Nepal: a brief history

Nepal’s recorded history began with the Kirantis, who arrived from the east in the 7th or 8th century BC. Little is known about them, other than their skill as sheep farmers and fondness for carrying long knives. During this period Buddhism first came to Nepal. It is claimed that Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited the Kathmandu Valley and stayed for a time in Patan. By 200 AD, Buddhism had waned and was replaced by Hinduism, brought by the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India, overthrowing the last Kirat king. The Hindus also introduced the caste system (which still continues today) and ushered in a classical age of Nepalese art and architecture.

By 879, the Licchavi era had petered out and was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty. A grim period of instability and invasion often referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’ followed, but the Kathmandu Valley’s strategic location ensured the kingdom’s survival and growth. Several centuries later, the Thakuri king Arideva founded the Malla dynasty, kick-starting another renaissance of Nepali culture. Despite earthquakes, the odd invasion and feuding between the independent city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the dynasty flourished, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under Yaksha Malla.

The rulers of Gorkha, the most easterly region, had always coveted the Mallas’ wealth. Under the inspired leadership of Prithivi Narayan Shah, Gorkha launched a campaign to conquer the valley. In 1768, after 27 years of fighting, they triumphed and moved their capital to Kathmandu. From this new base, the kingdom’s power expanded, borne by a seemingly unstoppable army, until progress was halted in 1792 by a brief and chastening war with Tibet.

Further hostilities followed in 1814, this time with the British over a territorial dispute. The Nepalese were eventually put to heel and compelled to sign the 1816 Sugauli Treaty, which surrendered Sikkim and most of the Terai (some of this land was eventually restored in return for Nepalese help in quelling the Indian Mutiny of 1857). This established Nepal’s present eastern and western boundaries and installed a British ‘resident’ in the country.

The Shah dynasty continued in power until the ghastly Kot Massacre of 1846. Taking advantage of the intrigue and assassinations that had plagued the ruling family, Jung Bahadur seized control by butchering several hundred of the most important men while they were assembled in the Kot courtyard. He took the more prestigious title of Rana, proclaimed himself prime minister for life, and later made the office hereditary. For the next century, the Ranas and their offspring luxuriated in huge Kathmandu palaces, while the remainder of the population eked out a miserable existence in medieval conditions. In 1948, when the British withdrew from India, with them went the Rana’s chief support. Around the same time, a host of insurrectional movements emerged. Sporadic fighting spilled onto the streets and the Ranas, at the behest of India, reluctantly agreed to negotiations. King Tribhuvan was appointed ruler in 1951 and formed a government comprised of Ranas and members of the newly formed Nepali Congress Party. But the compromise was short-lived. After toying with democratic elections and feeling none too pleased by the result, King Mahendra (Tribhuvan’s son and successor) decided that a ‘partyless’ panchayat system would be more appropriate for Nepal. The king selected the prime minister and cabinet, and appointed a large proportion of the national assembly, which duly rubber-stamped his policies. Power, of course, remained with only one party – the king’s.

In February 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed Nepal’s elected government, declared a state of emergency, and announced his assumption of full executive authority. He justified the coup on the pretext of trying to curtail the 10-year-old Maoist insurgency that claimed more than 13,000 lives. The police, the army, and the Maoists were all responsible for numerous human rights abuses during the conflict. After the coup, Maoist leaders reached an agreement with the main political parties to join forces and oppose the King. They organized massive protests and in April 2006, after tens of thousands of people took to the streets, King Gyanendra was forced to abdicate his authority and return a civilian government.

The first round of peace talks between the rebels and the government took place at the end of August 2006 when a ceasefire was declared – but then abruptly ended. Any talk of détente was at risk from the government’s proposed land reforms and budget decisions, and major political challenges. In early September 2006, a tentative alliance comprising 10 left-wing political party emerged, along with calls for a united government of representatives from all political directions, including Mao rebels, and changes to the constitution. Hopes of a settlement were again dashed with coordinated Maoist bombings in November 2006.

In (2006-2008), Nepal’s coalition government and the Communist Party (Maoist) signed a comprehensive peace agreement to end the fighting. The Nepali Army and Maoists agreed to an arms management pact, under which each side would put away most of its weapons and restrict most of its troops to a few barracks, under the supervision of monitors from the United Nations. They also agreed to participate in elections to create a constituent assembly that would rewrite the country’s constitution, including whether it will remain a monarchy.

Elections to the Constituent assembly were held on 10, April 2008 and the Maoists got the largest number of seats, though not an overall majority. Thereafter, the parliament declared Nepal as Federal Democratic Republic overthrowing the 240-year old Shah dynasty. King Gyanendra left the palace which was then turned into national museum. A coalition government was formed under the Maoists with Pushpa Kamal Dahal (alias Prachanda) leading the government as the new premier in Nepal. However, this was short lived and on the resignation of Dahal over the lack of the President’s support on the dismissal of the Chief of Staff of the Army, the government has been led by the opposition parties ever since.

In July 2008, the newly elected president Dr. Ram Baran Yadav became the first president of Nepal through presidential run-off held on 21 July in the parliament, After the abolishment of the institution of monarchy in the country and after the King Gyanendra was dethroned by the Constituent Assembly, Nepal has found a farmer’s son to become the first president of republic Nepal.

Maoist revolutionary supreme leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda was democratically elected as the new prime minister of Federal Democratic Republic Nepal on 15 August 2008.Prachanda had led the 10-year long insurgency against the monarchy and under his able leadership the Maoist party scored the major seats in the Assembly election in April, 2008.The coalition government headed by Maoist party was brought down after a 9 month rule and another coalition government headed by UML (United Marxist Leninist) party formed the government with the support of Nepali Congress, Nepal Prajatantra Party, Madhesi Janadikar Forum and other small political parties. This new coalition government was formed under the premiership of Madhav Kumar Nepal, who was ousted in July 2010. A further year was allowed for the Constituent Assembly to come up with a new constitution, as the agreed deadline of May 2010 was not met.



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