these rivers present great possibilities for hydroelectric and irrigation development. India managed to exploit this resource by building massive dams on the Kosi and Narayani rivers inside the Nepal border, known, respectively, as the Kosi and Gandak projects. None of these river systems, however, support any significant commercial navigation facility. Rather, the deep gorges formed by the rivers represent immense obstacles to establishing the broad transport and communication networks needed to develop an integrated national economy. As a result, the economy in Nepal has remained fragmented. Because Nepal's rivers have not been harnessed for transportation, most settlements in the Hill and Mountain regions remain isolated from each other. As of 1991, trails remained the primary transportation routes in the hills.

The eastern part of the country is drained by the Kosi River, which has seven tributaries. It is locally known as the Sapt Kosi, which means seven Kosi rivers (Tamur, Likhu Khola, Dudh, Sun, Indrawati, Tama, and Arun). The principal tributary is the Arun, which rises about 150 kilometers inside the Tibetan Plateau. The Narayani River drains the central part of Nepal and also has seven major tributaries (Daraudi, Seti, Madi, Kali, Marsyandi, Budhi, and Trisuli). The Kali, which flows between the Dhaulagiri Himal and the Annapurna Himal (Himal is the Nepali variation of the Sanskrit word Himalaya), is the main river of this drainage system. The river system draining the western part of Nepal is the Karnali. Its three immediate tributaries are the Bheri, Seti, and Karnali rivers, the latter being the major one. The Maha Kali, which also is known as the Kali and which flows along the Nepal-India border on the west side, and the Rapti River also are considered tributaries of the Karnali.


Nepal - The Society


NEPAL IS OFTEN CHARACTERIZED as a country caught in two different worlds, having one leg in the sixteenth century and another in the twentieth century. Entrenched in a feudalistic social structure, the deeply tradition-bound society increasingly was experiencing the pervasive influence of Western material culture. Most affected were the parts of the population that came in regular contact with Westerners. Nowhere was this juxtaposition of local traditional values and Western material culture more pronounced than in the Kathmandu Valley--the country's most urbanized region.

In the Kathmandu Valley in 1991, hordes of people took ritual baths in the highly polluted Baghmati River, especially near the temple of Pashupatinath, and walked to temples that dotted the valley's landscape. Numerous peasants carried their produce to the market on bicycles or on what is locally called a kharpan, a device that resembles a large weighing balance and is carried on the shoulder. Yet, young boys wore T-shirts emblazoned with Michael Jackson or other Hollywood celebrities and watched "Miami Vice" or other American television shows. The skyline of urban areas such as Kathmandu, Siddhartha Nagar, and Pokhara was interrupted by television antennas. Copying Western popular culture and values had become the thing to do. Nepalese youth even took drugs, and the number of drug addicts had increased significantly in the 1980s.

The adoption of Western popular cultural values has not, however, translated into much-needed technological and economic progress and a consequent reduction in pervasive poverty. Although youths, especially those living in and around urban centers, readily adopted Western consumer habits, they appeared to have little knowledge about more productive habits that the West exemplifies. Entranced by the tide of consumerism, Nepalese youths seemed poorly prepared or unwilling to do hard work and make sacrifices that were imperative for establishing dynamic economic production and development. As a result, consumerism outpaced productive capacity--a process that was clearly contrary to sustained socioeconomic progress--and the country remained in a state of economic backwardness.

Despite Nepal's increasing contact with the West since liberation from Rana rule in 1951, the feudalistic yoke has not been broken. Even after thirty-five years of economic development planning, poverty remained throughout the country. Government intervention in economic development under the rubric of planning has led to a breakdown in the traditional patron-client relations. In the past, this relationship provided some security of survival--or what Karl Polyani termed in 1957 "the absence of the threat of individual starvation"--for the clients, although they were placed in a subservient position. In 1991 such patron-client relations had been replaced by wage relations, but planned development had not been able to create enough employment opportunities to gainfully absorb the clients who no longer could rely on their patrons.

There was no doubt among observers that only an increasing flow of foreign aid and loans had kept Nepal from bankruptcy. Yet there seemed to be little evidence suggesting that the aid had, despite good intentions, alleviated mass poverty and uplifted the society as a whole. Unemployment among the educated was partially addressed through the continued expansion of government jobs, but such expansion resulted in bureaucratic redundancy and, in fact, hindered economic development. Furthermore, such a strategy had only a limited ability to reduce the mass unemployment and underemployment that typified Nepal's society. Widespread unemployment and underemployment, which fueled poverty, further were exacerbated by continued rapid population growth. Despite a long-term and vigorous family planning program, the population had been growing at an increasing rate. Such population growth contributed to increasing environmental deterioration, given the frailty of the country's mountainous environment.



Nepal - Population


Population Structure and Settlement Patterns

At the time of the 1981 census, the total population of Nepal was 15,022,839, the average family was made up of 5.8 persons, and life expectancy at birth was close to fifty years. As of July 1990, the population was estimated at 19,145,800 persons. The annual population growth rate increased from less than 2 percent during the 1950s to more than 2.6 percent in 1990, suggesting that despite a trend toward increasing acceptance of family planning, the program did not have much influence on reducing the population growth rate. The Central Bureau of Statistics forecast that the total population would increase to 23.6 million by 2001.

The 1981 census reveals a significant variation in regional growth rates. Although the Tarai Region's annual growth rate of 4.2 percent was much higher than the national average, the Hill and Mountain regions, respectively, posted growth rates of 1.7 and 1.4 percent. In terms of regional distribution, 43.6 percent (6,556,828 persons) of the country's population resided in the Tarai, whereas the shares of the Hill and Mountain regions totaled 7,163,115 (47.7 percent) and 1,302,896 (8.7 percent), respectively.

About 70 percent of the total population was of working age, or between the ages of fifteen and fifty-nine years. More than 65 percent of this segment of the population was considered economically active in 1981. In terms of employment structure, more than 91 percent of the economically active population was engaged in agriculture and allied activities, and the rest in the secondary (industrial) and tertiary (service) sectors, including government employment. In 1981 males and females who were widowed or separated constituted only a tiny fragment of the population--0.4 percent for each sex.

Dependency and Sex Ratios

The dependency ratio is defined as the ratio of the population in the birth to fourteen age-group, and those sixty years and older to the population in the productive age-group, that is, fifteen to fifty-nine years of age. In 1981 this ratio stood at eighty to nine. The temporal increase in the number of those in the young population group has depressed the median age of the population from 21.1 years in the mid-1950s to 19.9 years in 1981. The sex ratio in 1981, defined as the number of males to 100 females, was 105 males to every 100 females.

Fertility and Mortality

According to the estimates made by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 1985, the crude birthrate was 44 per 1,000, and the crude death rate was almost 14 per 1,000. The total fertility rate, defined as the average number of children a woman might bear, was 6.3 children, with a variation between rural and urban fertility rates. The rural total fertility rate was 6.4, compared with 5.8 for urban areas. Both the crude birthrate and the total fertility rate have remained high and fairly constant for the past several decades, whereas the crude death rate has been declining consistently, thereby contributing to rapid population growth.

The most significant category of deaths was the infant mortality rate. Varying techniques for calculating infant mortality, however, have led to discrepant estimations. They ranged from more than 147 deaths per 1,000 in 1985 to between 101 and 128 per 1,000 in 1989. Infant mortality rates also varied widely among the three geographic regions, which may have been partly because of differing rates of migration and the expectancy that higher mortality rates are found in migrant families. Nonetheless, infant mortality was almost twice as high in rural areas as urban areas, a clear indication of the lack of health services in rural areas, and was high compared to many other Asian countries.

Population Density

One of the major consequences of rapid population growth was the progressive deterioration of the ratio of people to land. This land shortage greatly affected Nepal's predominantly agrarian society, where land was the most important source of livelihood and social status, and it was most evident in terms of population density. In 1981 the population density was 102 persons per square kilometer of total land. Although the ratio appears to suggest a fairly low density, the figures are misleading. When density is measured in terms of persons per hectare of cultivatable land (that is agricultural density), the true nature of the human-land ratio emerges. The agricultural density in 1981 was 6.1 persons per hectare (or almost 0.2 hectare per person), which represents a very high density, especially given that the country's production technology remains in a backward state. Nepal's ability to reclaim more land in order to accommodate a rapidly growing population already had reached a maximum threshold.

<> Urbanization
<> Migration
<> Caste and Ethnicity

Updated population figures for Nepal.


Nepal - Urbanization


Urbanization, defined as the percentage of total population living in settlements designated as urban areas, generally was viewed as closely related to economic development. If the correlation between urbanization and economic development-- historically based on the experience of the industrialized nations- -is accepted, then Nepal has a long way to go before it becomes economically advanced. Nepal was one of the least urbanized countries in the world, with only 6.3 percent of its total population residing in urban areas in 1981. Yet it appears that the 1971-81 decade experienced a major spurt in urban population, increasing by approximately 108 percent, at an annual rate of more than 8.4 percent. The urbanization rate in the early 1990s was around 8 percent. Nevertheless, only twenty-three settlements were designated as urban areas, and only one of these settlements had a population above 100,000--the capital city of Kathmandu, which had a total population of slightly more than 235,000. Together with the other two major urban settlements--Patan (also called Lalitpur), which had about 79,800 people, and Bhadgaon (also called Bhaktapur), with about 48,500 people--the Kathmandu Valley in the Hill Region had the largest concentration of the total urban population--almost 40 percent.

In terms of the regional distribution of these urban settlements, the pattern was skewed in favor of the Tarai. Fourteen of the twenty-three settlements were found there, the majority located in eastern and central Tarai. The Mountain Region had no urban settlements. This situation clearly demonstrated that Nepal not only remained predominantly rural, but also that the existing urban areas were neither well developed nor well connected in terms of their geographical distribution. The only real urban network was found in the central section--the quadrangle consisting of Kathmandu, Pokhara, Butawal (and Siddhartha Nagar), and Hetauda.



Nepal - Migration


Nepal was once a sanctuary for waves of migrants from north and south of its borders. The early migration from the north was largely of nomadic Mongoloid people from Tibet (the Bhote groups), followed by waves of Indo-Aryans from India. Some of the migrants from the south, especially the Brahmans and Rajputs, were fleeing the religious crusades of invading Mughals (or Indian Muslims) and their suppression of Hindus; others (especially those from Bihar and West Bengal), were lured by the possibilities of the Tarai land. As of 1991, a large number of Indians from Bihar and other neighboring areas still crossed the border into Nepal. Most of those recent migrants were found in towns and cities, where they were engaged in semiskilled labor and mercantile activities.

Since at least the late nineteenth century, the migration trend has reversed its course. In the early 1990s, there was a massive and persistent outflow of people from the hills, the areas that once served as a refuge for migrants. In addition, the volume of migration has been increasing over time. There have been two major types of migration. Permanent or lifetime migration occurred primarily within the national boundary, particularly from the highlands to the Tarai Region; it was motivated by the search for land. Circular migration included seasonal migrants, who moved to wage-labor sites, such as urban centers and construction areas, during the agricultural slack season (November to February). These circular or absentee migrants included long-term (but not permanent) migrants, who moved in search of long-term salaried employment, such as army, government, chaukidar (doorman or guard) services, or factory jobs. Once these migrants succeeded in landing a relatively permanent job, they normally visited their families and villages once every two to three years; if they did not secure such a job, they might return in a few months. Unlike permanent migration, circular migration was both internal (within the country) as well as external (outside the country). Although internal circular migrants ultimately might become permanent migrants, the vast majority of external circular migrants, most of whom went to India, returned to Nepal upon their retirement and discharge from service. Increasing numbers of these external migrants settled in the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam, and they have been filtering into Bhutan since the late nineteenth century.

Lifetime Regional Migration

Until the mid-1950s, the volume of permanent migration within the country was very small. Since then, however, there has been increased permanent internal migration, mainly because of population pressures, paucity of land resources in the hills, and the implementation of land resettlement programs in the Tarai Region. This form of migration was identified in the 1981 census as lifetime internal migration.

The total volume of lifetime internal migration in 1981 was close to 1,272,300 persons, a figure that represented 8.5 percent of the total population. The vast majority of lifetime internal migrants originated in the Hill and Mountain regions and moved to the Tarai Region in search of land in a movement that can be called frontier migration. These findings confirmed that the north-south (highland-lowland) flows of migration have made a substantial contribution--both directly and indirectly--to the rapid population growth of the Tarai Region.

One of the major variables responsible for this trend was the Hill residents' quest for land. About half of the male Hill migrants to the Tarai mentioned "agriculture" as their reason for migrating. The "not stated and others" category also constituted a high percentage, probably because most family members who moved with their parents or household heads had no specific reason for their migration.

A high score for trade and commerce among the mountain migrants might reflect the fact that they historically were deeply engaged in interregional as well as cross-border trade with Tibet as their principal economic activity. Because their traditional trade and commercial relations with Tibet had been largely cut off because of political changes after 1950, they might have moved to the Tarai, where such opportunities were expanding, particularly in urban areas.

The pattern for female migrants was generally consistent with the pattern for male migrants. The exception was female migrants for whom marriage as a reason for geographical mobility ranked quite high. This pattern generally reflected the commonly observed reality that female mobility in Nepal was largely tied to family mobility (that is, husbands or parents). Although individual (unmarried) female migration seemed to be gradually on the rise, it still was quite limited.

Circular Migration

Circular migrants, both internal and external, were classified as absentee population in the 1981 census. The major difference between the two groups was that the internal absentee population generally consisted of short-term or seasonal migrants. Such migrants left the hills in search of temporary jobs in nearby towns or at construction sites and generally returned to their villages after the winter season to resume farming. On the other hand, the external absentee population was largely composed of long-term migrants. In the cases of both types, most migrants were adult males although some husbands periodically took their wives with them after they were well established in their jobs.

The volume of circular migration, or absentee population, has been rising. In the mid-1950s, such migration totaled almost 217,000 persons, most coming from the hills. More than 90 percent, or more than 198,000 people, were external migrants; the vast majority went to India. In 1981 the absentee population totaled almost 591,000 people. Of these, 188,000 people, or 32 percent, were internal migrants, and approximately 403,000 people, or 68 percent, were external migrants. Even though the percentage of external migrants in the total absentee population had declined from 90 percent in the mid-1950s to 68 percent in 1981, their absolute number had increased by 205,000 people. Whereas the increasing number of absentee population from the hills was an unmistakable indicator of the region's deteriorating economic and environmental conditions, the decreasing percentage of external migration in the total volume was largely the result of the emergence of the Tarai as an alternative, internal destination.

The vast majority of migrants came from the Hill and Mountain regions. Together, they made up 141,200 (85 percent) of the total of internal migrants and about 365,000 (91 percent) of total external migrants. Unlike in the Hill and Mountain regions, the majority of the Tarai's 82,650 absentees were found within the country.

An analysis of reasons for absence from home revealed quite a contrast between lifetime internal migration and circular migration. Service, which included a variety of jobs, surfaced as the most dominant reason for being absent from home in both internal and external cases of circular migration. On the average, 64 percent of external migrants mentioned service as their reason for migration, the highest rate being posted by the Hill migrants; 28 percent gave no reasons, or other reasons.



Nepal - Caste and Ethnicity


Ethnic Groups

Nepalese society was ethnically diverse and complex in the early 1990s, ranging in phenotype (physical characteristics) and culture from the Indian to the Tibetan. Except for the sizable population of those of Indian birth or ancestry concentrated in the Tarai bordering India, the varied ethnic groups had evolved into distinct patterns over time.

Political scientists Joshi and Rose broadly classify the Nepalese population into three major ethnic groups in terms of their origin: Indo-Nepalese, Tibeto-Nepalese, and indigenous Nepalese. In the case of the first two groups, the direction if their migration and Nepal's landscapes appeared to have led to their vertical distribution; most ethnic groups were found at particular altitudes. The first group, comprising those of Indo- Nepalese origin, inhabited the more fertile lower hills, river valleys, and Tarai plains. The second major group consisted of communities of Tibeto-Mongol origin occupying the higher hills from the west to the east. The third and much smaller group comprised a number of tribal communities, such as the Tharus and the Dhimals of the Tarai; they may be remnants of indigenous communities whose habitation predates the advent of Indo-Nepalese and Tibeto-Mongol elements.

Even though Indo-Nepalese migrants were latecomers to Nepal relative to the migrants from the north, they have come to dominate the country not only numerically, but also socially, politically, and economically. They managed to achieve early dominance over the native and northern migrant populations, largely because of the superior formal educational and technological systems they brought with them. Consequently, their overall domination has had tremendous significance in terms of ethnic power structure.

Within the Indo-Nepalese group, at least two distinct categories can be discerned. The first category includes those who fled India and moved to the safe sanctuaries of the Nepal hills several hundred years ago, in the wake of the Muslim invasions of northern India. The hill group of Indian origin primarily was composed of descendants of high-caste Hindu families. According to Joshi and Rose, "These families, mostly of Brahman and Kshatriya status, have spread through the whole of Nepal with the exception of the areas immediately adjacent to the northern border. They usually constitute a significant portion of the local elites and are frequently the largest landowners in an area." This segment of the Indo-Nepalese population, at the apex of which stands the nation's royal family, has played the most dominant role in the country. Other ethnic groups, including those of Indian origin that settled in the Tarai, have been peripheral to the political power structure.

The second group of Indo-Nepalese migrants includes the inhabitants of the Tarai. Many of them are relatively recent migrants, who were encouraged by the government of Nepal or its agents to move into the Tarai for settlement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the early 1990s, this group mostly consisted of landless tenants and peasants from northern India's border states of Bihar and Bengal. Some of these Indian migrants later became large landowners.

The north Indian antecedents of a number of caste groups in the hills (that is, the first group of Indo-Nepalese migrants), which, in the early 1990s, made up more than 50 percent of the total population, are evident in their language, religion, social organization, and physical appearance. All of these features, however, have been modified in the Nepalese environment. These groups--several castes of Brahmans, the high-ranking Thakuri and Chhetri (the Nepalese derivative of the Kshatriya) castes, and an untouchable category--generally are classified as Pahari, or Parbate. However, in most parts of Nepal (except in the Tarai), the term pahari has only a limited use in that the Paharis generally are known by their individual caste names.

Nepali, the native tongue of the Paharis and the national language of Nepal, is closely related to, but by no means identical with, Hindi. Both are rooted in Sanskrit. The Hinduism of the Pahari has been influenced by Buddhism and indigenous folk belief. The Paharis' caste system was neither as elaborately graded nor as all embracing in its sanctions as that of the Indians; physically, many of the Paharis showed the results of racial intermixture with the various Mongoloid groups of the region. Similarly, the Bhote or Bhotia groups inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas--among whom the Sherpas have attracted the most attention in the mountaineering world--have developed regional distinctions among themselves, although clearly related physically as well as culturally to the Tibetans. The term Bhote literally means inhabitant of Bhot, a Sanskrit term for the trans-Himalayan region of Nepal, or the Tibetan region. However, Bhote is also a generic term, often applied to people of Tibetan culture or Mongoloid phenotype. As used by the Paharis and the Newars, it often had a pejorative connotation and could be applied to any non-Hindu of Mongoloid appearance.

An extraordinarily complex terrain also affected the geographic distribution and interaction among various ethnic groups. Within the general latitudinal sorting of Indo-Nepalese (lower hills) and Tibeto-Nepalese (higher hills and mountains) groups, there was a lateral (longitudinal) pattern, in which various ethnic populations were concentrated in specific geographic pockets. The deeply cut valleys and high ridges tended to divide ethnic groups into many small, relatively isolated, and more or less self- contained communities. This pattern was especially prominent among the Tibeto-Nepalese population. For example, the Bhote group was found in the far north, trans-Himalayan section of the Mountain Region, close to the Tibetan border. The Sherpas, a subgroup within the Bhote, were concentrated in the northeast, around the Mount Everest area. To the south of their areas were other Tibeto- Nepalese ethnic groups--the Gurung in the west-central hills and the Tamang and Rai in the east-central hills--particularly close to and east of the Kathmandu Valley. The Magar group, found largely in the central hills, was much more widely distributed than the Gurung, Tamang, and Rai. In the areas occupied by the Limbu and Rai peoples, the Limbu domain was located farther east in the hills, just beyond the Rai zone. The Tharu group was found in the Tarai, and the Paharis were scattered throughout Nepal. Newars largely were concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley. However, because of their past migration as traders and merchants, they also were found in virtually all the market centers, especially in the hills, and as far away as Lhasa in Tibet.

This geographically concentrated ethnic distribution pattern generally remained in effect in the early 1990s, despite a trend toward increasing spatial mobility and relocating ethnic populations. For example, a large number of Bhotes (also called Mananges from the Manang District) in the central section of the Mountain Region, Tamangs, and Sherpas have moved to the Kathmandu Valley. Similarly, Thakalis from the Mustang District adjacent to Manang have moved to Pokhara, a major urban center in the hills about 160 kilometers west of Kathmandu, and to Butawal and Siddhartha Nagar, two important urban areas in the central part of the Tarai, directly south of Pokhara. Gurungs, Magars, and Rais also have become increasingly dispersed.

Most of the Indo-Nepalese peoples--both Paharis and Tarai dwellers (commonly known among the Paharis as madhesis, meaning midlanders)--were primarily agriculturalists, although a majority of them also relied on other activities to produce supplementary income. They generally raised some farm animals, particularly water buffalo, cows, goats, and sheep, for domestic purposes. The Paharis traditionally have occupied the vast majority of civil service positions. As a result, they have managed to dominate and to control Nepal's bureaucracy to their advantage. It was not until the 1980s that a prime minister came from the non- Pahari segment of the population. Despite some loosening of the total Pahari domination of the bureaucracy in recent years, a 1991 newspaper report, summarized in the Nepal Press Digest, revealed that 80 percent of the posts in the civil service, the army, and the police still were held by the Brahmans and Chhetris of the hills, who comprised less than 50 percent of the population; 13 percent were held by Kathmandu Valley Newars, whose share of the total population was merely 3 percent. The report added that even in 1991, the eleven-member Council of Ministers in 1991 had six Brahmans and three Newars. Furthermore, six of the nine-member Constitution Recommendation Commission, which drafted the new constitution in 1990, were hill Brahmans. In spite of the increasing number of Newars holding government jobs, they traditionally were recognized as a commercial merchant and handicraft class. It was no exaggeration that they historically have been the prime agents of Nepalese culture and art. A significant number of them also were engaged in farming. In that sense, they can be described as agro-commercialists.

Most of the Tibeto-Nepalese groups traditionally could be considered agro-pastoralists. Because their physical environment offered only limited land and agricultural possibilities, the Tibeto-Nepalese groups who occupied the high mountainous areas, such as the Bhote and particularly the Sherpa, were almost forced to rely more on herding and pastoral activities than on crop farming. They also participated in seasonal trading activity to supplement their income and food supply. However, those peoples inhabiting the medium and low hills south of the high mountains-- particularly the Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Rai, and Limbu groups-- depended on farming and herding in relatively equal amounts because their environment was relatively more suitable for agriculture. Among these groups, the Gurung, Magar, and Rai historically have supplied the bulk of the famous Gurkha contingents to the British and Indian armies, although their ranks have been augmented from the Thakuri and Chhetri castes of the Indo-Nepalese Paharis. The term Gurkha was derived from the name of the former principality of Gorkha, about seventy kilometers west of Kathmandu, and was not an ethnic designation.

The Caste System

One integral aspect of Nepalese society is the existence of the Hindu caste system, modeled after the ancient and orthodox Brahmanic system of the Indian plains. The caste system did not exist prior to the arrival of Indo-Aryans. Its establishment became the basis of the emergence of the feudalistic economic structure of Nepal: the high-caste Hindus began to appropriate lands-- particularly lowlands that were more easily accessible, more cultivatable, and more productive--including those belonging to the existing tribal people, and introduced the system of individual ownership. Even though the cultural and religious rigidity of the caste system slowly has been eroding, its introduction into Nepal was one of the most significant influences stemming from the migration of the Indo-Aryan people into the hills. The migrants from the north later were incorporated into the Hindu caste system, as defined by Indo-Aryan migrants, who quickly controlled the positions of power and authority. Tibetan migrants did not practice private ownership; their system was based on communal ownership.

No single, widely acceptable definition can be advanced for the caste system. Bishop and others, however, view caste as a multifaceted status hierarchy composed of all members of society, with each individual ranked within the broad, fourfold Hindu class (varna, or color) divisions, or within the fifth class of untouchables--outcastes and the socially polluted. The fourfold caste divisions are Brahman (priests and scholars), Kshatriya or Chhetri (rulers and warriors), Vaisya (or Vaisaya, merchants and traders), and Sudra (farmers, artisans, and laborers). These Pahari caste divisions based on the Hindu system are not strictly upheld by the Newars. They have their own caste hierarchy, which, they claim, is parallel in caste divisions to the Pahari Hindu system. In each system, each caste (jati) is ideally an endogamous group in which membership is both hereditary and permanent. The only way to change caste status is to undergo Sanskritization. Sanskritization can be achieved by migrating to a new area and by changing one's caste status and/or marrying across the caste line, which can lead to the upgrading or downgrading of caste, depending on the spouse's caste. However, given the rigidity of the caste system, intercaste marriage carries a social stigma, especially when it takes place between two castes at the extreme ends of the social spectrum.

As Bishop further asserts, at the core of the caste structure is a rank order of values bound up in concepts of ritual status, purity, and pollution. Furthermore, caste determines an individual's behavior, obligations, and expectations. All the social, economic, religious, legal, and political activities of a caste society are prescribed by sanctions that determine and limit access to land, position of political power, and command of human labor. Within such a constrictive system, wealth, political power, high rank, and privilege converge; hereditary occupational specialization is a common feature. Nevertheless, caste is functionally significant only when viewed in a regional or local context and at a particular time. The assumed correlation between the caste hierarchy and the socioeconomic class hierarchy does not always hold. Because of numerous institutional changes over the years and increased dilution (or expansion) of the caste hierarchy stemming from intercaste marriages, many poor high-caste and rich low-caste households could be found in the society in 1991.

Although Paharis, especially those in rural areas, were generally quite conscious of their caste status, the question of caste did not usually arise for Tibeto-Nepalese communities unless they were aware of the Hindu caste status arbitrarily assigned to them. Insofar as they accepted caste-based notions of social rank, the Tibeto-Nepalese tended not only to see themselves at a higher level than did the Hindu Pahari and Newar, but also differed as to ranking among themselves. Thus, it was doubtful that the reported Rai caste's assumption of rank superiority over the Magar and Gurung castes was accepted by the two latter groups. Moreover, the status of a particular group was apt to vary from place to place, depending on its relative demographic size, wealth, and local power.


Even though Nepali (written in Devanagari script, the same as Sanskrit and Hindi) was the national language and was mentioned as the mother tongue by approximately 58 percent of the population, there were several other languages and dialects. Other languages included Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang, Newari, and Abadhi. Non-Nepali languages and dialects rarely were spoken outside their ethnic enclaves. In order to estimate the numerical distribution of different ethnic groups, the census data indicating various mother tongues spoken in the country must be used.

In terms of linguistic roots, Nepali, Maithili, and Bhojpuri belonged to the Indo-European family; the mother tongues of the Tibeto-Nepalese groups, including Newari, belonged predominantly to the Tibeto-Burman family. The Pahari, whose mother tongue was Nepali, was the largest ethnic group. If the Maithili- and Bhojpuri-speaking populations of the Tarai were included, more than 75 percent of the population belonged to the Indo-Nepalese ethnic group. Only three other ethnic groups--the Tamang, the Tharu, and the Newar--approached or slightly exceeded the one-half million population mark. Most of those non-Nepali linguistic and ethnic population groups were closely knit by bonds of nationalism and cultural harmony, and they were concentrated in certain areas.





In the mid-twentieth century, Nepal remained gripped in a feudalistic socioeconomic structure despite the influence of Western popular culture, growing commercialization, and some penetration of capitalism. The first challenge to this feudalistic power structure came in 1950-51, when the Rana autocracy was overthrown by the popular democratic movement that restored the authority of the monarchy.

There was no popularly elected government until 1959. During his reign, King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev frequently changed the government, pitting one ruling clan against another in a manner clearly reminiscent of Shah politics prior to the rise of Rana rule. He also reconstituted the system of palace patronage, replacing the system of Rana patronage. The Ranas, however, firmly controlled the armed forces.

In December 1960, King Mahendra launched a palace coup against the popularly elected government of Prime Minister Bishweshwar Prasad (B.P.) Koirala and reestablished his absolute monarchical rule under the banner of the partyless panchayat system. Until early 1990, the panchayat system, strictly controlled by the palace, remained firmly in place. The transition to a new social order was stymied; society remained entrenched in a feudalistic structure.

There was, however, a tide of Western popular culture and commercialization sweeping over Nepal. In the 1960s and 1970s, many Westerners, so-called hippies, were attracted to Nepal, looking for inexpensive marijuana and hashish. Nepal suddenly emerged as a "hippie Shangri-la." There were no laws or legal restrictions on the sale and purchase of such drugs, and they could be used openly. In fact, some Westerners thought the Nepalese were generally happy and content because they were always high. Although this view was a distortion, nonetheless it was very common to see elderly Nepalese men smoking marijuana, invariably mixed with tobacco, in public. Marijuana plants grew almost everywhere; sometimes they were found growing even along main streets. Locally produced hashish also was widely consumed, particularly during festivals celebrated by some ethnic groups and tribes. It was, however, very unusual for a Nepalese to develop a marijuana or hashish habit until reaching about forty years of age.

By the late 1980s, the situation had changed dramatically. There was an emerging drug subculture in the urban areas, and a number of youths, including college and high school students, sold and consumed drugs. Many of these youths had gone beyond using marijuana and hashish to more potent drugs, such as "crack" and cocaine--drugs unheard of in the past. In the 1960s, Westerners had sought release from the overbearing materialism of developed countries; they copied the Nepalese (and other Easterners) who smoked marijuana and hashish. Ironically, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was Nepalese youths who were enchanted by the North American material and drug culture. There were an estimated 20,000 heroin addicts in 1989. In response to the drug situation in the country, in the late 1980s the government initiated antinarcotics measures and narcotics training, and King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev directed extensive media attention to narcotics abuse. The effectiveness of the battle against narcotics, however, was limited by the lack of an official government body to target drug abuse.

Rural Society and Kinship

Nepal in the early 1990s was predominantly a rural-agricultural society, where more than 90 percent of the people lived in rural areas and depended on farming as a source of livelihood. Even in settlements designated as urban areas, the rural-urban distinction easily was blurred; approximately 50 percent of urbanites outside the three cities in the Kathmandu Valley were engaged in farming for their livelihood. Even in the Kathmandu Valley cities, 30 to 40 percent of city dwellers were agriculturalists. In this sense, most urban areas were economic extensions of rural areas, but with an urban manifestation and a commercial component. Farming was the dominant order of society and the mainstay of the economy, a situation that was unlikely to change, given the extremely sluggish pace of economic transformation.

The basic social unit in a village was the family, or paribar, consisting of a patrilineally extended household. The extended family system should not, however, be construed as a necessarily harmonious form of village life. Many extended families broke apart as sons separated from parents and brothers from each other. At the time of separation, the family property was equally divided among the sons. If parents were alive, they each received a share. Family separation generally occurred in cases where the head of the household was less assertive and domineering, when the father died, or when all the sons married. Unmarried sons normally did not separate from their parents; if the parents were deceased, unmarried sons usually stayed with their older brothers. Because family separation always resulted in a division of family landholdings, landholdings were extremely fragmented, both geographically and socially. Sometimes, family separation and resulting land fragmentation turned into a bitter feud and led to legal disputes.

Beyond the immediate family, there existed a larger kinship network that occasionally involved sharing food. This network also was an important means of meeting farm labor needs, especially during the planting and harvesting seasons, when labor shortages were common.

Above the kinship network was the village, which functioned as a broader unit of social existence. Some villages were no more than hamlets made up of just a few houses; others were sizable communities of several neighboring hamlets. In more populous villages, the caste groups contained occupational low (untouchable) caste groups, such as the Kami (ironsmiths who make tools), the Sarki (leathersmiths), and the Damai (tailors and musicians), who fulfilled the vital basic needs of the village as a fairly selfcontained production unit.

Villagers occasionally pooled their resources and labored together to implement village-level projects, such as building irrigation ditches or channels, or facilities for drinking water. If a household could afford to hire farm labor, it usually relied on the mutual labor-sharing system called parma, which allowed villagers to exchange labor for labor at times of need.

Although farming traditionally ranked among the most desirable occupations, villagers frequently encouraged some of their children to leave in search of civil service, army, and other employment opportunities. Individual migration was often the result of a family decision and an important economic strategy; it not only served as a safety valve for growing population pressures but also generated cash incomes, thereby averting any undue economic crises in the family. Well-to-do village families usually pushed their children to obtain civil service jobs as a means of climbing the bureaucratic ladder and of developing valuable connections with the elite political structure.

Farming was the most important source of livelihood in rural areas, but the scarcity of land placed severe constraints on agricultural development. Landholding was the most important basis for, or criterion of, socioeconomic stratification. The 1981 agricultural census data identifies five classes of peasantry: landless and nearly landless, people with no land or less than half a hectare; subsistence, those with half a hectare to one hectare; small, holders of one to three hectares; medium, people with three to five hectares; and large, farmers of more than five hectares.

In terms of production relations, the first two classes were dependent on large landowners for survival. Small landowners, on the other hand, were relatively independent; they did not have to depend on the large landowning class for survival, especially if they were involved in circular migration as a source of supplementary cash income. Nor did they regularly employ members of the first two classes. Landowners of medium-sized plots were independent of large landowners. Their engagement in wage laboring or tenancy farming was sporadic, if present at all. In some cases, they employed others during peak farming seasons. The large landowning class regularly employed farm workers and benefited from the existence of excess labor, which kept wages low. In general, the situation of landholders was exacerbated by the archaic nature of farming technology and the absence of other resources. It was not surprising that rural poverty was widespread.

Women's Status and Role in Society

The United Nations has defined the status of women in the context of their access to knowledge, economic resources, and political power, as well as their personal autonomy in the process of decision making. When Nepalese women's status is analyzed in this light, the picture is generally bleak. In the early 1990s, Nepal was a rigidly patriarchical society. In virtually every aspect of life, women were generally subordinate to men.

Women's relative status, however, varied from one ethnic group to another. The status of women in Tibeto-Nepalese communities generally, was relatively better than that of Pahari and Newari women. Women from the low caste groups also enjoyed relatively more autonomy and freedom than Pahari and Newari women.

The senior female member played a commanding role within the family by controlling resources, making crucial planting and harvesting decisions, and determining the expenses and budget allocations. Yet women's lives remained centered on their traditional roles--taking care of most household chores, fetching water and animal fodder, and doing farm work. Their standing in society was mostly contingent on their husbands' and parents' social and economic positions. They had limited access to markets, productive services, education, health care, and local government. Malnutrition and poverty hit women hardest. Female children usually were given less food than male children, especially when the family experienced food shortages. Women usually worked harder and longer than men. By contrast, women from high-class families had maids to take care of most household chores and other menial work and thus worked far less than men or women in lower socioeconomic groups.

The economic contribution of women was substantial, but largely unnoticed because their traditional role was taken for granted. When employed, their wages normally were 25 percent less than those paid to men. In most rural areas, their employment outside the household generally was limited to planting, weeding, and harvesting. In urban areas, they were employed in domestic and traditional jobs, as well as in the government sector, mostly in low-level positions.

One tangible measure of women's status was their educational attainment. Although the constitution offers women equal educational opportunities, many social, economic, and cultural factors contributed to lower enrollment and higher dropout rates for girls. Illiteracy imposed the greatest hindrance to enhancing equal opportunity and status for women. They were caught in a vicious circle imposed by the patriarchical society. Their lower status hindered their education, and the lack of education, in turn, constricted their status and position. Although the female literacy rate has improved noticeably over the years, the level in the early 1990s fell far short of the male level.

The level of educational attainment among female children of wealthy and educated families was much higher than that among female children of poor families. This class disparity in educational attainment was also true for boys. In Nepal, as in many societies, education was heavily class-biased.

In the early 1990s, a direct correlation existed between the level of education and status. Educated women had access to relatively high-status positions in the government and private service sectors, and they had a much higher status than uneducated women. This general rule was more applicable at the societal level than at the household level. Within the family, an educated woman did not necessarily hold a higher status than her uneducated counterpart. Also within the family, a woman's status, especially a daughter-in-law's status, was more closely tied to her husband's authority and to her parental family's wealth and status than anything else.

Social Classes and Stratification

In terms of differences in wealth and access to political power, Nepalese society could be divided into a small ruling elite; a growing, intermediate-sized group of government officials, large landholders, and merchants; and the vast majority of the population, consisting of a peasant base. These divisions are descriptive, functional class categories rather than social class entities based on the Marxian concept of the social relations of production. In a way, all three classes were a long continuum in Nepal's social structure because most members of the ruling elite and government functionaries had their direct roots in the rural landed class, which was one stratum of the farming population.

Even though the agricultural sector as a whole faced similar economic and technological circumstances, it was diverse and contained several strata in landholding, relative economic dependence, and independence. The numerically small intermediate stratum of the farmers was only slightly less diverse than the rest of the rural population in terms of members' ethnic and geographical backgrounds. The relative economic and educational advantages of this group and its occupational activities, however, made its members relatively homogeneous in terms of shared interest. They generally aspired to achieve a middle- or elite-class status.

The smallest and least diverse of the three categories was the ruling elite, largely composed of high-caste, educated Paharis, namely different strata of Brahmans and Chhetris. At the zenith of this class was the monarch, whose authority was derived from the orthodox Hindu contention that the king was the reincarnation of Vishnu, whose assigned role in the Hindu trinity is protection. The monarch's authority was not based on electoral support.

The continued expansion of the bureaucracy was a direct response to a consistent increase in the educated population. Because of the lack of development, a large number of educated people failed to find gainful employment upon graduation. Because they constituted the most potent revolutionary force, and happened to be geographically concentrated in urban centers, the ruling class was almost compelled to absorb them into an already bloated bureaucracy in order to neutralize any sociopolitical disturbance they might cause.

In the 1980s, a significant number of college- and universityeducated people residing in Kathmandu Valley cities discovered a second employment outlet. Development consultant firms and associated services have emerged throughout Kathmandu. Because of the growing pressure on foreign donors to hire Nepalese consultants for development feasibility and evaluation projects, these firms were able to tap into the large pool of foreign aid money and have generated a significant number of jobs. This opportunity has allowed many of the more educated to attain middle class status.




Religion and Society

Religion occupies an integral position in Nepalese life and society. In the early 1990s, Nepal was the only constitutionally declared Hindu state in the world; there was, however, a great deal of intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Many of the people regarded as Hindus in the 1981 census could, with as much justification, be called Buddhists. The fact that Hindus worshipped at Buddhist temples and Buddhists worshipped at Hindu temples has been one of the principal reasons adherents of the two dominant groups in Nepal have never engaged in any overt religious conflicts. Because of such dual faith practices (or mutual respect), the differences between Hindus and Buddhists have been in general very subtle and academic in nature. However, in 1991, approximately 89.5 percent of the Nepalese people identified themselves as Hindus. Buddhists and Muslims comprised only 5.3 and 2.7 percent, respectively. The remainder followed other religions, including Christianity.

The geographical distribution of religious groups revealed a preponderance of Hindus, accounting for at least 87 percent of the population in every region. The largest concentrations of Buddhists were found in the eastern hills, the Kathmandu Valley, and the central Tarai; in each area about 10 percent of the people were Buddhist. Buddhism was relatively more common among the Newar and Tibeto-Nepalese groups. Among the Tibeto-Nepalese, those most influenced by Hinduism were the Magar, Sunwar, and Rai peoples. Hindu influence was less prominent among the Gurung, Limbu, Bhote, and Thakali groups, who continued to employ Buddhist monks for their religious ceremonies.


Hinduism generally is regarded as the oldest formal religion in the world. The origins of Hinduism go back to the pastoral Aryan tribes, spilling over the Hindu Kush from Inner Asia, and mixing with the urban civilization of the Indus Valley and with the tribal cultures of hunting and gathering peoples in the area. Unlike other world religions, Hinduism had no single founder and has never been missionary in orientation. It is believed that about 1200 B.C., or even earlier by some accounts, the Vedas, a body of hymns originating in northern India were produced; these texts form the theological and philosophical precepts of Hinduism.

Hindus believe that the absolute (the totality of existence, including God, man, and universe) is too vast to be contained within a single set of beliefs. A highly diverse and complex religion, Hinduism embraces six philosophical doctrines (darshanas). From these doctrines, individuals select one that is congenial, or conduct their worship simply on a convenient level of morality and observance. Religious practices differ from group to group. The average Hindu does not need any systematic formal creed in order to practice his or her religion Hindus only to comply with the customs of their family and social groups.

One basic concept in Hinduism is that of dharma, natural law and the social and religious obligations it imposes. It holds that individuals should play their proper role in society as determined or prescribed by their dharma. The caste system, although not essential to philosophical Hinduism, has become an integral part of its social or dharmic expression. Under this system, each person is born into a particular caste, whose traditional occupation-- although members do not necessarily practice it--is graded according to the degree of purity and impurity inherent in it.

Other fundamental ideas common to all Hindus concern the nature and destiny of the soul, and the basic forces of the universe. The souls of human beings are seen as separated portions of an allembracing world soul (brahma); man's ultimate goal is reunion with this absolute.

Karma (universal justice) is the belief that the consequence of every good or bad action must be fully realized. Another basic concept is that of samsara, the transmigration of souls; rebirth is required by karma in order that the consequences of action be fulfilled. The role an individual must play throughout his or her life is fixed by his or her good and evil actions in previous existences. It is only when the individual soul sees beyond the veil of maya (illusion or earthly desires)--the forces leading to belief in the appearances of things--that it is able to realize its identity with the impersonal, transcendental reality (world soul) and to escape from the otherwise endless cycle of rebirth to be absorbed into the world soul. This release is known as moksha.

Veneration for the cow has come to be intimately associated with all orthodox Hindu sects. Because the cow is regarded as the symbol of motherhood and fruitfulness, the killing of a cow, even accidentally, is regarded as one of the most serious of religious transgressions.

Hinduism is polytheistic. It incorporates many gods and goddesses with different functions and powers; but in the most important and widely held doctrine, the Vedanta (end of the Vedas), gods and goddesses are considered merely different manifestations or aspects of a single underlying divinity. This single divinity is expressed as a Hindu triad comprising the religion's three major gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, personifying creation, preservation, and destruction, respectively. Vishnu and Shiva, or some of their numerous avatars (incarnations), are most widely followed.

Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is regarded as the ninth avatar of Vishnu. Some Hindus identify Christ as the tenth avatar; others regard Kalki as the final avatar who is yet to come. These avatars are believed to descend upon earth to restore peace, order, and justice, or to save humanity from injustice. The Mahabharata (compiled by the sage Vyasa, probably before A.D. 400), describes the great civil war between the Pandavas (the good) and the Kauravas (the bad)--two factions of the same clan. It is believed that the war was created by Krishna. Perhaps the flashiest and craftiest avatar of Vishnu, Krishna, as a part of his lila (sport or act), is believed motivated to restore justice--the good over the bad.


Buddhism had its origin in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a Kshatriya caste prince of the Sakya clan; he was born in Lumbini, in the central Tarai Region, about 563 B.C. His father was the ruler of a minor principality in the region. Born a Hindu and educated in the Hindu tradition, Siddhartha Gautama renounced worldly life at about the age of twenty-nine and spent the next six years in meditation. At the end of this time, he attained enlightenment; thereafter, known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One, he devoted the remainder of his life to preaching his doctrine.

The Buddha accepted or reinterpreted the basic concepts of Hinduism, such as karma, samsara, dharma, and moksha, but he generally refused to commit himself to specific metaphysical theories. He said they were essentially irrelevant to his teachings and could only distract attention from them. He was interested in restoring a concern with morality to religious life, which he believed had become stifled in details of ritual, external observances, and legalisms.

The Four Noble Truths summarize the Buddha's analysis of the human situation and the solution he found for the problems of life. The first truth is that life, in a world of unceasing change, is inherently imperfect and sorrowful, and that misery is not merely a result of occasional frustration of desire or misfortune, but is a quality permeating all experience. The second truth is that the cause of sorrow is desire, the emotional involvement with existence that led from rebirth to rebirth through the operation of karma. The third truth is that the sorrow can be ended by eliminating desire. The fourth truth sets forth the Eightfold Path leading to elimination of desire, rebirth, and sorrow, and to the attainment of nirvana or nibbana, a state of bliss and selfless enlightment. It rejoins right or perfect understanding, aspiration, speech, action, livelihood, effort, thought, and contemplation.




Education under Rana Rule

The Rana rulers, who placed Nepal under their feudal yoke for about 100 years until the beginning of the 1950s, feared an educated public. This fear also was held by Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana, who established Tri-Chandra College in 1918 and named it after himself. During the inauguration of the college, Chandra Shamsher lamented that its opening was the ultimate death knell to Rana rule. He personally felt responsible for the downfall of Rana rule, and his words became prophetic for the crumbling of Rana political power in 1950-51.

The privileged access of members of the higher castes and wealthier economic strata to education was for centuries a distinguishing feature of society. The Ranas kept education the exclusive prerogative of the ruling elite; the rest of the population remained largely illiterate. The Ranas were opposed to any form of public schooling for the people, although they emphasized formal instruction for their own children to prepare them for a place in the government.

The founder of the Rana regime, Jang Bahadur Kunwar, later known as Jang Bahadur Rana, decided to give his children an English education rather than the traditional religiously oriented training. In 1854 Jang Bahadur engaged an English tutor to hold classes for his children in the Rana palace. This act tipped the balance in favor of English education and established its supremacy over the traditional type of Sanskrit-based education. In 1991 English education still carried a higher status and prestige than did traditional education.

Jang Bahadur's successor opened these classes to all Rana children and formally organized them into Durbar High School. A brief shift in government education policy came in 1901, when Prime Minister Dev Shamsher Rana took office and called for sweeping education reforms. He proposed a system of universal public primary education, using Nepali as the language of instruction, and opening Durbar High School to children who were not members of the Rana clan. Dev Shamsher's policies were so unpopular that he was deposed within a few months. His call for reforms did not entirely disappear, however. A few Nepali-language primary schools in the Kathmandu Valley, the Hill Region, and the Tarai remained open, and the practice of admitting a few middle- and low-caste children to Durbar High School continued.

Before World War II (1939-45), several new English middle and high schools were founded in Patan, Biratnagar, and elsewhere, and a girls' high school was opened in Kathmandu. In the villages, public respect for education was increasing, largely as a result of the influence of returning Gurkha soldiers, many of whom had learned to read and write while serving in the British army. Some retired soldiers began giving rudimentary education to children in their villages. Some members of the high-caste, elite families sent their children to Patna University, Banaras Hindu University, or other universities in India for higher academic or technical training. It was in fact, some of these students, having realized how oppressive the policies of Rana rule were, who initiated antiRana movements, provided revolutionary cadres, and finally began the revolution that ultimately led to the overthrow of Rana rule in 1951.

Before the 1950-51 revolution, Nepal had 310 primary and middle schools, eleven high schools, two colleges, one normal school, and one special technical school. In the early 1950s, the average literacy rate was 5 percent. Literacy among males was 10 percent and among females less than 1 percent. Only 1 child in 100 attended school.

Education since 1951

After the 1951 revolution, efforts were made to establish an education system. The National Education Planning Commission was founded in 1954, the All Round National Education Committee in 1961, and the National Education Advisory Board in 1968 in order to implement and to refine the education system. In 1971 the New Education System came into operation as an integral part of the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1970-75); it was designed to address individual, as well as societal, needs in concert with the goals of national development.

Formal schooling in modern times was still constrained by the economy and culture. Children were generally needed to work in the fields and at home. Many students began school late (at ages nine or ten); more than half left school after completing only one year. Educating females was viewed as unnecessary; as a consequence, their enrollment levels were far lower than those of males. Regional variations often hindered the effectiveness of uniform text materials and teacher training. Although the government was relatively successful in establishing new schools, the quality of education remained low, particularly in remote regions where the majority of the population lived. Terrain further inhibited management and supervision of schools.

Most schools operated for ten months of the year, five and onehalf days a week. In the warmer regions, June and July were vacation months; in the northern regions, mid-December through midFebruary were vacation months. All schools in Kathmandu closed for winter vacation.

In 1975 primary education was made free, and the government became responsible for providing school facilities, teachers, and educational materials. Primary schooling was compulsory; it began at age six and lasted for five years. Secondary education began at age eleven and lasted another five years in two cycles--two years (lower) and three years (higher). Total school enrollment was approximately 52 percent of school-age children (approximately 70 percent of school-age boys, 30 percent of school-age girls) in 1984. Secondary school enrollment was only 18 percent of the relevant age-group (27 percent of the total boys, 9 percent of the total girls). About 72 percent of all students were male. The Ministry of Education supervised the finance, administration, staffing, and inspection of government schools. It also inspected private schools that received government subsidies.

As of 1987, Nepal had 12,491 primary schools, 3,824 lowersecondary schools, and 1,501 higher-secondary schools. There were 55,207 primary, 11,744 lower-secondary, and 8,918 higher-secondary school teachers. Primary school enrollments totaled 1,952,504 persons; lower-secondary and higher-secondary enrollment figures stood at 289,594 and 289,923 persons, respectively.

Curriculum was greatly influenced by United States models, and it was developed with assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. The National Education Plan established a framework for universal education. The goal of primary education was to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and to instill discipline and hygiene. Lower-secondary education emphasized character formation, a positive attitude toward manual labor, and perseverance. Higher-secondary education stressed manpower requirements and preparation for higher education. National development goals were emphasized through the curriculum.

The School Leaving Certificate examination, a nationally administered and monitored high-school-matriculation examination, was given after completion of the higher-secondary level. Those who passed this examination were eligible for college. In addition, some communities had adult education schools.

In the early 1980s, approximately 60 percent of the primary school teachers and 35 percent of secondary school teachers were untrained, despite the institution of a uniform method of training in 1951. The Institute of Education, part of Tribhuvan University, was responsible for inservice and preservice teacher training programs. Beginning in 1976, the institute organized a distancelearning program--electronic links between distant locations--for prospective teachers. Developments in telecommunications will provide new educational options.

At the higher education level, there was only one doctoral degree-granting institution in Nepal, Tribhuvan University. It was named after King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, the grandfather of King Birendra, and was chartered in 1959. All public colleges fell under Tribhuvan University. Private colleges were operated independently, although they also were required to meet the requirements and standards set by Tribhuvan University. The total number of colleges increased significantly, from 8 in 1958 to 132 in 1988 (69 under Tribhuvan University and 63 private colleges). In terms of subjects, these colleges covered a wide range of disciplines, such as social sciences; humanities; commerce (business); physical sciences, including some medical sciences; engineering; education; forestry; law; and Sanskrit. The number of students enrolled in higher education institutions totaled almost 83,000 in 1987; the largest percentage was in humanities and social sciences (40 percent), followed by commerce (31 percent), science and technology (11 percent), and education (6 percent). Approximately 20 percent of the students enrolled in Tribhuvan University were females.

The 1981 census found 24 percent of the population to be literate; as of 1990, the literacy rate was estimated to be 33 percent. There still was a big gap between male and female literacy rates. About 35 percent of the male population was literate in 1981, but only 11.5 percent of the female population was. A gulf also existed in literacy rates between rural and urban areas. In rural areas, the literacy rates for males and females were 33 percent and 9 percent, respectively; in urban areas, they were significantly higher, 62 percent and 37 percent, respectively. The higher literacy rates in urban areas were largely attributed to the availability of more and better educational opportunities, a greater awareness of the need for education for employment and socioeconomic mobility, and the exodus of educated people from rural to urban areas. Nepal launched a twelve-year literacy program in 1990, targeting 8 million people between the ages of six and forty-five.

There was little doubt among observers that the historical monopoly of educational opportunity by members of the wealthier and higher caste groups gradually was diminishing. Schools and colleges were open to all, and enrollment figures were rising rapidly. The long-standing prejudice against the education of women seemed to be very slowly breaking down, as attested to by increasing enrollments of girls in schools and colleges. Yet two distinct biases--social class and geography--remained pronounced in educational attainment.

Despite general accessibility, education still nonetheless primarily served children of landlords, businessmen, government leaders, or other elite members of the society, for they were the only ones who could easily afford to continue beyond primary school. They also were far more able to afford, and likely to continue, education beyond the high school level. Many students in the general population dropped out before they took the School Leaving Certificate examination. There was an even more important ingredient for success after leaving school: if the quality of available higher education was considered inadequate or inferior, higher caste families could afford to send their children overseas to obtain necessary degrees. Foreign educational degrees, especially those obtained from American and West European institutions, carried greater prestige than degrees from Nepal. Higher caste families also had the necessary connections to receive government scholorships to study abroad.

Further, education remained largely urban-biased. The majority of education institutions, particularly better quality institutions, were found in urban areas. In rural areas where schools were set up, the quality of instruction was inferior, facilities were very poor, and educational materials were either difficult to find or virtually unavailable. Consequently, if rural families were serious about the education of their children, they were forced to send them to urban areas, a very expensive proposition that the vast majority of rural households could not afford.

Although there has been a remarkable numerical growth in the literacy rates, as well as the number of education institutions over the years, the quality of education has not necessarily improved. There were few top-notch teachers and professors, and their morale was low. At the higher educational level, the research focus or tradition was virtually absent, largely because there were few research facilities available for professors. There were some excellent private schools, mostly located in the Kathmandu Valley, but many appeared to be merely money-making ventures rather than serious, devoted educational enterprises. The large majority of schools and colleges were run by poorly prepared and poorly trained teachers and professors. Schools and colleges frequently were closed because of strikes. Students had little respect for teachers and professors and were concerned with obtaining a certificate rather than a quality education. Cheating was rampant during examinations at all levels.


Nepal - HEALTH


Health-care problems were varied and enormous. Health and health-care facilities were generally poor and directly reflected the mode of life. The majority of people lived in mass poverty and deprivation, while the nation's small wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few. Deprivation was apparent in the pervasiveness of poor nutrition and sanitation, inadequate housing for most families, and the general absence of modern medical care and other social services, especially in rural areas. The rich lived comparatively well but also shared such common problems as the lack of an abundant and clean water supply, and the prevalence of disease.

Diseases and Disease Control

Poor health conditions were evident in the high rate of infant mortality and a short life expectancy. In the mid-1960s, a national health survey was conducted. In 1991 that survey was still considered the major comprehensive published source of information on the national public health situation.

A number of diseases and chronic infections were prevalent. Goiter, a disease directly associated with iodine deficiency, was endemic in certain villages in the hills and mountains. In most of the villages surveyed, more than half of the population had goiter, and in these same villages the incidence of deafness and mental retardation was much higher than in other villages. Leprosy also was a serious problem. Foreign assistance, specifically through Christian missions, was responsible for setting up leprosy treatment centers in different parts of the country. Tuberculosis has been a chronic problem and was more common in urban areas. During the 1970s, the Tuberculosis Control Project was established to provide immunizations to all children younger than fifteen, and it is likely that this project has reduced tuberculosis. Other chronic, widespread problems were intestinal parasites, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal disorders. Some polio and typhoid infections were common but not severe.

Malnutrition was a chronic problem, especially in rural areas. More than 50 percent of the children surveyed were reported to have stunted growth. "Wasting," defined as a condition in which a child has very low weight for his or her height, was also evident. These conditions were particularly bad in the Hill and Mountain regions, both of which suffered from food shortages. The country's public health program, however, has essentially eliminated smallpox and has been able to control malaria, which used to be endemic to the Tarai Region and other lowlands.

Health-Care Facilities

The health-care delivery network in Nepal was poorly developed. Health-care practices in the country could be classified into three major categories: popular folk medical care, which relied on a jhankri (medicine man or shaman); Ayurvedic treatment; and allopathic (modern) medicine. These practices were not necessarily exclusive; most people used all three, depending on the type of illness and the availability of services, sometimes even simultaneously.

Popular folk medicine derived from a large body of commonly held assumptions about magical and supernatural causes of illness. Sickness and death often were attributed to ghosts, demons, and evil spirits, or they were thought to result from the evil eye, planetary influences, or the displeasures of ancestors. Many precautions against these dangers were taken, including the wearing of charms or certain ornaments, the avoidance of certain foods and sights, and the propitiation of ghosts and gods with sacrificial gifts. When illness struck or an epidemic threatened, people went to see a jhankri for treatment. Such pseudomedical practices were ubiquitous; in many parts of Nepal, a jhankri was the only source of medical care available. Nepalese also regularly saw jotishi (Brahman astrologers) for counseling because they believed in planetary influence on their lives, resulting from disalignments of certain planetary signs. Jotishi were commonly relied on even in urban areas, and even by those who were well educated and frequently used modern medicine. And, virtually no arranged marital union was proposed and concluded without first consulting a jotishi.

The Ayurvedic system of medicine was believed to have evolved among the Hindus about 2,000 years ago. It originally was based on the Ayur-Veda (the Veda of Long Life), but a vast literature since has accumulated around this original text. According to the Ayurvedic theory, the body, like the universe, consists of three forces--phlegm, bile, and wind--and physical and spiritual wellbeing rests on maintaining the proper balance among these three internal forces. A harmonious existence between body and mind results. Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia--based on medicinal plants, plant roots, and herbs--remained a major source of medical treatment in Nepal. This school of medical practice also applies the hot-and- cold concept of foods and diets. In the late 1980s, there were nearly 280 practicing Ayurvedic physicians, popularly known as vaidhya, 145 Ayurvedic dispensaries, and a national college of Ayurvedic medicine in Kathmandu.

In 1991 the most commonly used form of medical treatment, especially for major health problems, was modern medicine whenever and wherever accessible. Within the domain of modern medicine, providing public health-care facilities was largely the responsibility of the government. Private facilities also existed in various regions. Modern medical service generally was provided by trained doctors, paramedics, nurses, and other community health workers. The government-operated health-care delivery system consisted of hospitals and health centers, including health posts in rural areas.

Hospitals were located mostly in urban areas and provided a much wider range of medical services than health centers. They were attended by doctors, as well as by nurses, and equipped with basic laboratory facilities. Small health centers and posts in rural areas--most of them staffed by paramedical personnel, health aides, and other minimally trained community health workers--served the needs of the scattered population. Even though these rural facilities were more accessible than urban hospitals, they generally failed to provide necessary services on a regular and consistent basis. The majority of them were barely functional because of such problems as inadequate funding; lack of trained staff; absenteeism; and chronic shortages of equipment, medicines, and vaccines.

Nepal had a total of 123 hospitals, eighteen health centers, and 816 health posts in 1990. There was one hospital bed for every 4,283 persons, an improvement since 1977, when there was one hospital bed for every 6,489 persons. The number of doctors totaled 879 in 1988, or one physician available for about 20,000 people. For the same period, other medical personnel included 601 nurses, 2,062 assistant nurses and midwives, 2,790 senior and assistant auxiliary health workers and health assistants, and 6,808 villagebased health workers.

There was no doubt in the late 1980s that considerable progress had been made in health care, but the available facilities were still inadequate to meet the growing medical needs of the population. The majority of people lacked easy access to modern medical centers, partly because of the absence of such facilities in nearby locations and partly because of the physical barrier posed by the country's rugged terrain. Because there were very few modern means of transportation in rural areas, particularly in the hills and mountains, people had to walk on average about half a day to get to health posts. Such a long walk was not only difficult (especially when the patient needed medical attention), but also meant economic hardship for the majority who rarely could afford to be absent for the whole day from their daily work. As a result, many minor illnesses went untreated, and some of them later developed into major illnesses.

In the early 1990s, Nepal's geographical limitations continued to play a large part in the country's social and economic problems. Moreover, despite twenty-five years of family planning programs, the population growth rate continued to outpace agricultural production and parts of the country continued to be food deficit areas. The educational base was also limited; only one-third of the population was literate. The generally poor health of the population and a lack of adequate health-care facilities also hindered social and economic improvements.


Nepal - The Economy


NEPAL IS ONE OF THE POOREST COUNTRIES in the world and was listed as the eleventh poorest among 121 countries in 1989. Estimates of its per capita income for 1988 ranged from US$158 to US$180. Various factors contributed to the economic underdevelopment--including terrain, lack of resource endowment, landlocked position, lack of institutions for modernization, weak infrastructure, and a lack of policies conducive to development.

Until 1951 Nepal had very little contact with countries other than India, Tibet, and Britain. Movement of goods or people from one part of the country to another usually required passage through India, making Nepal dependent on trade with or via India. The mountains to the north and the lack of economic growth in Tibet (China's Xizang Autonomous Region after 1959) meant very little trade was possible with Nepal's northern neighbor.

Prior to 1951, there were few all-weather roads, and the transportation of goods was difficult. Goods were able to reach Kathmandu by railroad, trucks, and ropeways, but for other parts of the country such facilities remained almost non-existent. This lack of infrastructure made it hard to expand markets and pursue economic growth. Since 1951 Nepal has tried to expand its contacts with other countries and to improve its infrastructure, although the lack of significant progress was still evident in the early 1990s.

The effects of being landlocked and of having to transit goods through India continued to be reflected in the early 1990s. As a result of the lapse of the trade and transit treaties with India in March 1989, Nepal faced shortages of certain consumer goods, raw materials, and other industrial inputs, a situation that led to a decline in industrial production.





Nepal's economy is irrevocably tied to India. Nepal's geographical position and the scarcity of natural resources used in the production of industrial goods meant that its economy was subject to fluctuations resulting from changes in its relationship with India. Trade and transit rights affected the movement of goods and increased transportation costs, although Nepal also engaged in unrecorded border trade with India. Real economic growth averaged 4 percent annually in the 1980s, but the 1989 trade and transit dispute with India adversely affected economic progress, and economic growth declined to only 1.5 percent that year as the availability of imported raw materials for export industries was disrupted.

The Nepalese rupee was linked to the Indian rupee. Since the late 1960s, the universal currency has been Nepalese, although as of 1991 Indian currency still was used as convertible currency. During the trade and transit dispute of 1989, however, Kathmandu made convertibility of the Indian rupee more difficult.

Agricultural domination of the economy had not changed by 1991. What little industrial activity there was largely involved the processing of agricultural products. Since the 1960s, investment in the agricultural sector has not had a parallel effect in productivity per unit of land. Agricultural production continued to be influenced by weather conditions and the lack of arable land and has not always kept pace with population growth.

Nepal suffered from an underdeveloped infrastructure. This problem was exacerbated by a weak public investment program and ineffective administrative services. Economic development plans sought to improve the infrastructure but were implemented at the expense of investment in direct production and resulted in a slow growth rate. Further, economic growth did not keep pace with population growth. Largely dependent on agriculture, economic growth also was undermined by poor harvests. The growth of public expenditures during the first half of the 1980s doubled the current account deficit of the balance of payments and caused a serious decline in international reserves.




Government participation (or interference) in the economy was very strong, beginning with the Rana period, which lasted from the mid-nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century. During Rana rule, there were very few industries other than cottage type, and they were under strict government supervision. After the fall of the Ranas in 1950-51, economic planning as an approach to development was discussed. Finally, in 1956 the First Five-Year Plan (1956-61) was announced.

The Five-Year Plans

Economic plans generally strove to increase output and employment; develop the infrastructure; attain economic stability; promote industry, commerce, and international trade; establish administrative and public service institutions to support economic development; and introduce labor-intensive production techniques to alleviate underemployment. The social goals of the plans were improving health and education as well as encouraging equitable income distribution. Although each plan had different development priorities, the allocation of resources did not always reflect these priorities. The first four plans concentrated on infrastructure--to make it possible to facilitate the movement of goods and services--and to increase the size of the market. Each of the five-year plans depended heavily on foreign assistance in the forms of grants and loans.

The First Five-Year Plan (1956-61) allocated about Rs576 million for development expenditures. Transportation and communications received top priority with over 36 percent of the budget allocations. Agriculture, including village development and irrigation, took second priority with about 20 percent of budget expenditures. The plan, which also focused on collecting statistics, was not well conceived, however, and resulted in actual expenditures of about Rs382.9 million--two-thirds the budgeted amount. In most cases, targets were missed by a wide margin. For example, although approximately 1,450 kilometers of highways were targeted for construction, only about 565 kilometers were built.

After Parliament, which had been established under the 1959 constitution, was suspended in 1960, the Second Plan failed to materialize on schedule. A new plan was not introduced until 1962 and covered only three years, 1962-65. The Second Plan had expenditures of almost Rs615 million. Transportation and communication again received top priority with about 39 percent of budget expenditures. Industry, tourism, and social services were the second priority. Although targets again were missed, there were improvements in industrial production, road construction, telephone installations, irrigation, and education. However, only the organizational improvement area of the target was met.

The first two plans were developed with very little research and a minimal data base. Neither plan was detailed, and both contained only general terms. The administrative machinery with which to execute these plans also was inadequate. The National Planning Commission, which formulated the second plan, noted the difficulty of preparing plans in the absence of statistical data. Further, as was the case with the first plan, the bulk of the development budget depended on foreign aid--mostly in the form of grants. The failure of these plans was indicated by the government's inability to spend the budgeted amounts.

The Third Five-Year Plan (1965-70) increased the involvement of local panchayat. It also focused on transport, communications, and industrial and agricultural development. Total planned expenditures were more than Rs1.6 billion.

The Fourth Five-Year Plan (1970-75) increased proposed expenditures to more than Rs3.3 billion. Transportation and communications again were the top priority, receiving 41.2 percent of expenditures, followed by agriculture, which was allocated 26 percent of the budget. Although the third and fourth plans increased the involvement of the panchayat in the development process, the central government continued to carry most of the responsibilities.

The Fifth Five-Year Plan (1975-80) proposed expenditures of more than Rs8.8 billion. For the first time, the problem of poverty was addressed in a five-year plan, although no specific goals were mentioned. Top priority was given to agricultural development, and emphasis was placed on increasing food production and cash crops such as sugar cane and tobacco. Increased industrial production and social services also were targeted. Controlling population growth was considered a priority.

The Sixth Five-Year Plan (1980-85) proposed an outlay of more than Rs22 billion. Agriculture remained the top priority; increased social services were second. The budget share allocated to transportation and communication was less than that allocated in the previous plan; it was felt that the transportation network had reached a point where it was more beneficial to increase spending on agriculture and industry.

The Seventh Five-Year Plan (1985-90) proposed expenditures of Rs29 billion. It encouraged private sector participation in the economy (less than Rs22 billion) and local government participation (Rs2 billion). The plan targeted increasing productivity of all sectors, expanding opportunity for productive employment, and fulfilling the minimum basic needs of the people. For the first time since the plans were devised, specific goals were set for meeting basic needs. The availability of food, clothing, fuelwood, drinking water, primary health care, sanitation, primary and skillbased education, and minimum rural transport facilities was emphasized.

Because of the political upheavals in mid-1990, the new government postponed formulating the next plan. The July 1990 budget speech of the minister of finance, however, implied that for the interim, the goals of the seventh plan were being followed.

Foreign aid as a percentage of development averaged around 66 percent. The government continually failed to use all committed foreign aid, however, probably as a result of inefficiency. In the Rs26.6 billion budget presented in July 1991, approximately Rs11.8 billion, or 44.4 percent of the budget, was expected to be derived from foreign loans or grants.

Other Development Programs

The government launched the Structural Adjustment Program and the Basic Needs Program in 1985. These programs stressed selfreliance , financial discipline, and austerity as goals through the year 2000. The Structural Adjustment Program sought to confront some of the longer-term constraints to economic growth. Its measures included increasing domestic resource mobilization, reducing the growth of expenditures and domestic bank borrowings, and strengthening the commercial banking and public enterprise sectors.

The Structural Adjustment Program initiative focused on sustainable growth through balance in different sectors of the economy. Rural development in particular was targeted in order to raise the standard of living and increase agricultural production. Funds for education and health services, electricity and power, irrigation, and transportation and communications were provided. Government subsidies were supposed to be removed, new and improved standards of government efficiency were issued, and privatization of government enterprises was increased. Further, domestic resources were more fully used, and domestic bank borrowings and the growth of expenditures were decreased. The initial response to the Structural Adjustment Program was good, as gross domestic product (GDP), exports, and agriculture showed growth.

The objective of the Basic Needs Program was also to improve the standard of living by increasing food production, as well as to provide clothing, health services, and education. Six goals were to be achieved by the year 2000. Daily food consumption was to be raised to 2,250 calories per capita. Each person was to have the equivalent of eleven meters of clothing and a pair of shoes per year. Housing requirements were estimated at thirty square meters per urban household and at forty to sixty square meters per rural household. Essential utilities and sanitation were to be furnished by the government. Universal primary education for all children between five and ten years of age also was to be provided. The government was responsible for supplying teachers, classrooms, and educational materials, although villagers pitched in with labor and supplies to build schoolhouses. The population growth rate was targeted at 1.9 percent by 2000 (down from 2.6 percent in the 1980s), and life expectancy was to increase to 65 years of age by 2000 (up from almost 51 years in the late 1980s). The infant mortality rate was to be reduced to 45 deaths per 1,000 by the year 2000; World Bank figures placed infant mortality at 171 per 1,000 in 1965 and at 126 per 1,000 in 1988. Universal primary health services also were to be ensured, primarily by the government, improved social services provided to handicapped people, law and order maintained, and an environment conducive to development established.




Nepal's first commercial bank, the Nepal Bank Limited, was established in 1937. The government owned 51 percent of the shares in the bank and controlled its operations to a large extent. Nepal Bank Limited was headquartered in Kathmandu and had branches in other parts of the country.

There were other government banking institutions. Rastriya Banijya Bank (National Commercial Bank), a state-owned commercial bank, was established in 1966. The Land Reform Savings Corporation was established in 1966 to deal with finances related to land reforms.

There were two other specialized financial institutions. Nepal Industrial Development Corporation, a state-owned development finance organization headquartered in Kathmandu, was established in 1959 with United States assistance to offer financial and technical assistance to private industry. Although the government invested in the corporation, representatives from the private business sector also sat on the board of directors. The Co-operative Bank, which became the Agricultural Development Bank in 1967, was the main source of financing for small agribusinesses and cooperatives. Almost 75 percent of the bank was state-owned; 21 percent was owned by the Nepal Rastra Bank, and 5 percent by cooperatives and private individuals. The Agricultural Development Bank also served as the government's implementing agency for small farmers' group development projects assisted by the Asian Development Bank and financed by the United Nations Development Programme. The Ministry of Finance reported in 1990 that the Agricultural Development Bank, which is vested with the leading role in agricultural loan investment, had granted loans to only 9 percent of the total number of farming families since 1965.

Since the 1960s, both commercial and specialized banks have expanded. More businesses and households had better access to the credit market although the credit market had not expanded.

In the mid-1980s, three foreign commercial banks opened branches in Nepal. The Nepal Arab Bank was co-owned by the Emirates Bank International Limited (Dubai), the Nepalese government, and the Nepalese public. The Nepal Indosuez Bank was jointly owned by the French Banque Indosuez, Rastriya Banijya Bank, Rastriya Beema Sansthan (National Insurance Corporation), and the Nepalese public. Nepal Grindlays Bank was co-owned by a British firm called Grindlays Bank, local financial interests, and the Nepalese public.

Nepal Rastra Bank was created in 1956 as the central bank. Its function was to supervise commercial banks and to guide the basic monetary policy of the nation. Its major aims were to regulate the issue of paper money; secure countrywide circulation of Nepalese currency and achieve stability in its exchange rates; mobilize capital for economic development and for trade and industry growth; develop the banking system in the country, thereby ensuring the existence of banking facilities; and maintain the economic interests of the general public. Nepal Rastra Bank also was to oversee foreign exchange rates and foreign exchange reserves.

Prior to the establishment of Nepal Rastra Bank, Kathmandu had little control over its foreign currency holdings. Indian rupees were the prevalent medium of exchange in most parts of the country. Nepalese currency was used mostly in the Kathmandu Valley and the surrounding hill areas. The existence of a dual currency system made it hard for the government to know the status of Indian currency holdings in Nepal. The exchange rates between Indian and Nepalese rupees were determined in the marketplace. Between 1932 and 1955, the value of 100 Indian rupees varied between Rs71 and Rs177. The government entered the currency market with a form of fixed exchange rate between the two currencies in 1958. An act passed in 1960 sought to regulate foreign exchange transactions. Beginning in the 1960s, the government made special efforts to use Nepalese currency inside the country as a medium of exchange.

It was only after the signing of the 1960 Trade and Transit Treaty with India that Nepal had full access to foreign currencies other than the Indian rupee. Prior to the treaty, all foreign exchange earnings went to the Central Bank of India, and all foreign currency needs were provided by the Indian government. After 1960 Nepal had full access to all foreign currency transactions and directly controlled its exports and imports with countries other than India.

As a result of the treaty, the government had to separate Indian currency (convertible currency because of free convertibility) from other currencies (nonconvertible currency because it was directly controlled by Nepal Rastra Bank). In 1991 government statistics still separated trade with India from trade with other countries. Tables showing international reserves listed convertible and nonconvertible foreign exchange reserves separately.


Nepal - LABOR


Workers' rights and organized labor were in transition in mid1991 . During the late 1940s and early 1950s, some labor disputes led to strikes and lockouts and labor unions sprang up in various factories. In 1957 the government announced the Industrial Policy of Nepal, under which it undertook the responsibility of promoting, assisting, and regulating industries.

The Factories and Factory Workers' Act of 1959 established rules and regulations to govern labor-management relationships and working conditions in factories. The 1977 amended version of the act provided for a six-day, forty-eight-hour work week, thirty days annually for holidays and fifteen days annually for sick leave, and some health and safety standards and benefits. Implementation of the act, a responsibility of the Ministry of Labor and Social Services, was not always forthcoming, however, and was only somewhat affected by the success of the prodemocracy movement.

A revision of the body of labor laws was pending in mid-1991; it was to include a code that defined and regulated workers' rights. Labor unions, restricted prior to the July 1991 repeal of the Organization and Control Act of 1963, still were limited. Estimates suggested that only approximately 3 percent of the economically active population, or 30 percent of nonagricultural workers, were union members.

Because of limited industrialization, unemployment and particularly underemployment were quite high. In 1977 the National Planning Commission undertook a survey, which determined unemployment to be 5.6 percent in rural areas and almost 6 percent in urban areas. Underemployment was estimated to be about 63 percent in rural areas and about 45 percent in urban areas. In 1981 the Asian Regional Team for Employment Production estimated the unemployment and underemployment rates to range from 21 to 28 percent in the Tarai Region and from 37 to 47 percent in the Hill Region. The availability of nonagricultural employment opportunities in the labor force was reported at approximately 600,000 positions in 1981. Underemployment for all of Nepal was reported to range from 25 to 40 percent in 1987; unemployment nationally stood at 5 percent.




Agriculture dominated the economy. In the late 1980s, it was the livelihood for more than 90 percent of the population--although only approximately 20 percent of the total land area was cultivable--and accounted for, on average, about 60 percent of the GDP and approximately 75 percent of exports. Since the formulation of the Fifth Five-Year Plan (1975-80), agriculture has been the highest priority because economic growth was dependent on both increasing the productivity of existing crops and diversifying the agricultural base for use as industrial inputs.

In trying to increase agricultural production and diversify the agricultural base, the government focused on irrigation, the use of fertilizers and insecticides, the introduction of new implements and new seeds of high-yield varieties, and the provision of credit. The lack of distribution of these inputs, as well as problems in obtaining supplies, however, inhibited progress. Although land reclamation and settlement were occurring in the Tarai Region, environmental degradation--ecological imbalance resulting from deforestation--also prevented progress.

Although new agricultural technologies helped increase food production, there still was room for further growth. Past experience indicated bottlenecks, however, in using modern technology to achieve a healthy growth. The conflicting goals of producing cash crops both for food and for industrial inputs also were problematic.

The production of crops fluctuated widely as a result of these factors as well as weather conditions. Although agricultural production grew at an average annual rate of 2.4 percent from 1974 to 1989, it did not keep pace with population growth, which increased at an average annual rate of 2.6 percent over the same period. Further, the annual average growth rate of food grain production was only 1.2 percent during the same period.

There were some successes. Fertile lands in the Tarai Region and hardworking peasants in the Hill Region provided greater supplies of food staples (mostly rice and corn), increasing the daily caloric intake of the population locally to over 2,000 calories per capita in 1988 from about 1,900 per capita in 1965. Moreover, areas with access to irrigation facilities increased from approximately 6,200 hectares in 1956 to nearly 583,000 hectares by 1990.

Rice was the most important cereal crop. In 1966 total rice production amounted to a little more than 1 million tons; by 1989 more than 3 million tons were produced. Fluctuation in rice production was very common because of changes in rainfall; overall, however, rice production had increased following the introduction of new cultivation techniques as well as increases in cultivated land. By 1988 approximately 3.9 million hectares of land were under paddy cultivation. In 1966 approximately 500,000 tons of corn, the second major food crop, were produced. By 1989 corn production had increased to over 1 million tons.

Other food crops included wheat, millet, and barley, but their contribution to the agricultural sector was small. Increased production of cash crops--used as input to new industries--dominated in the early 1970s. Sugarcane and tobacco also showed considerable increases in production from the 1970s to the l980s. Potatoes and oilseed production had shown moderate growth since 1980. Medicinal herbs were grown in the north on the slopes of the Himalayas, but increases in production were limited by continued environmental degradation. According to government statistics, production of milk, meat, and fruit had improved but as of the late 1980s still had not reached a point where nutritionally balanced food was available to most people. Additionally, the increases in meat and milk production had not met the desired level of output as of 1989.

Food grains contributed 76 percent of total crop production in 1988-89. In 1989-90 despite poor weather conditions and a lack of agricultural inputs--particularly fertilizer--there was a production increase of 5 percent. In fact, severe weather fluctuations often affected production levels. Some of the gains in production through the 1980s were due to increased productivity of the work force (about 7 percent over fifteen years); other gains were due to increased land use and favorable weather conditions.




Nepal was long under a feudal system where a small number of landlords held most of the agricultural land. The state extended its control over the land by the administrative device of making land grants and assignments and raising revenues. Most of the landlords who were granted state lands were not directly involved in farming but contracted with tenant farmers on a customary, and hereditary, basis. The basic purpose of land reform was to protect the tenant farmers, take away excess holdings from landlords, and distribute property to farmers with small landholdings (holding one to three hectares) and landless agrarian households.

Efforts at land reform began with the enactment of the Land and Cultivation Record Compilation Act in 1956 and continued with the Lands Act in 1957 when the government began to compile tenants' records. Although these acts facilitated land reform, the lot of the small farmer did not improve, and further efforts were made. The Agricultural Reorganization Act, passed in 1963, and the Land Reform Act, passed in 1964, emphasized security for tenant farmers and put a ceiling on landholdings. There were several loopholes in the acts, however, which continued to allow large landholders to control most of the lands. There was some success in protecting the rights of tenant farmers, but not much was achieved in land redistribution. As of 1990, average landholdings remained small.




From 1950 to 1980, Nepal lost half of its forest cover. The first scientific measurement of forest resources was done in a 1964 survey, which estimated about 6.5 million hectares of forest area. Studies indicated that as of 1987 the forest area in the hills had remained the same but that elsewhere forests had been degraded. By 1988 forests covered only approximately 30 percent of the land area. Deforestation was typical of much of the country and was linked to increased demands for grazing land, farmland, and fodder as the animal and human populations grew. Further, most of the population's energy needs were met by firewood. All these factors exacerbated deforestation.

Fuelwood needs of the population mainly resulted from the lack of alternative sources of energy. This fact was particularly evident during the 1989 trade and transit impasse with India when the dispute resulted in a shortage of domestic cooking fuel. Because of the decreased availability of kerosene during this period, the demand for fuelwood rose sharply in the Kathmandu Valley, and fuelwood consumption increased by an estimated 415 percent.

Deforestation caused erosion and complicated cultivation, affecting the future productivity of agricultural lands. Although several laws to counter degradation had been enacted, the results were modest, and government plans for afforestation had not met their targets. The government also established the Timber Corporation of Nepal, the Fuelwood Corporation, and the Forest Products Development Board to harvest the forests in such a way that their degradation would be retarded. In 1988-89 the Fuelwood Corporation merged with the Timber Corporation of Nepal, but forest management through these and other government agencies had made very little progress. In FY 1989, more than 28,000 hectares were targeted for afforestation, but only approximately 23,000 hectares were afforested that year.

A twenty-one-year forestry master plan was devised in FY 1989 to stem deforestation. Implemented with the help of the Asian Development Bank, the program targeted reforestation and education. It sought to maintain the forestation level at 37 percent of land area.




During the 1950s and 1960s, Kathmandu received aid commitments from Moscow and Beijing. During the 1960s, Soviet and Chinese aid also supported development of a few government-owned industries. Most of the industries established used agricultural products such as jute, sugar, and tea as raw materials. Other industries were dependent on various inputs imported from other countries, mainly India.

As a result of the 1989-90 trade dispute with India, many inputs were unavailable, causing lower capacity utilization in some industries. During the same period, Nepal also lost India as its traditional market for certain goods. Because of the lack of industrial materials, such as coal, furnace oil, machinery, and spare parts, there was a considerable adverse impact on industrial production.

Industry accounted for less than 20 percent of total GDP in the 1980s. Relatively small by international standards, most of the industries established in the 1950s and 1960s were developed with government protection. Traditional cottage industries, including basket-weaving as well as cotton fabric and edible oil production, comprised approximately 60 percent of industrial output; there also were efforts to develop cottage industries to produce furniture, soap, and textiles. The remainder of industrial output came from modern industries, such as jute mills, cigarette factories, and cement plants.


Among the modern industries were large manufacturing plants, including many public sector operations. The major manufacturing industries produced jute, sugar, cigarettes, beer, matches, shoes, chemicals, cement, and bricks. The garment and carpet industries, targeted at export production, have grown rapidly since the mid1980s whereas jute production has declined. Industrial estates were located in Patan (also called Lalitpur), Balaju, Hetauda, Pokhara, Dharan, Butawal, and Nepalganj. The government provided the land and buildings for the industrial estates, but the industries themselves were mostly privately owned.

The 1986-87 Nepal Standard Industrial Classification counted 2,054 manufacturing establishments of 10 or more persons from 51 major industry groups, employing about 125,000 workers. That same year the total output from these industries amounted to about Rs10 billion; value added was estimated at almost Rs3.6 billion. It was nearly Rs5.1 billion in FY 1989. By FY 1989, there were 2,334 such establishments recorded, employing about 141,000 persons.

Private Industry

The history of incorporated private firms in Nepal is short. The Nepal Companies Act of 1936 provided for the incorporation of industrial enterprises on joint stock principle with limited liability. The first such firm, Biratnagar Jute Mills, was a collaborative venture of Indian and Nepalese entrepreneurs. It was formed in 1936 with initial capital of 160,000 Indian rupees.

In response to shortages of some consumer goods during World War II (1939-45), fourteen private companies emerged in such diverse fields as mining, electrical generation, and paper and soap production. The initial capital invested in each of these industries was small. In 1942 two paper mills emerged as joint ventures of Nepalese and Indian entrepreneurs. Industrial growth gained momentum after 1945, although the end of World War II had reduced the scarcity of goods and caused many of these companies to incur losses.

Under the Nepal Companies Act, there was no provision for private limited companies. In 1951, however, a new act was implemented with provisions for private limited companies. This act encouraged the establishment of ninety-two new private joint stock companies between 1952 and 1964. Most of these companies were much smaller than existing companies. Under the provisions of the 1951 act, public disclosure of the activities of the firms was not required, whereas the 1936 act allowed substantial government intervention. The Industrial Enterprises Act of 1974 and its frequent amendments shifted the government's emphasis on growth from the public to the private sector. However, discrepancies between policy and practice were evident, and the public sector continued to be favored.

Public Companies

Public companies also had varied success. Between 1936 and 1939, twenty public companies were formed, of which three failed. Between 1945 and 1951, thirty-five public firms were incorporated, six of which went out of business. Between 1936 and 1963, fiftyfour firms were incorporated, but at the end of 1963 only thirtyfour remained in operation. The success of public companies continued to be erratic.


Because only a few minerals were available in small quantities for commercial utilization, the mineral industry's contribution to the economy was small. Most mineral commodities were used for domestic construction. The principal mineral agency was the Department of Mines and Geology. Geological surveys conducted in the past had indicated the possibility of major metallic and industrial mineral deposits, but a poor infrastructure and lack of a skilled work force inhibited further development of the mineral industry.

The most important mineral resources exploited were limestone for cement, clay, garnet, magnetite, and talc. Crude magnetite production declined from a high of approximately 63,200 tons in 1986 to approximately 28,000 tons in 1989; it was projected to decline further to 25,000 tons in 1990.

In 1990 mineral production decreased significantly, largely because of political unrest. Production of cement fell approximately 51 percent over 1989--from approximately 218,000 tons to about 107,200 tons. Production of clays for cement manufacture dropped from 7,206 tons to 824 tons. Lignite production decreased 19 percent, and talc production fell 73 percent. Ornamental marble production, however, increased in 1989--by 100 percent in cut marble and 1,560 percent in marble chips.

Nonetheless, the mining industry had the potential to become a more important part of the economy, as new mines were being planned or were being developed. Two cement plants already were in operation, and a third one was being planned. It was expected that with full production in the three plants, Nepal might become selfsufficient in cement. A magnetite mine and pressuring plant east of Kathmandu had completed its construction phase and began production of chalk powder (talcum powder) on a trial basis in 1990. A highgrade lead and zinc mine was being developed north of Kathmandu in the region of Ganesh Himal and was expected to become operational in the 1990s, although raising enough capital for the project was problematic. Production of agricultural lime in 1989 doubled that of the previous year, suggesting that progress was being made towards meeting requirements of the agricultural sector.




Tourism was a major source of foreign exchange earnings. Especially since Mount Everest (Sagarmatha in Nepali) was first climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Sherpa in 1953, the Himalayas have attracted foreigners to Nepal. Mountaineering and hiking were of considerable interest as were rafting, canoeing, and hang gliding. Tourism was facilitated with the opening of airways to Kathmandu and other parts of the country and the easing of travel restrictions.

In the 1950s, there was a shortage of hotels. Beginning in the 1960s, the government encouraged the building of hotels and other tourist facilities through loans. According to government statistics, between 1985 and 1988 the number of hotel rooms increased from under 22,000 to more than 27,000.

Prior to the trade impasse with India beginning in March 1989, tourism had grown by more than 10 percent per year for most of the 1980s. Between 1985 and 1988, the number of tourists increased from approximately 181,000 to about 266,000. More than 80 percent of the tourists arrived in the country by air.

In FY 1985, more than US$40 million worth of foreign exchange was earned through tourism. By FY 1988, this amount had increased to more than US$64 million. In FY 1989, tourism accounted for more than 3.5 percent of GDP and about 25 percent of total foreign exchange earnings. The 1989 trade and transit impasse with India negatively affected tourism because the transport and service sectors of the economy lacked supplies. Beginning in FY 1990, however, Kathmandu initiated a policy to allocate fuel on a priority basis to tour operators and hotels.


Nepal - Government


THE DRAMATIC EVENTS of the beginning months of 1990 marked a watershed in Nepal's political system. The quest for a multiparty, representative form of government had begun on December 15, 1960, when an unprecedented royal coup d'état dismissed the constitutionally elected government of Bishweshwar Prasad (B.P.) Koirala. King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev abrogated the constitution and suspended all guarantees of fundamental rights and political activities. The traditional partyless panchayat system of local and national assemblies imposed by fiat was found unsatisfactory in the face of the Nepalese desire to secure legitimate political and human rights and establish accountability in government.

Monarchical opposition toward political parties or groups had been so vigorous that the centrist Nepali Congress Party, the oldest political party, carried on its activities from exile in India. Other political parties, including the splintered leftist groups, either operated from abroad or were disbanded. Although political parties were banned and at times their leaders were incarcerated or forced to go underground, they remained a vital force in sensitizing and mobilizing public opinion against government authoritarianism.

The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), popularly known as the prodemocracy movement, finally succeeded in early 1990 in restoring democratic rights denied for decades by the powerful palace clique. In April 1990, tens of thousands of Nepalese marched on the royal palace in Kathmandu, demonstrating against King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, who was traditionally revered as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Police and troops shot and killed many of the marchers. As shock waves reverberated through Nepal, long an oasis of civil order in South Asia, the king quickly scrapped the panchayat system, lifted the ban on political parties, and formed an interim government from among the ranks of the veteran opposition leaders under the premiership of Nepali Congress leader Krishna Prasad (K.P.) Bhattarai.

The interim government, which represented the spectrum of public opinion, was directed to conduct fair and free elections within a stipulated period under a new constitution framed by an independent constitutional commission appointed by the Council of Ministers--the Constitution Recommendation Commission. Although the constitution was proclaimed from the throne, its development, unlike past constitutional edicts, was through a democratic process in which the interim Council of Ministers served as a legislature. Nepal's human rights records--poor before the success of the prodemocracy movement--also improved.

During the prodemocracy movement, a range of political parties acted in concert and rapidly commanded the loyalty and imagination of the overwhelming majority of the urban population. This unprecedented expression of national unity and the government's subsequent attempts to suppress the movement triggered the reactions of major and regional world powers including the United States, Japan, and India, and international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Their timely expressions of concern and threats to reevaluate their commitments of economic and technical assistance both bolstered the movement and served as a damper against the monarchy's continued use of excessive force to contain it.

Strategically wedged between China and India, Nepal has always been fearful of foreign intervention and has tried to maintain equal distance from these two powerful neighbors in a continuing effort to protect its sovereignty. Nepal's choice not to align with any superpower facilitated grants of economic assistance from diverse sources, including the United States, the Soviet Union, India, China, and Japan. Nepal maintained a high profile in various international organizations and activities and was a charter member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Although the vast majority of the Nepalese population was illiterate, Nepal's printed media has been influential as well as strident. Before the introduction of the 1990 constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, several stringent publication and censorship laws limited freedom of expression.

<> Political Parties
<> Elections




The Rana System

Beginning in 1856, the center of power in Nepal rested with the Rana prime ministers, who retained sovereign power until the revolution of 1950-51. Many of the nobles who participated in the consultative court called the Assembly of Lords, or Bharadari Sabha, had been slaughtered at the Kot Massacre in 1846. Following his official visit to Britain and Europe in 1851, Jang Bahadur Kunwar (later called Jang Bahadur Rana) began to use the Bharadari Sabha as deliberative body for state affairs. For almost 100 years, this council served as a rubber stamp for the Rana autocracy. The next major effort at institutional development was initiated in 1947 by Padma Shamsher Rana, a liberal prime minister, who appointed a Constitutional Reform Committee to draft the first constitution. Known as the Government of Nepal Constitution Act, 1948, this constitution, written with the help of Indian advisers, superficially changed the Rana system. It established a bicameral legislative body. The entire membership of one house and a majority of the other was selected by the prime minister, who could reject any measure that the legislature might pass. There was a cabinet of at least five members, of whom at least two were chosen from among the few elected members of the legislature.

The act also specified that a panchayat system of local self-government would be inaugurated in the villages, towns, and districts. It enumerated certain fundamental rights and duties, which included freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and worship; equality before the law; free elementary education for all; and equal and universal suffrage. Despite the appearance of reform, the alterations made in the Rana system by the constitution were slight. The more conservative Ranas perceived the constitution as a dangerous precedent, forced Padma Shamsher to resign, and suspended promulgation of the constitution. The constitution became effective in September 1950 but remained in force only until February 1951, when the Rana monopoly was broken and the creation of a new constitutional system began.

<> The Interim Constitution, 1951
<> The Royal Constitution of 1959
<> The Panchayat Constitution, 1962
<> Constitutional Amendments
<> The Referendum of 1980
<> The Constitution of 1990
<> Other Features of the Constitution
<> The Executive
<> The Legislature
<> The Judiciary
<> The Civil Service
<> The Administrative System
<> The Panchayat System


Nepal - The Interim Constitution, 1951


The revolution of 1950-51 resulted in the overthrow of the Rana system. In 1951 King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah announced by royal proclamation an interim government and an interim constitution until a new Constituent Assembly could be elected. The interim constitution, based on principles in India's constitution and entitled the Interim Government of Nepal Act, 1951, ratified the end of the authority of the prime minister and the system surrounding that office. It also reasserted the king's supreme executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The king exercised his executive authority through, and was aided and advised by, a Council of Ministers, which he appointed and which served at his pleasure.

The king also appointed an Advising Assembly to sit until the Constituent Assembly was elected. The king retained sovereign and plenary legislative powers. The Advising Assembly was, with certain exceptions, authorized only to discuss matters and to recommend measures to the king for enactment into law. The final authority to approve any legislative measure lay with the king. The constitution also established a Supreme Court, made the king supreme commander of the armed forces, reiterated and enlarged upon the fundamental rights included in the Rana constitution, and proclaimed numerous social and economic objectives of the government. These objectives were to promote the welfare of the people by securing a social order in which social, economic, and political justice pervaded all the institutions of national life. King Mahendra (reigned 1955-72) vigorously sought to broaden the monarch's political base, but the Nepali National Congress succeeded in gaining some democratic reforms. Although the constitution was expected to be temporary pending the election of a Constituent Assembly and the preparation of a permanent organic law, King Mahendra was unable to resist the increasingly well-orchestrated political demands by the Nepali National Congress for a more democratic and representative government, and was forced to promulgate a new constitution.


Nepal - The Royal Constitution of 1959


The most significant aspect of the constitution of 1959 was that it was granted by the king rather than drawn up by elected representatives of the people as had been specified in the 1951 constitution. Although the constitution formally brought into being a democratically elected parliamentary system under a constitutional monarchy, the king retained ultimate sovereignty, even though the document itself did not explicitly grant this power.

The 1959 constitution, modeled on British and Indian constitutional custom, vested executive power in the king, who was advised and assisted by a Council of State (Raj Sabha) and a Council of Ministers (cabinet). The Council of State, which consisted of officers of Parliament, ministers ex officio, former ministers, and royal appointees, advised the monarch on legislation and handled the details of regency and succession in the event of his death or disability. The general direction and control of the government were entrusted to the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister required to command a majority in the lower house of Parliament, to which the council was collectively responsible.

The king was an integral part of the legislative arm of the government. Parliament was defined as consisting of the king; the House of Representatives, composed of 109 popularly elected members; and the Senate, composed of 36 members of whom half were elected by the house and half were nominated by the king. All bills approved by the two houses required the assent of the king to become law. The constitution granted the king wide latitude to nullify the parliamentary system. The king could suspend the operation of the cabinet and perform its functions himself if he determined that no person could command a majority in the house as prime minister. In the event of a breakdown of the parliamentary system or of any one of a number of emergency conditions, the king could suspend either or both houses of Parliament, assume their powers, and suspend the constitution in whole or part. In December 1960, King Mahendra invoked these emergency powers to dissolve the Nepali Congress Party government. The constitutional system that had prevailed before 1959 was then returned to operation.


Nepal - The Panchayat Constitution, 1962


By royal proclamation on December 16, 1962, King Mahendra announced a new constitution that radically reformed the 1959 constitution but also adopted many features of the Rana system. Known as the Panchayat Constitution, it was the fourth constitution in fifteen years.

The panchayat system was an institution of great antiquity. Historically, each caste group system of Nepal formed its own panchayat, or council of elders, a sociopolitical organization operational on a village level that could expand to include neighboring districts, or even function on a zonal basis. Although it could be argued that the panchayat system was adopted from India, King Mahendra had argued for its incorporation at the national level as an exponent of Nepalese culture--a worthy and historically correct representation of cultural expression.

The 1962 constitution was based on some elements from other "guided democracy" constitutional experiments--notably "Basic Democracy" in Pakistan, "Guided Democracy" in Indonesia, and the "Dominant Party System" in Egypt. The Panchayat constitution not only codified the irrelevance of political parties, but also declared them illegal.

The 1962 constitution contained a stronger and more explicit statement of royal authority than did previous constitutions. Real power remained with the king, who was the sole source of authority and had the power not only to amend the constitution but also to suspend it by royal proclamation during emergencies. The Council of Ministers, selected from the members of the legislative (Rashtriya Panchayat, or National Panchayat), served as an advisory body to the king. Members of the Rashtriya Panchayat were elected indirectly by the members of local panchayat as well as by the members of professional and class organizations such as the Nepal Workers' Organization, the Nepal Ex-servicemen's Organization, and the Nepal Youth Organization. The constitution abolished all political parties.


Nepal - Constitutional Amendments


The Panchayat Constitution was amended several times, primarily to increase the power and prerogatives of the monarchy against the increasing popular demand for liberalization of the political institutions and processes. In view of the mounting criticism against the Panchayat Constitution, King Birendra, who had succeeded his father in 1972, pursuant to recommendations of a specially created Constitutional Reform Commission, announced in 1975 that the constitution would be amended to include provisions governing the amending procedure itself. Previously the king could not amend the constitution unless two-thirds of the Rashtriya Panchayat ratified the proposed amendment. Under the proposed amendment, the king would have to consult a special committee of the Rastriya Panchayat before amending the constitution. In addition, the term of a delegate to the Rashtriya Panchayat was reduced from six years to four years.


Nepal - The Referendum of 1980


In May 1979, concerned by the unabated political demonstrations and considerable general unrest, King Birendra called for a nationwide referendum to determine the future form of government. The referendum offered two choices: a continuation of the partyless panchayat system, with prospects for further reform; or a multiparty system. Although no clear definition of a multiparty system was provided, the implication was that it stood for a parliamentary system of government run on a party basis. The referendum, the first nationwide vote in twenty-two years, was held on May 2, 1980, and 67 percent of the eligible voters participated. The panchayat system was chosen with a majority of 54.7 percent of the votes. On May 21, 1980, the king appointed an eleven-member Constitution Reforms Commission to be chaired by the acting chief justice of the Supreme Court. On December 15, the king promulgated three constitutional amendments: direct elections to the Rashtriya Panchayat would be held every five years for 112 seats, with 28 additional seats filled by the king's personal nomination; the prime minister would be elected by the Rashtriya Panchayat; the cabinet would be appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister and would be accountable to the Rashtriya Panchayat; and Nepal would commit to the Nonaligned Movement as a zone of peace. These provisions, with a few minor modifications, remained in operation until early 1990, when the prodemocracy movement successfully agitated for a multiparty democratic system.


Nepal - The Constitution of 1990


Widespread prodemocracy protests toppled the panchayat system in April 1990. The king appointed an independent Constitution Recommendation Commission to represent the main opposition factions and to prepare a new constitution to accommodate their demands for political reform. On September 10, 1990, the commission presented King Birendra with the draft of a new constitution, which would preserve the king's status as chief of state under a constitutional monarchy but establish a multiparty democracy with separation of powers and human rights. As agreed upon earlier, the king turned the draft constitution over to Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai and his cabinet for review and recommendations. The draft was discussed extensively and approved by the interim cabinet. A major obstacle to approval was avoided when the commission removed a disputed provision under which both the constitutional monarchy and multiparty system could have been eliminated by a three-quarters majority vote of Parliament.

On November 9, 1990, King Birendra promulgated the new constitution and abrogated the constitution of 1962. The 1990 constitution ended almost thirty years of absolute monarchy in which the palace had dominated every aspect of political life and political parties were banned.

The constitution, broadly based on British practice, is the fundamental law of Nepal. It vests sovereignty in the people and declares Nepal a multiethnic, multilingual, democratic, independent, indivisible, sovereign, and constitutional monarchical kingdom. The national and official language of Nepal is Nepali in the Devanagari script. All other languages spoken as the mother tongue in the various parts of Nepal are recognized as languages of the nation. Although Nepal still is officially regarded as a Hindu kingdom, the constitution also gives religious and cultural freedom to other religious groups, such as Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians. The preamble of the constitution recognizes the desire of the Nepalese people to bring about constitutional changes with the objective of obtaining social, political, and economic justice. It envisages the guarantee of basic human rights to every citizen, a parliamentary system of government, and a multiparty democracy. It also aims to establish an independent and competent system of justice with a view to transforming the concept of the rule of law into reality.

Other safeguards include the right to property; the right to conserve and promote one's language, script, and culture; the right to education in the student's mother tongue; freedom of religion; and the right to manage and protect religious places and trusts. Traffic in human slavery, serfdom, forced labor, or child labor in any form is prohibited. The right to receive information about matters of public importance and the right to secrecy and inviolability of one's person, residence, property, documents, letters, and other information also are guaranteed.

Part three of the constitution provides for the fundamental rights of citizens. Although some elements of fundamental rights guaranteed in the 1962 constitution are reflected in the 1990 constitution, the latter provides new safeguards in unequivocal language and does not encumber the fundamental rights with duties or restrictions purported to uphold public good. All citizens are equal before the law, and no discrimination can be made on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe, or ideology. No person shall, on the basis of caste, be discriminated against as an untouchable, be denied access to any public place, or be deprived from the use of public utilities. No discrimination will be allowed in regard to remuneration for men and women for the same work. No citizen can be exiled or be deprived of liberty except in accordance with the law; and capital punishment is disallowed.

In addition, sections on fundamental rights provide for freedom of thought and expression; freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms; freedom to form unions and associations; freedom to move and reside in any part of Nepal; and freedom to carry out any profession, occupation, trade, or industry. Similarly, prior censorship of publications is prohibited, and free press and printing are guaranteed. Unfettered cultural and educational rights also are guaranteed. Articles twenty-three and eighty-eight provide for a citizen's right to constitutional remedy. Any citizen can petition the Supreme Court to declare any law or part thereof as void if it infringes on the fundamental rights conferred by the constitution.

Rights regarding criminal justice include the guarantee that no person will be punished for an act unpunishable by law or subjected to a punishment greater than that prescribed by the laws in existence at the time of commission of the offense; no person will be prosecuted more than once in any offense; and no one will be compelled to bear witness against himself or herself. Inflicting cruelty on a person in detention is prohibited, as is detaining a person without giving information about the grounds for such detention. Further, the person in detention must be produced within twenty-four hours of such arrest before the judicial authorities. Any person wrongly detained will be compensated.

The constitution lays down various directives in matters of political, economic, and social development, and foreign policy. These lofty policies are guidelines to promote conditions of welfare on the basis of the principles of an open society. One objective is to transform the national economy into an independent and self-reliant system by making arrangements for the equitable distribution of the economic gains on the basis of social justice. The constitution stresses the creation of conditions for the enjoyment of the fruits of democracy through the maximum participation of the people in governance of the country. Other aims include the pursuit of a policy in international relations that will enhance the dignity of the nation and ensure sovereignty, integrity, and national independence and the protection of the environment from further ecological damage.


Nepal - Other Features of the Constitution


The constitution guarantees the citizens' unfettered rights to political pluralism and a multiparty democracy. All legitimate political organizations or parties that register with the Election Commission are allowed to publicize and broadcast for the purpose of securing support and cooperation of the general public toward their objectives and programs. Any law, arrangement, or decision that restricts any of these activities is inconsistent with the constitution and void. Any law, arrangement, or decision to impose a one-party system is also inconsistent with the constitution and void. Under the section on political organization, any political party is not eligible for registration if it discriminates, if at least 5 percent of its candidates are not women, or if it fails to obtain at least 3 percent of the total votes cast in the previous election to the House of Representatives.

The constitution may be amended or repealed by a majority of two-thirds in each house of Parliament. However, such amendment or repeals may not be designed to frustrate the spirit of the preamble of the constitution, which recognizes the Nepalese people as the source of sovereign authority. After passing in both houses, any bill to repeal or amend the constitution must receive royal assent.


Nepal - The Executive


Executive powers are vested in the king and the Council of Ministers--a prime minister, deputy prime minister, and other ministers as required. The direction, supervision, and conduct of the general administration of the country are the responsibility of the Council of Ministers. All transactions made in the name of the king, except those within his exclusive domain, are authenticated by the Council of Ministers.

The king appoints the leader of the political party commanding a majority in the House of Representatives as prime minister. If a single party does not have a majority in the house, the member commanding a majority on the basis of two or more parties is asked to form the government. When this alternative also is not possible, the king may ask the leader of a party holding the largest number of seats in the house to form the government. In this case, the leader forming the government must obtain a vote of confidence in the house within thirty days. If a vote of no confidence is obtained, the king will dissolve the house and order new elections within six months. Other ministers are appointed by the king from members of Parliament on the recommendation of the prime minister.

The constitution declares the king the symbol of the nation and the unity of its people. Expenditures and privileges of the king and royal family are determined by law. The king is obliged to obey and protect the constitution. Although, as in previous constitutions the monarch remains the supreme commander of the Royal Nepal Army, a three-member National Defence Council, headed by the prime minister, commands the military. Nonetheless, the king retains his power over the army because if there were a threat to sovereignty, indivisibility, or security because of war, foreign aggression, armed revolt, or extreme economic depression, he could declare a state of emergency. During the period of emergency--which would have to be approved by the House of Representatives within three months and which would remain in effect for six months from the date of its announcement, renewable for six months--fundamental rights, with the exception of the right of habeas corpus, could be suspended. Additional prerogatives of the king include the power to grant pardons; suspend, commute, or remit any sentence passed by any court; confer titles, honors, or decorations of the kingdom; appoint all ambassadors and emissaries for the kingdom; and remove any barriers to enforcing the constitution. The king also nominates the members of the Raj Parishad (King's Council), the body that determines the accession to the throne of the heir apparent.


Nepal - The Legislature


The constitution provides for a bicameral legislature, the Parliament. This body consists of the king and two houses, the House of Representatives (Pratinidhi Sabha) and the National Council (Rashtriya Sabha). The House of Representatives has 205 directly elected members. The term for the House of Representatives is five years unless it dissolves earlier, pursuant to the provisions of the constitution. On the recommendation of the prime minister, the king may dissolve the house, but new elections must be held within six months. Administrative districts are the election districts; and each district's allocation of seats is proportional to its population. All persons eighteen years or older are enfranchised.

The National Council has sixty members consisting of ten nominees of the king; thirty-five members, including at least three women, to be elected by the House of Representatives by means of a single transferable vote, pursuant to the system of proportional representation; and fifteen members to be elected by the electoral college comprising the voters, including the chair and deputy chair of the village and town and district committees of various development regions. The National Council is a permanent body; onethird of its members must retire every two years. Council members serve six-year terms.

With the exception of finance bills, introduced only in the House of Representatives, bills may be introduced in either house. All bills, however, must be passed by both houses before receiving royal assent. When a bill is rejected by the National Council, the House of Representatives has the overriding authority. If the joint session of Parliament receives and passes a bill that the king returned for reconsideration, it receives royal assent within thirty days. The king may, when both the Houses of Parliament are not in session, promulgate ordinances, which are not effective unless approved by both the houses when reconvened. Financial procedures are outlined in part ten of the constitution, which states that taxes cannot be levied or loans raised except in accordance with the law.


Nepal - The Judiciary


An independent judiciary, unencumbered by the executive branch of the government and palace interference, was a stated goal of all political parties. Of the many changes which have taken place since the fall of the Ranas in 1951, among the most striking have been the growing autonomy of the courts and the gradual liberalization of many basic judicial principles. Despite major improvements, however, the judicial system has suffered from serious impediments in providing speedy, expeditious, and equal justice. The independence and integrity of the judiciary were repeatedly questioned in the press; intervention of political figures and government officials in the judicial process was a frequent occurrence; and caste and economic status were important determinants of the availability of justice.

The court system formerly was one of many instruments used by the prime minister to maintain the authoritarian rule of the Rana family, and the concepts of law it applied were arbitrary, punitive, and oppressive. After an initial attempt to keep the judiciary subordinate when the monarchy was restored, it was allowed to become a relatively independent branch of government. Reforms in the legal system rendered both substantive and procedural law progressively more systematic.

Never clearly demarcated, the jurisdiction of the courts became further complicated with the introduction of the panchayat system, which at the local level exercised some quasijudicial functions. Therefore, the fundamental role of the judiciary and its position within the government became a subject of national focus during the prodemocracy movement.

According to the constitution, the courts comprise three tiers: the Supreme Court, appellate courts, and district courts. In addition, courts or tribunals may be constituted for the purpose of hearing special types of cases.

The Supreme Court is the highest court. All other courts and institutions exercising judicial powers, except the military courts, are under its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has the authority to inspect, supervise, and give directives to all subordinate courts and all other institutions that exercise judicial powers. The Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction and consists of a chief justice and fourteen other judges.

The chief justice is appointed on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. Other judges of the Supreme Court, appellate courts, and district courts are appointed on the recommendation of the Judicial Council. All appointments are made by the king. The tenure of office of the chief justice is limited to seven years from the date of appointment. Supreme Court justices can be impeached in the House of Representatives for reasons of incapacity, misbehavior, or malafide acts while in office. The Judicial Council, presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, makes recommendations and advises on appointments, transfers, and disciplinary actions of the judges and other matters relating to judicial administration.

All appointments, promotions, transfers, and disciplinary actions of the judges of the appellate and district courts are under the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council. An independent Judicial Service Commission, appointed by the king, and with the chief justice of the Supreme Court serving as ex-officio chairman, appoints, transfers, promotes, and provides departmental punishment of the gazetted officers of the civil service.

An Abuse of Authority Investigating Commission is empowered to investigate the misuse of authority or corruption by public officials. Members of the commission have no specific party affiliation and are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council.

The Supreme Court is the supreme judicial authority of the nation. All orders and decisions made by the court are binding. Any interpretation of a law or any legal principle laid down by the court is binding on all, including the king.

As a guarantor of personal liberty and fundamental rights conferred by the constitution, the Supreme Court has the authority to declare a law as void ab initio if it finds that the impugned law contravenes the provisions of the constitution. The Supreme Court also has the power to issue appropriate orders and writs, including habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, and quo warranto.


Nepal - The Civil Service


The Nepal Civil Service Act, passed in 1956, classified all civil employees of the government into two categories--gazetted services and nongazetted services. Gazetted services included all services prescribed by the government by notification in the Nepal Raj Patra, the government gazette. In 1991 categories of the gazetted services were education, judicial, health, administrative, engineering, forest, agricultural, and miscellaneous services. The gazetted posts were further grouped into classes I, II, and III. Nongazetted posts also had several class echelons. As of 1990, there were approximately 80,000 civil service employees in all ranks.

According to the 1990 constitution, all members of the civil service are recruited through an open competitive examination conducted by the Public Service Commission. Police and military officers are excluded from the jurisdiction of the commission. The chairman and other members of the commission are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. The commission must be consulted in all matters concerning laws relating to the civil service--such as appointment, promotion, transfer, or departmental punishment. Tenure, benefits, and postings were regulated by the Nepal Civil Service Act of 1956.


Nepal - The Administrative System


The panchayat system represented "democracy at the grassroots," and until April 1990 it included four integrated levels: local or village, district, zonal, and national--the Rashtriya Panchayat. Only the village panchayat was directly elected by the people. Championing panchayat rule as a political system, king Mahendra was able to tap into nascent Nepalese nationalism and also to outmaneuver the evolving political parties which had posed a challenge to the monarchy's vested power.

The country was divided into fourteen zones and seventy-five districts in support of the complex hierarchy of the panchayat system. The lowest unit of government was the gaun panchayat (village committee or council), of which there were 3,524. A locality with a population of more than 10,000 persons was organized as a nagar panchayat (town committee or council). The number of nagar panchayat varied from zone to zone. Above the gaun panchayat and nagar panchayat was the district panchayat, of which there were seventyfive . At the apex of the panchayat system was the Rashtriya Panchayat, which served as the unicameral national legislature from 1962 until 1990.

The district panchayat had broad powers for supervising and coordinating the development programs of the village and carried out development projects through the district development boards and centers. Each of the seventy-five districts was headed by a chief district officer, who was an elected official, responsible for maintaining law and order, and for coordinating the work of the field agencies of the various ministries.

The zonal panchayat was responsible for implementing development plans forwarded by the central government, formulating and executing programs of its own, and planning, supervising, and coordinating district development programs within its jurisdiction. Zonal commissioners exercised full administrative and quasijudicial powers. Each zone was administered by a zonal commissioner and one or two assistant zonal commissioners, all directly appointed by the king. Zones and districts were further regrouped into five development zones in 1971-72, an administrative division that remained in effect in 1991.

A drive for political liberalization, which had begun shortly after the 1959 constitution was abrogated and all political activities were banned in 1960, did not climax until the prodemocracy movement of 1990. At that point, ongoing debilitating interparty conflicts and halting demands for reforms of the political system ended, and national energy focused on a movement to achieve democratic rights. During the prodemocracy movement, some of the pancha (panchayat members) loyalists even were openly friendly with their former adversaries.

The interim government that was installed in April 1990 consisted of strange bedfellows, who, however, succeeded in steering the nation to its first free and fair elections in thirtytwo years. In April 1990, the nagar panchayat was renamed nagar polika (municipal development committee), and the gaun panchayat became gaun bikas samiti, or village development committee. The Ministry of Local Development posted an officer to each district to help with the various programs of the development committees. In mid-1991, a Nepali Congress Party government was in power, and a conglomerate of communist parties was playing the role of constitutional opposition. At that time, there were 4,015 village development committees and thirty-three municipal development committees. Elections for the heads of the development committees were scheduled for June 1992.


Nepal - The Panchayat System


For centuries the government had been run by a number of interrelated aristocratic families. Despite the limitations of a royal ban on political parties and other impediments, political parties did exist and operated clandestinely. To escape harassment or imprisonment, many political leaders went to India, where they also received logistical and other support.

Under the panchayat system, there were six government- sponsored class and professional organizations for peasants, laborers, students, women, former military personnel, and college graduates. These organizations were substitutes for the prohibited political parties and provided alternate channels for the articulation of group or class--rather than national--interests. The professional and class organizations were warned repeatedly against engaging in political activity; nevertheless, they offered the only political forum open to many Nepalese, and even some Nepali Congress Party and communist partisans considered them worthy of infiltration.

The king also launched an independent national student association, the National Independent Student Council (Rashtriya Swatantra Vidyarthi Parishad), to control the political activities of the students. The association failed to gain support, and successful student agitation in 1979 forced the king not only to abolish it but also to initiate constitutional reforms leading to the national referendum of 1980. Also in 1980, a group of dissident pancha brought a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa on charges of bureaucratic corruption, food shortages, and lack of economic discipline. Surya Bahadur, however, was a perennial political survivor and was returned to office in 1981.

King Birendra devised the Back-to-the-Village National Campaign (BVNC) in 1975. The BVNC was intended to circumvent the possibility of opposition within the panchayat and to create a loyal core of elites to select and endorse candidates for political office, thereby neutralizing the influence of underground political party organizers in the rural areas. Although it was envisioned as a means to mobilize the people for the implementation of development plans and projects, the shortlived BVNC--it was suspended in 1979--was in reality an ideological campaign to reinforce the importance of the partyless system. The campaign stressed that the partyless system was appropriate to the ways of the Nepalese people; the party system was a divisive and culturally alien institution.

Each zonal committee had a BVNC structure, with a secretary nominated by the king. The BVNC network was extended to the district and village levels so as to reinforce a national communication system. However inasmuch as the government paid the BVNC central and zonal committee members and restricted chances for popular participation, the committees carried out the same activities as the panchayat. In actuality, the BVNC was created by the king to ensure a loyal organization and circumvent active party members from gaining seats in the panchayat elections. The BVNC became an organization of centrally controlled loyal panchayat elites and an insurance policy for palace initiatives.

The only significant opposition to the monarchy came from the Nepali Congress Party, which operated from exile in India. Other parties either accepted and operated within the panchayat system on a supposedly nonpartisan basis or merged with the exiled Nepali Congress Party, polarizing politics over the issue of monarchical rule. Even the Communist Party of Nepal, divided on the tactical question of whether to seek the direct and immediate overthrow of the monarchical system or to work within it, had split into factions--a radical wing operated in India and a moderate wing underground in Nepal. Some party members, to gain tactical advantage over the Nepali Congress Party, entered the panchayat system with the tacit approval of the palace.

Ethnic plurality, income disparity, linguistic diversity, pervading regional loyalties, underdeveloped communications, and a paucity of written and electronic media also hindered party organization. The dominant high-caste political leaders were more interested in sharing or gaining access to power than in developing lasting foundations for party politics.

Reportedly, before political organizations were banned, there were sixty-nine political parties, most of which were characteristically fluid in their membership and inconsistent in their loyalties. Personalities rather than ideologies brought individuals and groups under the nominal canopy of a party. Fragmentation, recombination, and alliances for convenience were the outstanding aspects of party behavior.

In the polarized political climate, the monarchy looked at the panchayat system as its only dependable support base. The panchayat apparatus provided access for politically motivated individuals to form a new elite. Although the political leadership and following of the Nepali Congress Party initially stayed away from the panchayat system, over time, and in the absence of an outlet for political activities, some defections took place. Nevertheless, the lateral entry of some pro-Nepali Congress Party elements did not substantially change the character of the panchayat leadership, which was dominated by rural elites of the Hill Region rather than the urban Kathmandu and Tarai Region elites who had been in the forefront of political activities. The system was designed so that the established parties would gradually shrink and lose their influence and control. Once the new panchayat leadership matured, however, some members became restive under the excessive control of the palace. This group of the panchayat elite opposed the system from within and overtly joined the prodemocracy movement.

In the last four decades, there was significant progress towards democracy in Nepal's traditionally authoritarian political system. The first national elections in Nepal took place in 1959-- some eight years after the overthrow of the Rana system. The Nepali Congress Party-dominated government, victorious in the 1959 parliamentary elections, was overthrown by King Mahendra within two years--resulting in the ban on political parties. The pattern that developed over the following decades was that of a monarchy reinforcing its power through the traditional institution of the panchayat. The panchayat system, co-opted and easily manipulated by the monarchy to suit its political ends, nevertheless was slowly but steadily subjected to pressures to change. Over time the monarchy was forced by necessity to expand the role of elections in response to the mounting discontent of a citizenry living in an age of heightened political awareness and rising expectations. This trend culminated in May 1991 with the first truly free elections in over thirty years, ushering in a new political era. The Nepali Congress Party obtained a workable majority within the framework of a constitutional monarchy and affirmed the rise of a nascent democratic force.

One of the ramifications of the prodemocracy movement was the beginning of a process of integration in national politics and decision making. With an elected Parliament and demands for an equitable allocation of resources to different regions, it was likely that all regions would compete for equality in national politics and that the monopoly of power by select families would erode, as would the excessive influence of the Kathmandu Valley Brahman, Chhetri, and Newar elites.

At the beginning of 1990, the panchayat system still dominated Nepal. Although the institution itself was the object of derision from opponents of the panchayat system, it appeared unthreatened. Within a few months, however, its position eroded and then crumbled with bewildering speed. The surge of the successful prodemocracy movement sweeping Eastern Europe, parts of the Soviet Union, and several Asian countries profoundly inspired the Nepalese people. Also contributing to the sudden transformation were the economic woes of Nepal, exacerbated by India's refusal to renew a trade and transit agreement; widespread bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption at all levels of government; the misgivings openly expressed by the international donors over the country's inefficient use of aid; and a deplorable record on human rights.

In January 1990, the Nepali Congress Party held its first national convention in thirty years in Kathmandu. It was well attended by party delegates from all districts and observers from all political parties. Also present was a multiparty delegation from India, headed by Janata Dal (People's Party) leader Chandra Shekhar, who subsequently became Indian's prime minister. The Nepali Congress Party cooperated with the United Left Front parties, a coalition of seven communist factions, in a joint program to replace the panchayat system with a multiparty political system and launched the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, or prodemocracy movement.

Beginning on February 18, 1990--the thirty-ninth anniversary of King Tribhuvan's declaration of a multiparty democracy and the thirtieth anniversary of the antidemocratic usurpation of power by the palace--a series of spontaneous and sometimes turbulent mass demonstrations rocked major cities. People took to the streets to demand the restoration of a multiparty democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. The success of the Kathmandu bandh (general strike) by prodemocracy forces on March 2 was repeated in other parts of the country over the course of seven weeks. By the time the movement succeeded in totally uprooting the panchayat system, at least fifty people were dead, and thousands were injured as a result of the force used by the authorities in suppressing the agitation. The government also had incarcerated national and district-level leaders of both the Nepali Congress Party and the United Left Front.

Unable to contain the widespread public agitation against the panchayat system and the mounting casualties, and fearing for the survival of his own monarchical status, King Birendra lifted the ban on political parties on April 8. The unrest persisted. In the midst of continued violence, a royal proclamation on April 16 dissolved the Rashtriya Panchayat and invalidated provisions of the 1962 constitution inconsistent with multiparty democracy. The next day, the king named Nepali Congress Party President K.P. Bhattarai, a moderate who had spent fourteen years as a political prisoner, as prime minister and head of the interim government. The government also freed all political prisoners, lifted control of all domestic and foreign publications, and established a commission, known as the Mullick Commission, to investigate the recent loss of life and property.

The eleven-member Bhattarai cabinet, composed of four members of the Nepali Congress Party, three members of the United Left Front, two human rights activists, and two royal nominees, was immediately entrusted with the task of preparing a new constitution and holding a general election. Pending the adoption of a new constitution, the interim government agreed that Nepal should remain under the 1962 constitution. In the interest of continuity and orderly management of public business, the interim government resisted demands from the left for a mass purge of the bureaucracy and die-hard panchayat elements. Bhattarai's goal was national reconciliation in a multiparty democracy.

After nine months of politicking, the constitution was proclaimed on November 9, 1990. Elections to the House of Representatives were held on May 12, 1991. The new government faced the immediate problems of restoring law and order, providing economic relief to the populace, and establishing its claim to sound administration, a somewhat difficult task because the parties of the interim government had been in the opposition for a long period of time. Furthermore, pro-panchayat thugs who had tried to foment chaos and law and order problems to discredit the new government had to be brought under control. The situation improved as many former panchayat leaders who had previously supported moves for a multiparty democracy openly supported the political changes and offered to cooperate with the new government- -taking advantage of political opportunism.


Nepal - Political Parties


The Nepali Congress Party

The Nepali Congress Party, a reform-oriented centrist party, has been in continuous operation since it was founded under a slightly different name in 1947. Elected to office in 1959 in a landslide victory, the Nepali Congress Party government sought to liberalize society through a democratic process. The palace coup of 1960 led to the imprisonment of the powerful Nepali Congress Party leader, B.P. Koirala, and other party stalwarts; many other members sought sanctuary in exile in India.

Although political parties were prohibited from 1960 to 1963 and continued to be outlawed during the panchayat system under the aegis of the Associations and Organizations (Control) Act of 1963, the Nepali Congress Party persisted. The party placed great emphasis on eliminating the feudal economy and building a basis for socioeconomic development. It proposed nationalizing basic industries and instituting progressive taxes on land, urban housing, salaries, profits, and foreign investments. While in exile, the Nepali Congress Party served as the nucleus around which other opposition groups clustered and even instigated popular uprisings in the Hill and Tarai regions. During this time, the Nepali Congress Party refused the overtures of a radical faction of the Communist Party of Nepal for a tactical alliance.

Although the Nepali Congress Party demonstrated its ability to endure, it was weakened over time by defection, factionalism, and external pressures. Nevertheless, it continued to be the only organized party to press for democratization. In the 1980 referendum, it supported the multiparty option in opposition to the panchayat system. In 1981 the party boycotted the Rashtriya Panchayat elections and rejected the new government. The death in 1982 of B.P. Koirala, who had consistently advocated constitutional reforms and a broad-based policy of national reconciliation, further weakened the party.

In the 1980s, the Nepali Congress Party abandoned its socialistic economic program in favor of a mixed economy, privatization, and a market economy in certain sectors. Its foreign policy orientation was to nonalignment and good relations with India. Although the party also boycotted the 1986 elections to the Rashtriya Panchayat, its members were allowed to run in the 1987 local elections. In defiance of the ban on demonstrations, the Nepali Congress Party organized mass rallies in January 1990 that ultimately triggered the prodemocracy movement.

Following the humiliating defeat of party leader K.P. Bhattarai by the communist factions in the 1991 parliamentary elections, Girija Prasad (G.P.) Koirala was chosen by the Nepali Congress Party as leader of its Parliamentary Board. As prime minister, he formed the first elected democratic government in Nepal in thirtytwo years. G.P. Koirala was the third of the Koirala brothers to become prime minister. Along with his elder brother, B.P. Koirala, he was arrested in 1960 and was not released until 1967. After a period of exile that began in 1971, he returned to Nepal in 1979 under a general amnesty. He was elected general secretary of the party in 1976 in a convention at Patna and played a key role in the prodemocracy movement. G.P. Koirala was known for favoring reconciliation with the left, but he also wanted to pursue national unity and Western-style democracy.

The Communist Parties

Like the Nepali Congress Party, the fractured communist movement was deeply indebted to its Indian counterpart, whose initiative had helped to found the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) in 1949 in Calcutta. Nepalese communists looked askance at the Nepali Congress Party leadership as willing collaborators of Indian expansionism and called for broad-based alliances of all progressive forces for the establishment of a people's democracy.

As many as seventeen factions, ranging from the quasiestablishment royal communists to extremely radical fringe groups, vied for leadership and control, preventing the movement from making significant gains. The proscription of political parties in 1960 affected the communists less severely than other parties because communist factions proved better at organizing and operating underground and at making the transition to covert activity. Little effort was exerted to detain communist leaders, and in the months following the palace coup d'état in 1960, the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) was allowed to operate with a perceptibly greater amount of freedom than any other party. The Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) was established in 1978, one of many splinter groups under the name Communist Party of Nepal. In spite of many vicissitudes encountered since the movement's inception, the communists maintained national attention because of continued support from the peasant and worker organizations and the fact that the country's poverty and deprivation offered a fertile ground for Marxist ideals. Support was maintained through the All Peasants Union and the Nepal Trade Union Congress.

Communist groups wielded significant influence in the universities and professional groups. The movement had a dedicated cadre of motivated youth who followed party discipline strictly. Whereas the Nepali Congress Party seemed to accommodate the old guard at the expense of the younger generation, communists more ardently sought younger members. Most of the mainstream communist groups in the 1980s believed in democracy and a multiparty system, recognized no international communist headquarters or leaders, and abjured the Maoism many had embraced earlier.

The United Left Front coalition, organized in late 1989, supported multiparty democracy. During the prodemocracy movement, it played a crucial role by joining the interim government led by the Nepali Congress Party and by submerging serious differences of opinion. Although differences in the communist camp were endemic when the movement was underground, the internal conflicts lessened as communists operated openly and began to look toward future electoral gains.

The success of the communist parties in the May 12, 1991, election, came as a shock to the Nepali Congress Party, which had failed to repeat its 1959 landslide victory. Although there was some unity among the communist factions of the United Left Front, there was no agreement to share seats with the other factions or groups. The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) faction--formed as a result of a merger between the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (MarxistLeninist )--came in second to the Nepali Congress Party. The head of the communist leadership echelon was Madan Bhandari, son of a Brahman priest, who was working to turn his Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) into a formidable political power. He stunned the Nepali Congress Party in the 1991 elections by narrowly defeating its leader, K.P. Bhattarai, for a parliamentary seat in Kathmandu.

As a partner in the interim coalition government, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) had endorsed, although reluctantly, the new constitution, which retained the monarchy. The communists received popular support for their allegations that the Nepali Congress Party was too close to India and was a threat to Nepal's sovereignty. Other mainstream communist leaders were Man Mohan Adhikari and Sahana Pradhan, both originally of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist); and Bishnu Bahadur Manandhar of the Communist Party of Nepal (Manandhar), another communist faction.

Other Political Parties

There was a phenomenal rise in the number of political parties- -particularly between May and September 1990--as strategic maneuvers to participate in parliamentary elections and find a niche in postelection Nepal occurred. The Nepal Sadbhavana Party (Good Will Party), one of several regional and ethnic parties, was founded in April 1990. It aimed at promoting the interests of the Tarai Region, including the expulsion of the Hill people from Tarai and the establishment of a special relationship with India in the framework of nonalignment. A forum for people of Indian descent, the party also favored the introduction of Hindi as the second national language. Its ideology supported a democratic socialist society. Other Tarai Region parties included the Nepal Tarai Unity Forum, the Nepal Tarai Association, and the Nepal Tarai Muslim Congress Party.

Among the several ethnic parties were the National People's Liberation Front (Nepal Rashtriya Jana Mukti Morcha), the National Mongol Organization (Rashtriya Mongol Sanghatan), SETAMAGURALI (an acronym of names of different ethnic groups of eastern Nepal including the Tamang, Magar, and Gurung), the Front of the Kirat Aborigines (Nepal Kirat Adhibasi Janajiti Morch), the Freedom Front of the Limbu People (Limbuwan Mukli Morcha), and the Nepal Nationalist Gorkha Parishad, or Parishad (Nepal Rashtrabadi Gorkha Parishad). The Parishad, revived in September 1990, was founded in 1951 as part of Rana revivalist politics and had placed second in the 1959 general elections. Some of its senior leaders later joined the Nepali Congress or pancha camps.

Of those groups favoring the monarchy, two conservative parties received considerable attention. Hastily founded by two former prime ministers, both parties were called the National Democratic Party--suffixed with the names Thapa or Chand enclosed within brackets. Other parties of this political bent included the National Democratic Unity Panchayat Party (Rashtriya Prajatantrik Ekata Panchayat Party), Nepal Welfare Party (Nepal Janahit Party), United Democratic Party (Samyukti Prajatantra Party), and Nepal Panchayat Council (Nepal Panchayat Parishad).

Besides the Nepali Congress Party, fifteen centrist parties also had emerged. Most of these parties were founded by former members of the Nepali Congress Party and defecting pancha who had shifted allegiance to the multiparty system. The Women's Democratic Party aimed at promoting the rights, interests, and freedoms of Nepalese women.


Nepal - Elections


The 1981 Elections

Growing political unrest, accompanied by massive demonstrations, forced King Birendra, as a palliative tactic, to call for a nationwide referendum to choose the form of government. Following the May 2, 1980, referendum--the subject of charges of rigging--the panchayat system was reaffirmed. However, members of the Rashtriya Panchayat would henceforth be elected directly by the people on the basis of universal adult suffrage.

In May 1981, the king promulgated the third amendment to the 1962 constitution incorporating the results of the referendum. There was no change in the fundamental principle of partylessness; all candidates for the Rashtriya Panchayat competed as individuals.

The first direct election to the Rashtriya Panchayat was held in May 1981. In the midst of an election boycott by the Nepali Congress Party and other banned political parties, the exercise only legitimized the administration of Prime Minister Thapa as a democratically elected popular government. Indirectly, however, the election was counterproductive because it intensified further the increasingly sharp divisions within the various panchayat and the continued opposition of the Nepali Congress Party, various communist factions, and peasants' and workers' organizations.

There were 1,096 candidates contesting 112 seats in the 1981 elections. Campaign appeals were made on regional, ethnic, and caste lines rather than on broad national issues. Among the contestants were forty-five candidates from pro-Moscow communist factions, thirty-six candidates from the Nepali Congress Party, and several multiparty pancha. Voter turnout was 63 percent. Despite Thapa's reelection, more than 70 percent of the official candidates were defeated. Candidates who supported the multiparty system also fared poorly. The election of fifty-nine new members in the Rashtriya Panchayat indicated the voters' rejection of the old guard. The indirect participation of the political parties was a symbolic gesture toward national consensus and reconciliation; the chief protagonist was the moderate Nepali Congress Party leader, B.P. Koirala.

In the tradition of panchayat political patterns of instability, the quick fix of a referendum and new elections failed to restore political equilibrium to the system. Corruption and general administrative inertia further vitiated the political climate. Even senior panchayat leaders, who were openly critical of the system, became willing participants in intrigues, which only precipitated counterplots by paranoid palace advisers. Clashes between students, which were at times supported by faculty members, created disturbances throughout the country.

The 1986 Elections

Between the 1981 and 1986 elections, there was a growing rift among the pancha. Without a viable economic and political program, disillusionment with the panchayat system increased. In the face of a deteriorating economy, faltering development plans, and the failure of the panchayati raj to inspire motivation and confidence in an already demoralized bureaucracy, the credibility of the government waned. The banned political parties, especially the Nepali Congress Party, after initial efforts at reconciliation, concentrated on organizational work and the demand for political pluralism. Most political activities, however, were noticeable only within the panchayat system itself. Appointed in 1983, the new prime minister, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, had a no-confidence motion filed against him immediately after taking office. The motion was declared inadmissible on the grounds of errors in drafting, but this power struggle among different groups of pancha further undermined the panchayat system.

The uneasy political stalemate was upset when in late May 1985, the Nepali Congress Party, in preparation for the 1986 election, decided to launch a satyagraha (civil disobedience) campaign--in which many communists also participated--to demand reforms in the political system. A large number of Nepali Congress Party activists were quickly arrested. Although the campaign generally lacked popular support, it received considerable attention and interest among intellectuals and students, caused tension within the government, and further divided the already fractured panchayat. Kathmandu also was subjected to violence, including explosions that rocked the royal palace and other key buildings. There was further discontent when, at the panchayat workers' annual congress, the moot issue of government accountability to the legislature was disallowed from discussion.

In a politically charged atmosphere, the second quinquennial nationwide election to the Rashtriya Panchayat was held in May 1986. Slightly more than 9 million voters cast their ballots for 1,584 candidates for 112 seats. According to official sources, 60 percent of all eligible voters participated in the election.

The election was marked by a lack of enthusiasm, which partly reflected the Nepali Congress Party's boycott. A few communist factions contested the election. About 20 percent of the candidates were elected either on the basis of their roles as champions of the opposition or for their stand against the elite. Allegations of electoral malpractice also were widely voiced. The electoral success of forty-five Chettris and Thakuris, sixteen Hill Brahmans, and seven Newars indicated that the traditional power structure remained largely unaffected. Marich Man Singh Shrestha, a Newar, was appointed prime minister. Three women were elected to the Rashtriya Panchayat from the Tarai Region, but no Muslims were elected.

Local Elections in 1987

In contrast to the procedure followed in the 1986 elections, the Nepali Congress Party and a number of communist factions allowed their members to participate as individuals in the 1987 local elections. The Nepali Congress Party also made it clear that its local election strategy did not mean an end to its opposition or resistance to the panchayat system. In urban areas, especially in the Tarai Region, certain party members, as well as some communists, did very well and were returned to office in substantial numbers.

The 1991 Elections

For many Nepalese, participation in the democratic process meant either walking for hours along mountain paths or riding a yak to cast a ballot. Since most voters were illiterate, they had to choose a candidate according to the party's symbol as authorized by the election commission; for example, a tree signified the Nepali Congress Party and a sun represented the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist).

Although forty-four parties were recognized by the Election Commission, only twenty parties actually contested the elections. The twenty parties ranged across the political spectrum from radical right to loyalist leftist and all except a leftwing radical faction, Masal (Torch), eagerly participated in the elections. Twelve parties did not win a single seat and obtained a total of only about 82,500 votes, slightly more than 1 percent of the total valid votes. Many voters seemed to have fallen back on their ageold identification with caste or ethnic community. Younger voters favored the progressive leftist parties, as did voters in the urban areas.

The Nepali Congress Party won the first multiparty election in thirty-two years, taking 110 seats in the 205-member House of Representatives. The results of the elections, however, demonstrated that a coalition of various communist parties was a major political force in Nepalese politics, defying the international trend of dismantling communist parties and regimes. The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), a constituent of the United Left Front, won sixty-nine seats. The three other communist parties of the United Left Front coalition won a total of thirteen seats. Besides the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) alliance, four other parties qualified for national party status, which meant they polled more than 3 percent of the total votes cast.

The election was marked by heavy voter turnout. Of a total of more than 11 million voters, about 7 million, or 65 percent, cast ballots, of which slightly more than 4 percent were declared invalid on technical grounds. The election results made it very clear that the promonarchists and those in favor of the panchayat system lacked national support. Communist parties won in the Kathmandu Valley and some parts of the eastern Tarai Region. The Nepali Congress Party won in other parts of the Tarai Region and in western Nepal. The National Democratic Party (Chand) won three seats and the National Democratic Party (Thapa) won only one seat. The four members of those parties, six Nepal Sadbhavana Party members, and independents were expected to join the moderate Nepali Congress Party. All leftist elements under the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) umbrella were likely to form a solid opposition in Parliament to the Nepali Congress Party government.

The new House of Representatives included thirteen members of the dissolved Rashtriya Panchayat, five Muslims, seven women, and six members of the Parliament that had been dissolved in 1960. Although the number of women representatives was much lower than was hoped for, Muslim representation was comparable to their proportion of the population. Also notable was the performance of the ethnic or regional parties, in particular the Tarai-based Nepal Sadbhavana Party, which polled 4 percent of the valid votes, allowing it to claim the status of a national party. Out of the five seats in Kathmandu, the Nepali Congress Party won one seat; the rest were swept by the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist). The average age of the newly elected members of the House of Representatives was forty-three.

Kathmandu citizens made it clear that they had enough of political dynasties. The son and wife of Nepali Congress Party figurehead Ganesh Man Singh ran for two of the high-profile seats; both were defeated by communist candidates. In the prestigious contest for a seat in Kathmandu, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) general secretary, Madan Bhandari, defeated interim Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai. The poor showing of the Nepali Congress Party in the urban areas may also be attributed to the fact that, given that the communists had been banned for thirty years, the party did not see them as potential opposition and was overconfident.

The continuing transition from a partyless panchayat system to a multiparty democracy was relatively peaceful, although there were some incidents of sporadic violence. Six deaths in preelection violence were reported, but no election-related deaths were confirmed on polling day. Police enforced a curfew during the long wait for election results. Because of election irregularities and violence, the Election Commission--which enjoyed the confidence of all the parties--ordered repolling at 44 of 8,225 polling centers, affecting 31 constituencies.

In response to the interim government's invitation to international observers, a host of Asians, Europeans, and North Americans journeyed to Kathmandu. Among the observers was a sixtyfour member international observation delegation, representing twenty-two countries, which was organized by Nepal's National Election Observation Committee. The committee was an offshoot of Nepal's Forum for the Protection of Human Rights. The international delegation concluded that the elections generally were conducted in a fair, free, and open manner and that the parties were able to campaign unimpaired. Complaints were received that equal and adequate access to radio and television was denied, however, and that the code of conduct and campaign spending limitations were violated. The delegation also recognized that, as confirmed by the Election Commission, from 5 to 10 percent of eligible voters were not registered and that there were some inaccuracies in voter lists.

On May 29, 1991, a Nepali Congress Party government was installed with G.P. Koirala as prime minister. The first session of Parliament was held on June 20. The new government faced two enormous tasks, both of which concerned India: the negotiation of a new trade and transit treaty, and the exploitation of Nepal's only major natural resource, water, for hydroelectric power for purchase by India. Further, although the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) faction wanted to end recruitment of the Gurkhas into the British and Indian armies, the Nepali Congress Party wanted neither to outrage the Gurkhas nor to deprive the country of the foreign remittances sent by the soldiers.




Previous constitutions guaranteed freedom of expression as a basic right, but in practice this right was severely curtailed. Prepublication censorship, cancellation of registration for publication, and other similar restrictive regulations severely handicapped the freedom of the press, and journalists operated under constant threats of harassment and imprisonment. In 1960 the king decreed that all newspapers were required to obtain official clearance for reports of political activities. In 1962 a government-controlled news agency, Rashtriya Sambad Samity, was established to collect and distribute news about and within the country. The Samity monopoly continued until the success of the prodemocracy movement. In addition, provisions of the Freedom of Speech Publications Act of 1980 limited the publication of materials that might undermine the interests of sovereignty of the nation; contravene principles that underlie the constitution; or encourage, abet, or propagate party politics. This act was repealed in July 1990.

The constitution guarantees the freedom of the press as a fundamental right. It also prohibits the censoring of news items, articles, or any other reading materials and states that a press cannot be closed or seized for printing any news item, article, or any other reading materials. In addition, the registration of a newspaper or periodical cannot be cancelled for publishing offensive news articles or reading material. The operation of a free press is circumscribed, however, by vague restrictions against undermining the sovereignty and integrity of Nepal; disturbing the harmonious relations among the people of different castes, classes, or communities; violating decent public behavior morality; instigating crimes; or committing sedition or contempt of court. During the 1980s, several journalists were incarcerated and held without trial under the Public Security Act and the Treason Act.

The Nepalese press was supportive of the prodemocracy movement. When the government repressed the movement, the Central Committee of the Nepal Journalists Association, headed by Govinda Binyogi, issued a statement that declared all censorship, banning of newspapers, and arrests of journalists as illegal, unconstitutional, and undemocratic. The Nepal Journalists Association reported that between January and April 1990, forty journalists were arrested for comments criticizing the government. During the same period, several newspapers halted publication to protest the government's attempts at precensorship. More than ten papers had entire issues seized by government authorities when they ran articles considered overtly critical. Several newspapers were severely pressed financially after successive government seizures.

Since the momentous political changes of April 1990, freedom of the press has come into question only once, in November 1990, when authorities charged two reporters with slandering the royal family in print. Charges were dismissed in December following protests by the Nepal Journalist Association to the prime minister. An editor also was detained overnight in November 1990 for publishing insulting remarks against the queen, but charges were not pressed. As of mid-1991, there were no reports of the seizing or banning of foreign publications deemed to have carried articles unfavorable to the government or the monarchy.

In 1991 there were approximately 400 Nepalese newspapers and periodicals, including a dozen national dailies with a combined circulation of more than 125,000. The circulation of other newspapers, journals, and magazines was limited to only a few hundred copies each.

Except for two English dailies, Rising Nepal and Commoner, both published in Kathmandu, other widely circulating newspapers were published in Nepali. These included Gorkhapatra, Samichhya, Matribhumi, Rastra Pukar, Daily News, Samaya, and Janadoot. The number of publications in Hindi and Newari, however, was increasing in the late 1980s.

The daily Gorkhapatra and Rising Nepal were government organs. Before the success of the prodemocracy movement, both government dailies primarily provided coverage of official views, carried virtually no information on opposition activities, and muted criticism of the government. Nepal Raj Patra, the principal government publication since 1951, contained texts of laws, decrees, proclamations, and royal orders and was available in both English and Nepali.

Because of the government's near monopoly on domestic news, many newspaper readers relied on foreign publications. They relied on as Statesman, Times of India, and Hindustan Times--all from India--and the Pacific editions of Time, Newsweek, and China Today, published in India in Hindi, English, and Nepali.

Much of the fast proliferating printed matter was read only by a small elite and by government functionaries in the Kathmandu Valley. Staggeringly widespread illiteracy (about 33 percent of the population were literate in 1990), lack of a transport infrastructure, the general apathy of the rural people toward the affairs of Kathmandu--to which the press devoted a major share of coverage--and a general reliance on oral transmission of information rather than on the written word were among the factors that impeded the dissemination of publications. By April 1990, however, news coverage had broadened to reflect a wide range of views. Although in most circumstances editorial views reflected government policy, editors did at times exercise the right to publish critical views and alternative policies.

Electronic media consisted of radio and television programming controlled by the government. Radio Nepal broadcast on short-wave and medium-wave both in Nepali and English from transmitters in Jawalakhel and Khumaltar. Nepal Television Corporation broadcast twenty-three hours of programs per week from its station at Singha Durbar, Kathmandu. Transmitters also were located at Pokhara, Biratnagar, and Hetauda. Prior to the unrest of 1990, programming closely reflected the views of the government. Although coverage of government criticism remained inadequate, programming in 1991 reflected a broader range of interests and political views. The Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and several other European and Asian networks were monitored in Nepal.




A landlocked country, Nepal was sandwiched between two giant neighbors--China and India. To the north, the Himalayas constituted a natural and mostly impassible frontier, and beyond that was the border with China. To the south, east, and west, Nepal was hemmed in by India. Without an outlet to the sea, Nepal was dependent on India for international trade and transit facilities.

During the British Raj (1858-1947), Nepal sought geostrategic isolation. This traditional isolationism partially was the product of the relative freedom the country enjoyed from external intervention and domination. From the mid-nineteenth century, when Britain emerged as the unchallenged power in India and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in China was in decline, Nepal made accommodations with Britain on the best possible terms. Without surrendering autonomy on internal matters, Nepal received guarantees of protection from Britain against external aggression and interference. London also considered a steady flow of Gurkha recruits from Nepal as vital to support Britain's security in India and its other colonial territories.

In the 1950s, Nepal began a gradual opening up and a commitment to a policy of neutrality and nonalignment. At the 1973 summit of the Nonaligned Movement in Algiers, King Birendra proposed that "Nepal, situated between two of the most populous countries of the world, wishes her frontiers to be declared a zone of peace." In Birendra's 1975 coronation address, he formally asked other countries to endorse his proposal. Since then, the concept of Nepal as a zone of peace has become a main theme of Kathmandu's foreign policy.

As of mid-1991, Nepal had been endorsed as a zone of peace by more than 110 nations. Many of these countries also recommended a regional approach to peace as the goal. Without the endorsement of India and the former Soviet Union, however, the prospect of broader international acceptance was dim.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Nepal had established diplomatic relations with approximately 100 countries. Nepal was an active member of the United Nations (UN) and participated in a number of its specialized agencies. Nepal also was a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and had successfully negotiated several bilateral and multilateral economic, cultural, and technical assistance programs. Because of its geographical proximity to and historical links with China and India, Nepal's foreign policy was focused mainly on maintaining close and friendly relations with these two countries and on safeguarding its national security and independence. Nepal's relations with the United States, Europe, and the Soviet Union showed new signs of vitality in 1991.

Foreign Relations with ...
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Nepal - India


Even after India had achieved independence from Britain in 1947, Nepalese-Indian relations continued to be based on the second Treaty of Sagauli, which had been signed with the government of British India in 1925. Beginning in 1950, however, relations were based on two treaties. Under the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, ratified in July 1950, each government agreed to acknowledge and respect the other's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence; to continue diplomatic relations; and, on matters pertaining to industrial and economic development, to grant rights equal to those of its own citizens to the nationals of the other residing in its territory. Agreements on all subjects in this treaty superseded those on similar matters dealt with in the previous treaties between Nepal and Britain. In the Treaty of Trade and Commerce, ratified in October 1950, India recognized Nepal's right to import and export commodities through Indian territory and ports. Customs could not be levied on commodities in transit through India.

India's influence over Nepal increased throughout the 1950s. The Citizenship Act of 1952 allowed Indians to immigrate to Nepal and acquire Nepalese citizenship with ease--a source of some resentment in Nepal. And, Nepalese were allowed to migrate freely to India--a source of resentment there. (This policy was not changed until 1962 when several restrictive clauses were added to the Nepalese constitution.) Also in 1952, an Indian military mission was established in Nepal. In 1954 a memorandum provided for the joint coordination of foreign policy, and Indian security posts were established in Nepal's northern frontier. At the same time, Nepal's dissatisfaction with India's growing influence began to emerge, and overtures to China were initiated as a counterweight to India.

King Mahendra continued to pursue a nonaligned policy begun during the reign of Prithvi Narayan Shah in the mid-eighteenth century. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Nepal voted differently from India in the UN unless India's basic interests were involved. The two countries consistently remained at odds over the rights of landlocked states to transit facilities and access to the sea.

Following the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, the relationship between Kathmandu and New Delhi thawed significantly. India suspended its support to India-based Nepalese opposition forces. Nepal extracted several concessions, including transit rights with other countries through India and access to Indian markets. In exchange, through a secret accord concluded in 1965, similar to an arrangement that had been suspended in 1963, India won a monopoly on arms sales to Nepal.

In 1969 relations again became stressful as Nepal challenged the existing mutual security arrangement and asked that the Indian security checkposts and liaison group be withdrawn. Resentment also was expressed against the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950. India grudgingly withdrew its military checkposts and liaison group, although the treaty was not abrogated.

Further changes in Nepalese-Indian relations occurred in the 1970s. India's credibility as a regional power was increased--and Nepal's vulnerability was reinforced--by the 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation; the 1971 IndoPakistani War, which led to the emergence of an independent Bangladesh; the absorption of Sikkim into India in 1974; increased unofficial support of the Nepali Congress Party leadership in India; rebellions fomented by pro-Beijing Naxalite elements in 1973-74 in West Bengal State bordering Nepal; and India's nuclear explosion in 1974. Nepal adopted a cautious policy of appeasement of India, and in his 1975 coronation address King Birendra called for the recognition of Nepal as a zone of peace where military competition would be off-limits. India showed some flexibility in placating Nepal by distancing, if not disassociating, itself from the Nepalese opposition forces based in India, agreeing to a favorable trade and transit arrangement in 1978, and entering into another agreement on joint industrial ventures between Indian and Nepalese firms. The latter agreement, by opening the possibilities of India's investment, indirectly furthered India's domination of Nepal's economy. India also continued to maintain a high level of economic assistance to Nepal.

In the mid-1970s, Nepal pressed for substantial amendments to the 1971 trade and transit treaty, which was due to expire in 1976. India ultimately backed down from its initial position to terminate the 1971 treaty even before a new treaty could be negotiated. The 1978 agreements incorporated Nepal's demand for separate treaties for trade and transit. The relationship between the two nations improved over the next decade, but not steadily.

India continued to support the Nepalese opposition and refused to endorse Nepal as a zone of peace. In 1987 India urged expulsion of Nepalese settlers from neighboring Indian states, and Nepal retaliated by introducing a work permit system for Indians working in Nepal. That same year, the two countries signed an agreement setting up a joint commission to increase economic cooperation in trade and transit, industry, and water resources.

Relations between the two countries sank to a low point in 1988 when Kathmandu signed an agreement with Beijing to purchase weapons soon after a report that China had won a contract for constructing a road in the western sector to connect China with Nepal. India perceived these developments as deliberately jeopardizing its security. India also was annoyed with the high volume of unauthorized trade across the Nepalese border, the issuance of work permits to the estimated 150,000 Indians residing in Nepal, and the imposition of a 55 percent tariff on Indian goods entering Nepal.

In retaliation for these developments, India put Nepal under a virtual trade siege. In March 1989, upon the expiration of the 1978 treaties on trade and transit rights, India insisted on negotiating a single unified treaty in addition to an agreement on unauthorized trade, which Nepal saw as a flagrant attempt to strangle its economy. On March 23, 1989, India declared that both treaties had expired and closed all but two border entry points.

The economic consequences of the trade and transit deadlock were enormous. Shortages of Indian imports such as fuel, salt, cooking oil, food, and other essential commodities soon occurred. The lucrative tourist industry went into recession. Nepal also claimed that the blockade caused ecological havoc since people were compelled to use already dwindling forest resources for energy in lieu of gasoline and kerosene, which came mostly via India. To withstand the renewed Indian pressure, Nepal undertook a major diplomatic initiative to present its case on trade and transit matters to the world community.

The relationship with India was further strained in 1989 when Nepal decoupled its rupee from the Indian rupee which previously had circulated freely in Nepal. India retaliated by denying port facilities in Calcutta to Nepal, thereby preventing delivery of oil supplies from Singapore and other sources.

A swift turn in relations followed the success of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in early 1990. In June 1990, a joint Kathmandu-New Delhi communiqué was issued pending the finalization of a comprehensive arrangement covering all aspects of bilateral relations, restoring trade relations, reopening transit routes for Nepal's imports, and formalizing respect of each other's security concerns. Essentially, the communiqué announced the restoration of the status quo ante and the reopening of all border points, and Nepal agreed to various concessions regarding India's commercial privileges. Kathmandu also announced that lower cost was the decisive factor in its purchasing arms and personnel carriers from China and that Nepal was advising China to withhold delivery of the last shipment. The communiqué declared that Kathmandu and New Delhi would cooperate in industrial development, in harnessing the waters of their common rivers for mutual benefit, and in protecting and managing the environment.


Nepal - Pakistan and Bangladesh


Nepal's relations with other South Asian nations were dominated by the search for alternate transit facilities and a reduction of India's influence. Nepal tried to stay clear of Indo-Pakistani rivalry, inasmuch as Nepal had a only minor role in the Kashmir dispute and had no involvement in several United States-sponsored security arrangements in the region in the early 1950s.

Nepal and Pakistan signed the protocol for establishing full diplomatic relations in 1962 and exchanged ambassadors in 1963. Two agreements between Kathmandu and Karachi (then Pakistan's capital) were signed in October 1962, calling for reciprocal most-favored- nation treatment. A January 1963 agreement provided Nepal with free trade and transit facilities through the port of Chittagong, East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). This arrangement somewhat reduced Nepal's dependence on India for import privileges, particularly after the establishment of an air link with East Pakistan later in the year. This endeavor to secure another transit route through East Pakistan had at best only limited potential because of the intervening Indian territory.

Nepal initially adopted a neutral posture during the IndoPakistan war of 1971 but immediately recognized the newly independent nation of Bangladesh on January 16, 1972. Two days after diplomatic relations were established with Dhaka, Islamabad broke off diplomatic relations with Kathmandu.

Nepal's focus shifted to Bangladesh as a permanent and much desired gateway to the sea. Bangladesh, friendly to India and close to Nepal's southern border, opened new potential for both trade and transit facilities.

Nepal's relations with Bangladesh improved when an anti-Indian faction seized power in Dhaka in August 1975. The turning point in Nepal-Bangladesh relations, however, occurred in April 1976 when the two countries signed four agreements relating to trade, transit, civil aviation, and technical cooperation. They also jointly issued a communiqué on maintaining close cooperation in the fields of power generation and the development of water resources. The transit agreement exempted all traffic-in-transit from transit duties or other charges. Six points of entry and exit for the movement of Nepalese traffic-in-transit through Bangladesh's ports and territory were designated. This transit agreement came at a crucial time--during Nepal's conclusion of a trade and transit agreement with a reluctant India. In 1986 Nepal was also gratified when Bangladesh wanted to involve Nepal in the issue of distribution and utilization of water from the Ganges River.


Nepal - Bhutan


Nepal has shown interest in developing a mutually advantageous relationship with Bhutan, but substantial problems have persisted. Through its own treaty with India, signed in 1949, Bhutan had generally followed New Delhi's guidance in foreign policy matters. Bhutan had serious reservations over joining in regional and international organizational politics bearing Nepal's initiatives and had ignored the concept of a Himalayan federation. Another potential source of dissension in Nepalese-Bhutanese relations was the presence of a large Nepalese community in southern Bhutan. In the early 1990s, the large Nepalese population emerged as a potentially divisive issue between the two countries. In spite of these difficulties, Kathmandu maintained nonresident diplomatic relations with Thimpu.


Nepal - Sri Lanka and the Maldives


As of mid-1991, Nepal had not cultivated bilateral relations with Sri Lanka or the Maldive Islands. Nevertheless, following a visit to Nepal by the Maldives' president in May 1981, a cultural exchange and economic cooperation agreement was signed. The agreement, however, has remained dormant.

Nepal was interested in Sri Lanka's Tamil separatist movement because of its own potential problems with ethnic diversity. In line with its policy of deploring the violation of the territorial integrity of sovereign states, Nepal also expressed concern at India's military involvement in Sri Lanka during the 1980s. Nepal welcomed the conclusion of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 29, 1987.


Nepal - China


The keystone of Nepal's China policy was maintaining equal friendships with China and India while simultaneously seeking to decrease India's influence in Nepal and Nepal's dependence on India. Further, Kathmandu felt that the competition between its two giant neighbors--China and India--would benefit its own economic development.

The first recorded official relations with China and Tibet occurred near the middle of the seventh century. By the eighteenth century, Nepalese adventurism in Tibet led to Chinese intervention in favor of Tibet. The resultant Sino-Nepalese Treaty of 1792 provided for tribute-bearing missions from Nepal to China every five years as a symbol of Chinese political and cultural supremacy in the region.

In the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16, China refused Nepal's requests for military assistance and, by default, surrendered its dominant position in Nepal to the growing British influence. However, it appeared to be expedient for Nepal to retain the fiction of a tributary relationship with China in order to balance China against Britain.

Nepal invaded Tibet in 1854. Hostilities were quickly terminated when China intervened, and the Treaty of Thapathali was concluded in March 1856. The treaty recognized the special status of China, and Nepal agreed to assist Tibet in the event of foreign aggression.

Relations between Nepal and China and Tibet continued without critical incident until 1904, when British India sent an armed expedition to Tibet and Nepal rejected Tibet's request for aid to avoid risking its good relations with Britain. Beginning in 1908, Nepal stopped paying tribute to China.

By 1910, apprehensive of British activity in Tibet, China had reasserted its claim to sovereign rights in Tibet and feudatory missions from Nepal. In 1912 Nepal warned the Chinese representative at Lhasa that Nepal would help Tibet attain independent status as long as it was consistent with British interests. Nepal broke relations with China when the Tibetans, taking advantage of the Chinese revolution of 1911, drove the Chinese out.

When the Chinese communists invaded Tibet in 1950, Nepal's relations with China began to undergo drastic changes. Although annual Tibetan tribute missions appeared regularly in Nepal as late as 1953, Beijing had started to ignore the provisions of the 1856 treaty by curtailing the privileges and rights it accorded to Nepalese traders, by imposing restrictions on Nepalese pilgrims, and by stopping the Tibetan tributary missions.

The break between Kathmandu and Beijing continued until 1955, when relations were reestablished with China. The two countries established resident ambassadors in their respective capitals in July 1960.

In 1956 the Treaty of Thapathali was replaced by a new treaty under which Nepal recognized China's sovereignty over Tibet and agreed to surrender all privileges and rights granted by the old treaty. In 1962 Nepal withdrew its ambassador from Tibet and substituted a consul general. An agreement on locating and demarcating the Nepal-Tibet boundary was signed in March 1960. Within a month, another Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed in Kathmandu.

The Sino-Nepal Boundary Treaty was signed in Beijing in October 1961. The treaty provided for a Sino-Nepal Joint Commission to agree on questions regarding alignment, location, and maintenance of the seventy-nine demarcation markers. The commission's findings were attached to the original treaty in a protocol signed in January 1963.

During the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, Nepal reasserted its neutrality and warned that it would not submit to aggression from any state. Although the warning was directed at China, Nepal continued to support China's application for membership in the United Nations. A potential source of irritation in Sino-Nepalese relations was relieved in January 1964 when China agreed to release the frozen funds of Nepalese traders from Tibetan banks.

An agreement to construct an all-weather highway linking Kathmandu with Tibet was signed in October 1961--a time when neither Kathmandu nor Beijing had cordial relations with New Delhi. The Kathmandu-Kodari road opened in May 1967 but did not yield any commercial or trade benefits for Nepal. Because of the severe restrictions imposed by Beijing even before the road was opened, Kathmandu had closed its trade agencies in Tibet by January 1966. Although the highway had no economic or commercial value and was not viable as an alternate transit route, it was of strategic military importance to China. The highway established direct links between two major Chinese army bases within 100 kilometers of Kathmandu to forward bases at Gyirong in Tibet.

Throughout the latter half of the 1960s, Nepal's relations with China remained fairly steady. One exception was the belligerent activities of the Chinese officials in Nepal who eulogized and extolled the successes of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) during the summer of 1967.

The emergence of a strident and confident India in the early 1970s introduced some new dimensions in Nepal's China policy. King Birendra did not abandon the policy of equal friendship between China and India but wanted to woo China to counter India's growing influence in the region. China had implicitly recognized India's predominance in the region, however, and was willing to oblige Nepal only to the extent of pledging support in safeguarding its national independence and preventing foreign interference.

In an open challenge to India's primacy in Nepal, Nepal negotiated a deal for the purchase of Chinese weapons in mid-1988. According to India, this deal contravened an earlier agreement that obliged Nepal to secure all defense supplies from India.

Nepal's overtures to China also had economic implications. Ever since an economic aid agreement between China and Nepal had been concluded in 1956, China's steadily increasing economic and technical assistance was being used to build up Nepal's industrial infrastructure and implement economic planning. According to a 1990 report, an estimated 750 Chinese workers were in Nepal, most of them working on road-building crews and small-scale development projects. The foreign trade balance also was in Nepal's favor. China reportedly has ceded some territory to Nepal to facilitate boundary demarcation and has endorsed Nepal as a zone of peace.


Nepal - United States


Nepal's relations with the United States were cordial. Diplomatic relations at the legation level were established in 1947. Commercial relations were conducted according to the mostfavored -nation status. In August 1951, the two governments agreed to raise the status of their respective diplomatic representations to the rank of ambassador. It was not until August 1959, however, that each country established a resident embassy in each other's capital. The first agreement for United States economic assistance was signed in January 1951. By 1990 the United States commitment totaled approximately US$475 million.

In the late 1980s, United States economic assistance channeled through the Agency for International Development averaged US$15 million annually. The United States also contributed to Nepal's development through various multilateral institutions, businesses, and private voluntary organizations such as CARE, Save the Children Federation, United Mission to Nepal, Seventh Day Adventists, the Coca-Cola Corporation, and Morrison Knudsen Corporation. Much of Washington's economic assistance has been in the fields of health and family planning, environmental protection, and rural development. Projects have included geological surveys, road construction, agricultural development, and educational programs. The Peace Corps began operating in 1962 in Nepal, and in 1991 it was the only such program still operational in South Asia. The Peace Corps concentrated on agricultural, health, education, and rural development programs.

United States policy toward Nepal supported three objectives-- peace and stability in South Asia, Nepal's independence and territorial integrity, and selected programs of economic and technical assistance to assist development. At the beginning of the Cold War, the United States also had a significant strategic interest in the country because Nepal was an outpost and a portal into China.

Although Kathmandu's primary interest in relations with Washington was for economic and technical assistance, Nepal also sought global support for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. While on a state visit to the United States in December 1983, King Birendra received President Ronald Reagan's endorsement of Nepal as a zone of peace.

During Nepal's prodemocracy movement, the United States Department of State voiced concern at the violent turn of events in February 1990 and urged the government to start a dialogue with the democratic forces in order to stop violence and repression. Congressman Stephen Solarz, Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and his colleagues twice visited Nepal and met with the king and a wide range of political leaders undoubtedly to discuss events relating to the prodemocracy movement. The United Statesbased Asia Watch human rights monitoring group published a detailed account of torture, repression, and inhumane treatment meted out to the detainees.


Nepal - Britain


Nepalese-British relations spanned more than two centuries and generally were friendly and mutually rewarding. Since the Treaty of Sagauli of 1816, when Britain began recruiting Gurkha troops, the British have had continuous official representation in Kathmandu. In 1855 a convention required the Rana prime ministers to seek unofficial British confirmation before assuming the powers of their office. The Ranas offered military assistance to the British during the Second Sikh War (1848-49), the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, World War I (1914-18), and World War II (1939-45). During the Rana period, Nepal recognized Britain's leadership in foreign relations through numerous treaties and agreements. The Treaty of Sagauli was superseded in 1923 by the Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship, which reconfirmed Nepal's independent status and remained virtually unchanged until Britain's paramountcy over India ended in 1947 and India inherited Britain's historic interest in Nepal. Britain endorsed Nepal as a zone of peace in 1980.

A minor irritant in the steady relationship between Kathmandu and London was Britain's policy, begun in the late 1980s, of gradually phasing out its employment of Gurkha soldiers. Remittances from the Gurkhas based in Britain and Hong Kong served as a stable source of foreign exchange earnings for Nepal. The dismissal in 1988 of more than 100 Gurkha soldiers based in Hong Kong caused such a furor in Nepal that the British minister of state for army supply visited Kathmandu. The minister stated that the incident was atypical and that the 5,000 Gurkhas stationed in Hong Kong would be maintained and assigned to Britain, Brunei, and elsewhere after 1997 when Hong Kong reverted to China. Britain announced in 1989, however, that the strength of the British Brigade of Gurkhas would be cut by 50 percent.


Nepal - Bibliography

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CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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