The Unification of Nepal, British Colonialism and Indian Neocolonialism, A Perspective.

- By Uttam B. Khatri

Some Background

Nepal is believed to be one of the ancient if not the oldest country of South Asia. This Nation has been mentioned in the Hindu epics such as Ramayan, Mahabharat, Bhagbat Gita, Vedas, etc. The Himalayan Kingdom extended more than fifteen hundred km from east to west and about four hundred km wide from north to south. This country was protected by the mighty Himalayan range in the north, Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers along with dense forest in the south. Historically, Nepal was extended up to Assam in the east and Kashmir in the west. Over a period of thousands of years, Kings and Rulers changed. Kingdoms were divided and united and divided again and so forth.  The rise and fall of the dynasties took place. However, big or small in size at times, Nepal remained as an independent country for hundreds and thousands of years.  Across the border on south, numerous kingdoms of different shapes and sizes rose and fell at different time periods.  

With the decline of the Mughal Empire in South Asia which is today’s India, the Europeans began to arrive in large numbers as traders through the coastal ports. The Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English traders competed to establish their colonies. Eventually, they started to land in thousands with modern arms such as guns, cannons, and firepower using new navigation systems and improved ships. The Europeans clashed in different parts of India for trade and land grab. The British proved more cunning, formidable and gradually they prevailed as master of colonies. They got more organized over time and established the East India Company. The trading company in disguise brought thousands of pirates and soldiers in and slowly but steadily colonized hundreds of kingdoms large and small. After the battle of Plassey in 1757, the British military strength grew big and they spread all over and created a colony of India.

The Unification

Prithvi Narayan Shah, king of a tiny hilly Kingdom of Gorkha saw what the British colonial power was up to in the south. He envisioned that if the small kingdoms did not get united and become a bigger and stronger force, the British would also head north and colonize all the small hill kingdoms. The young King at an early age of twenty started the unification campaign in 1744. He brought numerous provinces and kingdoms under his control.  In many cases, he conquered the small states without violence, the use of brutal force, and with minimum casualties. For example, Prithvi Narayan’s conquest of Kathmandu valley was accomplished almost without bloodshed. The king extended his kingdom as far as Darjeeling, Sikkim in the east, up to Gandaki region in the west of Gorkha and to a large area in Tarai in the south. Prithvi Narayan moved his capital to Kathmandu and the Kingdom of Gorkha was turned into the kingdom of Nepal. It is obvious, if Prithvi Narayan Shah had not unified and created a new and strong Nepal, more than likely there would no Nepal today. Unfortunately, Prithvi Narayan’s untimely death at the age of fifty-two brought the newly expanded Kingdom to a halt on its unification campaign for the time being.  
Pratap Singh Shah, Son of Prithvi Narayan ascended the throne upon the death of his father. Young Pratap Singh’s sudden death after two years on the throne created a power vacuum in Nepal Darbar. As a result, Prince Bahadur Shah, the younger son of Prithvi Narayan was destined to take control of the Kingdom at the critical time.  In the meanwhile, on the south and west of Nepal, the British were advancing very aggressively in defeating the kingdoms and merging them in their colony. Bahadur Shah realizing the threat from the British aggression was determined to defend the newly unified Nepal. In 1785, he took the regency on behalf of infant Prince Rana Bahadur Shah and continued further unification of the country that was begun by his father. During his regency, Kumau and Gharwal   came under the control of Nepal and the western border of the country was extended as far as Sutlej river. Those kingdoms had some domestic political conflicts and they were merged into Nepal without engaging in major battles.Besides, unification of Nepal was being carried out between small provinces and kingdoms mostly in the hilly regions. India did not exist in today shape and size at that period. As such, Nepal deserves the right to claim the land colonized by the British before they created India as a colony. 

The Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-1816, and Treaty of Sugauli

The newly unified Nepal plunged into disarray followed by Bahadur Shah’s death, divided military chiefs, state of a bad economy, and above all, the absence of strong leadership in Nepal Darbar turned out to be major a factor. The ambitious East India Company was watching the events and the political instability in Nepal. They obviously took advantage of the situation and started making excuses in creating border disputes with Nepal. The British declared war against Nepal on November 1, 1814. Although with much less number of fighting army and with mostly antiquated arms against a large number of the British army, equipped with a huge supply of modern arms and resources, Nepal repulsed the invading  British Army in all three mid and eastern fronts. Great warriors of Nepal such as General Amar Singh Thapa, Sardar Bhakti Thapa, Balbhadra Kunwar and many others fought an exemplary war with the invadors. However, In the far western frontiers of Kumau and Ghadwal , Nepali Army was outnumbered by four to one and had to bear the defeat. In the aftermath of the War, the British force imposed a very unjust, unequal, and deceitful Treaty on Nepal which is known as the Sugauli Treaty. After the Treaty, the company occupied  about half of Nepal’s territories from Sutlej to Mahakali river in the west, from the Mechi river to Nagarkata some 70 km east from the Tista river and very large territories all along Tarai, north of Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers. Nepal became virtually landlocked, surrounded on three sides by the British colony of India.
After the Kot massacre of 1846, Jung Bahadur Rana rose to power and established Rana oligarchy that lasted for one hundred and four years. Although Jung Bahadur ruled as a dictator with an iron fist, he made a great contribution to his country by the return of four districts of Banke, Bardia, Kailali and Kanchanpur from the British. Although Jung Bahadur tried to regain all the territories that was occupied by the British after the treaty of Sugauli, the colonialist would only return those four districts of western Tarai, only after a couple years intense negotiation in 1860. Company returned at least some of Nepal’s lost land in gratitude of Jung Bahadur’s assistance in suppressing the Indian mutiny of 1857.

British Colonialism

After the end of the Second World War, the British could no longer sustain the colonies. They had already decided to end their colonial rule in India. In 1947, two countries of Pakistan and India were created and granted independence on August 14 and August 15 respectively. Pakistan had two wings, West Pakistan and East Pakistan. East Pakistan became Bangladesh with the instigation and military assistance of India, later in 1971
Although it may sound it hypothetical and wishful thinking at the present time, however, the British Colonial Government made a very unjustifiable and deceitful decision regarding its relationship with a long-time friend and ally Nepal. Because if the British Government could partition the colony of India into two countries of Pakistan and India and divide them into three parts, why would not they return Nepal’s land they occupied and merged into the colony since 1816. Instead, the British left most of Nepal’s colonized land in India and some in East Pakistan.
The British not only annexed and colonized Nepali territories but also exploited Nepal and Nepalis in many ways. They made the Rana regime loyal to them and kept Nepal in semi-independent, landlocked and isolated status from the rest of the world. They misused Nepal’s forest resources in laying railroad sleepers across India. They exploited Nepali youths in hundreds of thousands in the name of Gurkhas to fight the war to save their Empire. As a result, hundreds of thousands of young Gurkhas sacrificed their lives for the British Empire in World War I and World War II. Even after the Second World War, the British used Gorkhas to fight their war against the communist insurgents in Malasia, Sarawak, Borneo in late during forties and fifties. The British used Gurkhas to fight their war in Falkland off South America. They were still using the Gurkha blood in Iraq and Afghanistan as recent as a few years back.
The British call themselves the mother of democracy and champion of human rights. They have proved they were false. Because they had been paying the Gurkha soldiers less than ten percent of what the British Army’s salary was until recently. This is such a blatant practice of discrimination on their part. The British, since the period of East India Company down to the present time, exploited the Gurkhas and their motherland Nepal to a great extent. If they had returned even some of Nepal’s colonized territories back to her and extended Nepal’s border up to Bangladesh, Nepal would not have to be an India locked country.  In this regard, the British Government made a huge mistake and a great injustice to a friendly country whose hundreds of thousands of young citizens sacrificed their lives in order to save their empire.

Indian Neocolonialism

The historical events show that ever since the British de-colonized India and granted independence in 1947, India has been harboring an ill design upon Nepal. India’s independence had contagious effects on the politics of Nepal as well. Nepali people were fed up with over a hundred years of Rana oligarchy. Some Nepalis living in India during that country’s freedom movement were influenced greatly by Indian freedom fighters.
One of the famous Nepali political leaders Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala was born and raised in India. He grew up in Banaras, had his education there and in Calcutta, developed an interest in Indian politics and was obviously influenced by Gandhi, Nehru, Jayaprakash Narayan and other leaders of the Indian freedom movement. He was an active participant of the Indian National Movement and a member of the Indian National Congress. He spent two years in jail in India. Later BP quit Indian politics and got himself involved in Nepal’s political movement. Koirala apparently developed a close association with other Nepali leaders such as Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Subarna Shumsher Rana, Tanka Prasad Acharya, and others who had started organizing against the Ranas. In 1947, BP founded the socialist Nepali National Congress in India. Later he left India, moved to Nepal, and got involved in Nepali politics, full time. After the Indian independence, political movements against the Rana regime started taking shape gradually within and outside of Nepal.
At the same time, Leaders of India such as Gandhi, Nehru, Ballav Bhai Patel, Jayaprakash Narayan, and others who fought for freedom from colonialism, seem to have inherited the colonial mindset of the British. They looked at Nepal through the colonial eyes. They would not talk about returning Nepal’s colonized land but made an agreement to divide between India and Pakistan. Because of a lack of strong leadership with a loud voice, Nepal’s right to regain her lost land got suppressed. No Nepali leaders including BP Koirala could show courage to voice for the legitimate claim for the country. If some strong Nepali leader could have raised a loud voice for the return of Nepal’s land at the time of the partition of India, Nepal would definitely be in better shape than that she is in now.
There were different but important players involved in Nepali politics. The Indian leaders and the Government, The Rana regime, King Tribhuvan, and the political leaders of Nepal, each had their own agendas and interests. Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher wanted the continuity of his regime, King Tribhuvan needed to get rid of the Ranas and have his monarchy restored and the political parties wanted democracy to be declared so that they could take over politics of the country. With the different interest groups fighting with each other for their own interest India got the upper hand to intervene in Nepali politics. More importantly, when the King sought Indian refuse at the Indian Embassy and accepted their offer for help, India obviously could elevate her own political interest in Nepal, considerably.
During King Tribhuvan’s exile in New Delhi, the Rana regime, Nepali political leaders, the King himself, and the Indian leadership, and its Government had intense negotiations for establishing their own respective interests. The Indian establishment is even said to have put pressure on the King, in private, to merge Nepal with India. Let alone return of Nepal’s colonized land since the treaty.  Therefore, a very important chance for the restoration of unified Nepal was lost. An honest and serious negotiation between all the parties involved including the leaders of Pakistan could have resulted in a just resolution of the issue of colonialism. Instead, India had an upper hand on the negotiating process compelled Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher Rana to sign a treaty in 1950 which is called the “Peace and Friendship Treaty” between India and Nepal. This is an unfair and unequal Treaty. There are many terms and conditions on this treaty that they benefit only India, not Nepal. This Treaty either needs to be completely rewritten or it needs to be void.
The coalition government formed after the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 under Mohan Shumsher as a new Prime Minster which was brokered by the Indian PM Nehru lasted just a few months. After Mohan Shumsher resigned, King Tribhuvan declared Democracy in Nepal on February 18, 1951. From this day onward, Indian influence in Nepal kept growing until King Mahendra took a bold step and dissolved BP Koirala’s government on December 15, 1960. Some of the main events and changes that took place in the country could be summarized as follows.
King Tribhuvan did not have power in a real sense. Nehru’s Government basically guided Tribhuvan to run the country. Since India played a major role in the restoration of the King on his throne, he probably had an obligation to the Indian leadership and had to go with what they counseled him to do. Even King Tribhuvan’s advisor/secretary came from New Delhi. There were instances that king Tribhuvan would fly to New Delhi even when he had to make changes in cabinet ministers. However, there were no means of communication that the King could use that are available at the present time.
Matrika Prasad Koirala was appointed Prime Minister on Nov 16, 1951. During his premiership, Nepal was coerced to hand over the Koshi river to India in 1954. India has remained the main beneficiary of Koshi, river. Nepal has almost no control over this project. Koshi is one of the first river resources that India has captured since the political change that came to Nepal
India grabbed another big river Gandaki of Nepal during PM Bisheswar Prasad  Koirala’s premiership in 1959. India has monopolized most of the use of hydroelectricity and irrigation projects out of this river as well.
Another Koirala brother, Girija Prasad Koirala became Prime Minister of Nepal four times from 1991 to 2008 after the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990. Many important projects including hydroelectricity and irrigation projects such as Tanakpur Barrage and Pancheshor Multipurpose Project were handed over to India during Girija Koirala‘s tenure of office. These projects are still in limbo after fifteen years of signing of the agreement with India.  
Again, on February 12, 1996, India and Nepal signed another treaty in harnessing the power and for irrigation of agricultural land. After Twenty four years of the signing of the treaty by Sher Bahadur Deuba, Prime Minister of Nepal, and Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narshimha Rao, the project is nowhere near completion. It makes abundantly clear that India either wants to take most of the benefits itself or hold Nepal’s resources and derail the development projects in Nepal.
Above mentioned projects are just a few examples of Indian attitude and behavior towards Nepal. A few more turn of events regarding Nepal-India relations over the period of seventy years since 1951 should not be out of place to include in this perspective.
As already mentioned above, it is so unfortunate that Nepal is surrounded by India on east, west, and south and virtually India locked except in north with formidable mighty Himalayan range. Every time there is some change, India becomes the main actor. For example, in 1951 when the Rana oligarchy was demolished, King Tribhuvan had to seek India’s assistance. Taking advantage of the situation, India helped Nepali political leaders with all kinds of supports with money and materials. As a result, they could stall or dismantle the Government in Nepal as they wanted.
In 1990, the Panchayat system of Government was replaced with a multi-party system of democracy. When the ruling Government in Nepal does not comply with Indian interest, they instigate the dissident political forces and assists them with money and materials to topple down the ruling Government. In order to create instability and political disorders in Nepal, there are examples of Indian political leaders coming to Nepal including Kathmandu, and incite the general mass with political speech to revolt against the Government. This is exactly what happened when the Indian party leaders such as Jayaprakash Narayan, Chandra Shekhar, Sitaram Yechuri, and many others came to Nepal and encouraged and instigated Nepali people to revolt. This is just an example of Indian interference in Nepal and this is what they did in Nepal in 1990.
Another glaring example of Indian interference in Nepal was during the Maoist insurgency of 1966 to 2006. The Maoist were not happy with the multiparty system of Government, they started the rebellion against the democratically elected Government under the Monarchy. After thousands of dead on both sides of the conflicts, the Maoist took refuse in India and waged their so-called revolution from bases in India. For the first few years, India had declared them terrorists and had tried to destroy them. However, when the Maoist leaders such as Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” and Baburam Bhattarai went to Indian leaders and the Government office and singed papers not to hurt Indian interest in Nepal if the Indian Government let them continue their revolution from their land against Nepal. India made a deal with the Maoist of Nepal.
Since India had always had the Monarchy a stumbling block against their interest in Nepal, they found out that the Maoist revolution could be a very effective force to eliminate Monarchy from Nepal. India already had a bitter experience with the Kings of Nepal. King Mahendra always stood firm against Indian hegemony and exploitation in Nepal. King Birendra rejected their proposal to bring Nepal into the Indian security umbrella. When the King did not agree with what they wanted they imposed an economic blockade on Nepal. When more than one hundred seventeen countries endorsed Birendra’s proposal to declare Nepal as a zone of peace, India did not accept the proposal.  Instead, they assisted the Maoist with money, materials, training, and the base in India with a plan to eliminate Monarchy from Nepal. The Maoist, after ten years of killing and destruction in Nepal finally realized that their so-called revolution was getting them nowhere. They were compelled to find a way out of their failed revolution. They got together with the Nepali Congress, U.M.L, and other parties under the auspices of India and decided to give up violence. India brokered the peace for them and had all the main rival parties come together to New Delhi. India had them sign a 12 clauses peace accord.  Again, India has proved itself as the main actor in the episode of Nepal-India relations. In the past three decades or so, India has been the most effective factor in bringing a new Government and toppling it down mostly at its will. Ironically, Baburam Bhattarai, a hardcore communist, and a Maoist, who was on his official visit to India as the Prime Minister was apparently forced to sign BIPPA treaty favoring India at the cost of Nepal’s interest. He even stated he found out that the Government of Nepal was controlled remotely by the foreign power. He said The Nepal Government’s Key was in the hand of a foreign power. Comrade Prachanda, on the other hand, also on his visit to India as Prime Minister was obligated to sign some documents authorizing India to dictate Nepal on some crucial foreign relation matters.
Just about three years ago, an unusual alliance between the Maoist of Nepal and the United Marxist Leninist Party of Nepal formed Nepal Communist Party. NCP won the election and Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli became the Prime Minister of Nepal. The country has witnessed a lot of political overtures. A large number of criminal cases, an unusual number of cases of corruptions, mostly within the administration itself, a number of controversial bills that the Government was forced to withdraw had been public. The Prime Minister Oli telling stories on imaginary development projects, day dreaming and false promises has tired the general public. For the past few months, the Carona virus has created extreme fair and uncertainty amongst the people. On top of all the problems, India has challenged the Oli Government with the occupation of Nepali land at Kalapani, Lipu Lekh, and Limpia Dhura of Mahakali river of Nepal. This is the latest colonial adventure of India in Nepal. In other words, India has been playing a major role in the internal affairs of Nepal since its independence in 1947.  India must stop its strategy in creating an unstable Nepal and keep it economically poor and undeveloped so that exploitation of the country could continue. 


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