Nepal Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Nepal is a country located in Southern Asia. With the capital city of Kathmandu, Nepal has a population of 29,136,819 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Nepal was governed from the 1960s through a system of indirectly elected councils. The king’s power was great. Demands for democracy grew and in 1991 elections were held for a parliament, but the political situation was shaky. An armed Maoist uprising took place in 1996-2006. When the king made use of dictatorial means, most of the political establishment turned against him. In 2008, the monarchy was abolished and elections were held for a constituent assembly that would write a new constitution. Political contradictions meant that it took until 2015 for Nepal to get a new constitution.

When the Ranad dynasty fell in 1951 (see Ancient History), Nepal was a very underdeveloped country. Only two percent of adults were literate and the average life expectancy was 35 years. There was hardly any industry. Most farmers were tenants with uncertain contracts and old-fashioned working methods.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Nepal. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

After the Ranad dynasty, a number of short-lived governments succeeded. King Tribhuvan was succeeded in 1955 by his son Mahendra. He gave the country a new constitution with a people-elected lower house and the first free elections were held in 1959. The victory went to the center-left party of the Nepalese Congress (NC). Check best-medical-schools for more information about Nepal.

Partless system

Reform attempts quickly led the new government on collision course with the elite of society and in 1960 the king imprisoned NC’s leadership. The following year Parliament dissolved and political parties were banned. Instead, a new constitution introduced a party-free system of indirectly elected councils, panchayat, on four levels from village assemblies to parliaments. The councils were fairly powerless and the system gave the king almost unlimited power.

After Mahendra’s death in 1972, the hope of reform was ignited, but his son Birendra made only cosmetic changes to the system. During the 1980s, Nepalese politics was characterized by contradictions about the panchayat system.

In the early 1990s, NC and a number of left groups formed a loose alliance that required, among other things, multi-party systems. The situation was sharpened when at least 50 protesters were shot dead by security forces and finally the king was forced to surrender. In April, the party ban was lifted and a transitional government was formed where the opposition parties received most of the items. A new, democratic constitution came into force in November.

Democratic elections

In the spring of 1991, the first free elections were held for just over 30 years. NC got over half of the mandate and Nepal’s Communist Party-United Marxist Leninists (CPN-UML, or just UML) became the second largest. A new government with NC leader Girija Prasad Koirala took office as prime minister. After protests against corruption, rising prices for basic commodities and water shortages, however, such severe wear and tear arose within NC that the government had to resign in 1994 and announce new elections. It provided a scarce victory for UML, which formed a minority government. This government only managed to retain power for a year. Subsequently, several short-lived governments were formed in succession with varying compositions, all characterized by corruption scandals and internal fragmentation. The constant change of government almost crippled the state administration and slowed economic development.

In February 1996, Nepal’s Communist Party Maoists (CPN-M) launched an armed uprising in the disadvantaged districts of the west. Through attacks against solitary police stations and wealthy landowners, the Maoists wanted to crush the feudal system and eventually replace the monarchy with a communist people’s republic. The uprising was sparked by the general dissatisfaction with the political system and spread rapidly.

Royal massacre

In June 2001, Nepal was shaken by a massacre that wiped out almost the entire royal family and fueled a series of conspiracy theories. According to the official version, the 29-year-old Crown Prince Dipendra had quarreled with the family about the choice of bride. He shot under the influence of alcohol and killed his parents – King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya – and seven other members of the royal family. Dipendra himself was shot dead and died after three days in a coma. The throne was then taken over by his uncle Gyanendra, who was absent when the massacre occurred.

The crisis triggered yet another reshuffle in the government, where GP Koirala, who was the third head of government, was replaced by his rival Sher Bahadur Deuba, who became prime minister for the second time. Peace negotiations then began with the Maoists, but they broke a temporary cease-fire at the end of 2001 and went on a new major offensive. The war escalated significantly.

In October 2002, King Gyanendra surprisingly dismissed the government and dissolved Parliament. In practice, Nepal had taken a step back to the absolute monarchy.

The takeover of power put the country in deep crisis. The royal government that was appointed did not prove better able to overcome the Maoist uprising. In the near future, fighting across the country, rising death tolls and international criticism of human rights violations exacerbated the crisis. The result was a political radicalization with growing criticism of the monarchy.

royal Dictatorship

In May 2004, the king reinstated Deuba as prime minister and he formed a coalition government with five parties. But the return to something resembling democracy was short-lived. On February 1, 2005, with the support of the military, King Gyanendra himself assumed government responsibility. The government members were placed under house arrest and an emergency permit was introduced.

The dictatorship received harsh criticism from the outside world and led to a rapprochement between the Maoist guerrillas and seven increasingly royalist parties. They soon began a loose cooperation and agreed on principles for establishing democracy in the country.

The fighting between the guerrillas and the army escalated in early 2006 and the violence soon reached as far as Kathmandu’s suburbs. By boycotting municipal elections and extensive demonstrations despite curfew, it became increasingly clear that the king lost the people’s support. When dozens of people were killed in the protests, the pressure became too strong on the king. In April, he announced that Parliament would immediately re-assemble.

The Civil War is over

GP Koirala formed a small unity government. The king was deprived of virtually all his powers, the guerrillas proclaimed a ceasefire and peace negotiations began. In November 2006, a peace agreement was concluded and thus more than ten years of civil war ended.

The guerrilla movement was then estimated to control about a third of the country. The conflict is estimated to have claimed more than 17,000 lives.

For the time being, the king remained, but without power. According to the settlement, the Maoist rebels would gather in camps under the supervision of the UN. The army would also be monitored to some extent.

In early 2007, the Maoists gained seats in the newly formed interim parliament, and from April in a new interim government. However, the timetable for the planned election to a Constituent Assembly, with the task of writing a new constitution, was delayed by political contradictions. But in December 2007, the parties agreed somewhat unexpectedly that the monarchy would be abolished. In addition, the election date was set for April 2008.

During the first months of 2008, Nepal was shaken by a series of widespread strikes and acts of violence in the south of Terai. Behind the unrest was a relatively new political movement, the Madhesi People’s Legal Forum (MJF). They demanded self-determination for southern Nepal (see Political system).

Constituent Assembly elected

After all, the April elections could be held according to democratic rules of the game. In many ways, it became a milestone after years of civil war, political turmoil and tug of war on the state of affairs. The constituent assembly elected would also serve as a transitional parliament.

The largest electoral support was given to the former rebels in CPN-M, who were later converted to UCPN-M (see Political system). The Maoists secured 40 percent of the seats, more than twice as many as the NC and the more moderate Communist Marxist Leninists (UML) together. The fourth largest party was the Madhesian MJF. Among the 21 other parties that took place in the congregation were many regional small parties, which gave a geographical and ethnic breadth of representation previously lacking in Nepal.

At its first meeting, the Transitional Parliament formally decided to introduce a republic. The king, who was already deprived of all his power, was given two weeks to leave the palace.

In July 2008, the Assembly appointed NC’s candidate Ram Baran Yadav as Nepal’s first president. A month later, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Prachanda, was elected prime minister. He formed a multi-party coalition, but NC refused to join a Maoist-led government.

Political contradictions

The Prachanda government soon faced difficulties. Many of the other parties found it difficult to accept the Maoists as a legitimate political force and boycotted parliamentary work. Negotiations for a new constitution were complicated by the fact that many different wills fought for increased representation for separate peoples groups and regions. A tricky issue to solve was also the future of former guerrillas. According to the peace deal, at least some of them would be integrated into the army, but how it would go was unclear.

The loaded issue contributed to the government cracking down in May 2009. Prachanda ended up colliding with Yadav in power, since the president rescinded the prime minister’s decision to dismiss the country’s army chief. The result was that Prachanda resigned and the Maoists left the government.

A new coalition government with 22 parties was formed, now with NC and UML at the forefront. UML leader Maghav Kumar Nepal was elected as new Prime Minister.

The shaky political situation hardly became more stable with such a broad coalition and by far the largest party, the Maoists’ UCPN-M, in opposition. The work of writing a new constitution was delayed. The Maoists demanded the formation of a new government and organized strikes and mass protests.

Extended mandate

The country was almost paralyzed when the transitional parliament, at the last moment before the May 2010 deadline, agreed to extend its own mandate. One condition that the Maoists set was for Prime Minister Nepal to resign, which he did. A temporary transitional government, led by Nepal, had to do the daily government work.

The attempt to appoint a new prime minister revealed the major contradictions in politics. Parliament voted 16 times between July and November, with no candidate getting enough support. In the end, the Supreme Court intervened and banned the MPs from abstaining.

In early February 2011, UML’s candidate Jhala Nath Khanal was appointed new Prime Minister, and he formed government with the support of UCPN-M. NC chose to stand outside in protest against the two communist parties having settled.

But already in August, Khanal resigned, citing his failure to create political unity and to advance the peace process. Parliament appointed Baburam Bhattarai of UCPN-M as Khanal’s replacement. Thus, the former Maoist rebels regained government power, supported by a number of small parties.

Progress in the peace process

In the fall, the former Maoist guerrillas began handing over weapons that had been locked up in storage since the peace agreement was signed. The disarmament was an important step on the path to political stability.

Then came a settlement that was seen as a major breakthrough in the peace process: the largest parties managed to agree that one-third of the approximately 19,000 former guerrillas would be integrated into the regular army, while the rest would receive financial compensation. In addition, it was agreed to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and that land seized by the guerrillas would be returned.

In early 2012, hundreds of former Maoist rebels began leaving the camps where they have been since 2006. A few months later, the army entered and took control of the camps, which was seen as another important step in the peace process.

When the deadline for tabling a new constitution for the fifth time expired in May 2012, the transitional parliament wanted to renew its mandate again. But now the Supreme Court put a stop. Thus, the congregation dissolved and Bhattarai announced new elections until November the same year.

Election loss for the Maoists

Bhattarai continued to lead a transitional government which was not recognized by NC and UML. No election was held in November, and when new election dates were announced, the opposition raged.

But in early 2013, the major parties succeeded in reaching an agreement that broke the political deadlock. Bhattarai resigned and a non-political technocrat government took over to lead the country up to the election, to be held by December.

During the election movement, an alliance of 33 small parties organized strikes and demonstrations in protest of being excluded from the political settlement of the election. The alliance was led by a radical breakaway fan out of UCPN-M, which took the Maoist party’s old name, CPN-M.

Some of the protest actions became violent, but the November elections ran relatively calm, although some violence occurred.

The election result was a setback for UCPN-M. Instead, NC and UML progressed strongly and became the largest and second largest party respectively. According to international election observers, the election was free and fair.

NC and UML form government

However, both UCPN-M and the breaker fraction CPN-M claimed that election fraud had occurred and demanded an independent investigation. However, when the other major parties agreed, UCPN-M occupied its seats in Parliament.

In February 2014, NC leader Sushil Koirala was elected new Prime Minister. He became the country’s seventh head of government since 2008. NC formed a government with UML, which received, among other things, the posts of the Minister of the Interior and Foreign Affairs. Later, some small parties were also included in the government.

Riots and demonstrations again hit Kathmandu in early 2015 after the government coalition failed to present a new constitutional proposal to Parliament before a new deadline expired in January.

Devastating earthquake, new constitution

The political tensions were at least temporarily set aside when, in early April 2015, Nepal suffered a major earthquake with an epicenter in the country’s central parts. Nearly 8,900 people were killed, at least twice as many were injured and almost three million became homeless. Invaluable cultural treasures, mainly the Kathmandu valley, were damaged or totally destroyed. According to the UN, the fourth Nepalese was in some way affected by the natural disaster.

When it became clear that millions of people were in urgent need of relief, the government asked the outside world for help. At an international donor conference in June, India, China, the United States, the World Bank and many others pledged a total of more than four billion in emergency aid. But the rugged mountain terrain, an oversized airport and a bureaucratic administration made the relief work very slow. The newly established National Agency for Reconstruction was ready to start working only in December 2015.

The government’s need to concentrate its work on the reconstruction after the earthquake meant that the work of writing a new constitution was turned into a fast track. Despite violent protests in mainly southern and western Nepal, with just over 40 dead, in September 2015 Parliament adopted a new constitution. Nepal became a secular federation with seven provinces (see also Political system).

The following month, Parliament elected UML leader KP Sharma Oli as new prime minister and Bidhya Devi Bhandari from UML was elected Nepal’s first female head of state.

Road blocks in the south

In southern Nepal, near the border with India, the reactions to the new constitution became strong. Many residents of the Tarai, mainly from the Madhesi and Tharu groups, feared that the new federal division into provinces would disadvantage them. In protest against this, a road blockade was initiated in September 2015 into India, which is Nepal’s most important import country. Soon there was a serious shortage of both fuel and medicines and medical equipment. Only when certain amendments were made to the constitution (see Calendar) were the blockades canceled in February 2016. By then, more than 50 people had been killed in the often violent protests.

At the same time as the political unrest, the Nepalese struggled to create a new everyday life and rebuild society after the earthquake in April 2015. One year after the disaster, millions of homeless people were still in the Kathmandu valley. Around four million people lived in temporary housing. The number of deaths in the earthquake was now estimated at 8,959 and just over 22,300 were injured. Nearly 780,000 buildings had been totally destroyed and almost 300,000 required extensive repairs. 131 historical monuments were turned into gravel, while 560 monuments had to be restored, which is estimated to take several years. 1,227 health clinics in the countryside had been destroyed, 40 of which had been rebuilt. Of the nearly 8,000 schools laid in ruins, a handful had been built. The vast majority of students were taught bamboo or sheet metal.

The government had promised every affected household a $ 2,000 allowance to rebuild their house, but a year after the disaster, only 641 families had received a first payout of $ 500.

New political parties are formed

In June 2016, ten Maoist groupings merged into a new party, Nepal’s Communist Party – Maoist Center (CPN-MC), led by Prachanda. Thus, the Maoist camp in UCPN-M and CPN-MC was split. Nine other groups, including Madhesi and Tharu groups in the south, formed the party the Federal Alliance that month.

In June 2017, NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba was elected a new Prime Minister for the fourth time in accordance with an agreement between the two government parties to allow the Prime Minister’s office to switch between them.

Nepal Modern History