| Nepal was founded by a group
of small princedoms in 1768 under King Prithvi Narayan Shah.
Under the power of a hereditary king, Nepal then became a ‘buffer
state’ between the British Empire and the territories
to the north. The instrument of British rule from the mid-19th century
was a hereditary prime minister from the Rana family. Nepal
became self-governing in 1923, but it was not until 1947
(the year of Indian freedom) and with the complete withdrawal of the
British from the area that Nepal gained real independence.
In 1951, the Ranas, were deposed in a coup led by the Nepali
Congress, and a hereditary monarchy was re-established under King
4 years later, his son, King Mahendra, succeeded him. In 1959
Mahendra founded a parliamentary constitution, and the ensuing
elections were won by the Nepali Congress (led by B. P. Koirala)
who played an important role in the restoration of the monarchy.
One year later, an imperial coup led to the prohibition of all political
parties and the foundation of a constitution based on the traditional
village councils known as the Panchayat system. Mahendra
died in 1972 and his son Birendra succeeded him.
Birendra held on to the Panchayat system, bolstered
firstly by the result of a referendum, that gave a narrow majority
in favour of its continued use. Facing considerable and growing
opposition, which increased consistently throughout the 1980s, Birendra
resorted to a combination of censorship, repression, and cosmetic
administrative reforms to defuse the situation. In 1986, a member
of the minority Newari community, Marich Man Singh Shrestha,
became Prime Minister. In 1990, growing public unrest forced
the King to allow political parties and introduce a draft constitution
allowing for direct elections to a bicameral parliament.
The Congress Party (linked to the Indian party of the same
name) and the United Marxist-Leninist Party (UML) won the
first two elections under the new system, held in 1991 and 1994.
Both parties were rife with
and Nepal lacked
a really consistent government throughout the 1990s. The Congress
Party was returned to office once again at the latest election in
May 1999. Since then the country has been consumed by more dramatic
The Maoist-inspired Nepalese Communist Party abandoned constitutional
politics in 1996 and launched an armed struggle, roughly mirrored
to the campaign conducted by the Peruvian movement Sendero
Luminoso. The guerrillas have attracted large-scale support
from the poor peasants and have an estimated 15,000 strong army.
Their leader is Pushpan Kamal Dahal, known as ‘Comrade
Prachanda’, a Maoist ideologue who lives outside the country
(may be in India) along with many of the NCP political leadership.
In June 2001, the monarchy almost destroyed itself through a bizarre
and bloody incident when the heir apparent to the throne, Crown
Prince Dipendra, went berserk in the royal palace and killed
almost everyone of his family as well as King Birendra before
committing suicide. The senior remaining Royal, Gyanenda,
became the King. The new monarch lacked the popularity of his predecessor
and also his government, faced some horrible problems, the
Maoist rebellion, a quibbling parliament and an unsteady economy.
He also inherited a new Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba,
after his predecessor, the very unpopular Girija Prasad Koirala
was forced from office. By 2002, there had been little improvement
on any front. The Maoists
much of the rural areas and established
their state-within-a-state in the western Nepal; their rebellion
began to sprawl to the capital. Additionally, the breakdown of the
tourist sector was weakening the entire economy. In October 2002,
Gyanendra fired premier Deuba and the Cabinet, and assumed
some executive powers. The National elections
expected to happen
were put back. The Nepali government started the official
Maoists, and was able to reach an agreement on political reforms and
a new constitution. In January 2003, the rebels announced a cease
fire. This held until September, by this time the Nepali government
was in disarray because of profound disagreements over official
strategies. Nepal now had its 3rd prime minister in 9 months:
Surya Bahadur Thapa was nominated to the post by King Gyanendra
in June 2003 according to his predecessor’s failure to form a
Relations with India, which reached a crisis situation during the mid-1990s,
when the Indians imposed a trade embargo, have improved somewhat.
Outstanding border disputes have been settled (as with the Makhali
River basin) or are in abeyance. Relations with Nepal’s other
neighbour, China, have also been good. Nepal is still coping with
up to 100,000 refugees who crossed the border from its 3rd neighbour,
Bhutan, to escape political
in their home country. But all
of Nepal’s neighbours are worried about the widening rebellion and
the probable falling-out.