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Last updated : Nov 2009
Nepal History
Nepal History - TravelPuppy.com
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 Tribhuvan.

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 internal dissensions 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 events.

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 influenced 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 in mid-November were put back. The Nepali government started the official discussions with the 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 discussion 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 new government.

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 conflict in their home country. But all of Nepal’s neighbours are worried about the widening rebellion and the probable falling-out.