Nepal: History

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Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least 9,000 years. The first people to settle in Nepal were the Kirat ethnicity people and they ruled Nepal for about 2,500 years.

Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha King, set out to unify the kingdoms after centuries of petty rivalry between the three kingdoms, in the 18th century. He embarked on his mission in 1765 after seeking arms and aid from India, and buying the neutrality of bordering Indian Kingdoms. He managed to unify the Kathmandu Valley and surrounding territory three years later in 1768, after several bloody battles and sieges. Prithvi Narayan Shah and his troops conquered the Kathmandu Valley without any battle, during the Indra Jatra, a festival of Newars, when all the citizens were celebrating the festival. The birth of modern nation Nepal was marked by this event.

The Nepalese overran Sikkim and sent a punitive raid into Tibet in the 1788. The Nepalese also occupied Kangara in northern India. In 1809, Ranjit Singh the ruler of the Sikh state in Punjab, had intervened and drove the Nepalese army east of the Sutlej River. Greater Nepal extended from the Teesta River in the east, to Kangara, across the Sutlej River in the west as well as further south into the Terai plains and north of the Himalayas than at present. The Nepalese had to retreat and forced to pay heavy reparations to China after a dispute and subsequent war with Tibet over the control of the mountain passes.

The Rivalry between Nepal and the British East India Company over the annexation of minor states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepalese War (1815-16). At first the British underestimated the Nepalese and were badly defeated until committing more military resources than they had anticipated needing. The valor and competence of their adversaries impressed them greatly. Thus began the reputation of “Gurkhas” as fierce and ruthless soldiers. The Treaty of Sugauli ended the war, under which Nepal ceded recently captured portions of Sikkim and lands in Terai as well as the right to recruit soldiers.

Factionalism inside the royal family had let to a period of instability. In 1846 a plot was discovered revealing that the reigning queen had planned to overthrow Jung Bahadur Rana, a fast-rising military leader. This led to the Kot Massacre; armed clashes between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen led to the execution of several hundred princes and chieftains around the country. The Rana lineage was founded after Jung Bahadur Rana emerged victorious.

The post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary, while the king was made a titular figure. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted them during the Indian Sepoy Rebellion in 1857 (and later in both World Wars). Because of the military help to sustain British control in India during the Sepoy Rebellion, some parts of the Terai Region were given back to Nepal by the British as friendly gesture. An agreement of friendship was signed in 1923 between the United Kingdom and Nepal formally, in which Nepal was recognized by the UK. In 1924, slavery was abolished in Nepal. Nevertheless debt bondage even involving debtors children have been a persistent social problem in the Terai.

Newly emerging pro-democracy movements and political parties in Nepal were critical of the Rana autocracy, in the late 1940s. Meanwhile, with the assertion of Chinese control in Tibet in the 1950s, India sought to counterbalance the perceived military threat from its northern neighbor by taking pre-emptive steps to assert more influence in Nepal. India sponsored both King Tribhuvan (ruled 1911-55) as Nepal’s new ruler in 1951 and a new government, mostly comprising the Nepali Congress Party, thus terminating Rana hegemony in the kingdom.

After years of power wrangling between the king and the government, King Mahendra (ruled 1955-72) scrapped the democratic experiment in 1959, and a “party less” panchayat system was made to govern Nepal until 1989, when the “Jan Andolan” (Peoples Movement) forced King Birendra (ruled 1972-2001) to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament that took seat in May 1991.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) started a bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people’s socialist republic by violent means, in 1996. This led to the long Nepal Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths. The massacre in the royal palace on 1st June 2001, in which King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya, Crown Prince Dipendra and seven other members of the royal family were killed. Dipendra was accused of patricide and of committing suicide thereafter. This outburst was alleged to have been Dipendra’s response to his parents’ refusal to accept his choice of wife. Nevertheless there are speculations and doubts among Nepalese citizens about who was responsible.

Birendra’s brother Gyanendra inherited the throne, following the carnage. Gyanendra dismissed the entire government and assumed full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement on 1st February 2005, but this initiative was unsuccessful because a stalemate had developed where the Maoists were firmly entrenched in large expanses of countryside yet could not dislodge the military from numerous towns and the largest cities. The Maoist declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire to negotiate in September 2005.

King Gyanendra agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people in response to the 2006 democracy movement. The dissolved House of Representative was reinstates in April 24th 2006. On 18th May 2006, the House of Representative using its newly acquired sovereign authority unanimously voted to curtail the power of the king and declared Nepal a secular state, ending its time-honored official status as a Hindu Kingdom. A bill was passed in the parliament to amend Article 159 of the constitution – replacing “Provisions regarding the King” by “Provisions of the Head of the State” – declaring Nepal a Federal Republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy on 28th December 2007. The bill came into force on 28th May 2008, as the constituent assembly overwhelmingly voted to abolish royal rule.

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