Nepal’s history as a unitary state is fairly short. Two hundred years ago, the many warring kingdoms that existed were conquered by one powerful king who created modern day Nepal.
Nepal was never officially colonised like its neighbours because it offered little in terms of resources or markets. The one thing it could offer the colonial powers was a source of strong young men, who could be recruited into the Gurkha regiments simply with financial rewards.
The ruling Nepali kings and Rana prime ministers kept Nepal closed off from the outside world until the twentieth century. As a result, Nepal made little economic, political or social progress, and has spent the last six decades trying to move from an autocratic medieval kingdom into a modern nation state.
Historical period after Nepal existed
The Shah and the “unification” of Nepal
The Shah kings were Chetris who conquered the many states in today’s Nepal before capturing Kathmandu in 1768. The Shah won land all the way into Tibet and across to the Sindh doubling the size of the country they called “Gorkha”.
When the British finally halted and repelled the Gorkha army they were so impressed with their strength and stamina that they enlisted the men as “Gurkhas”. Since that day Nepalese men have fought bravely for a number of foreign governments.
The Rana Prime ministers
The weakening Shah kings closed the borders in 1816 and were overtaken in a palace revolt in 1846 by Jung Bahadur Rana who led a family of hereditary primeministers.
Following a fascination with Europe the Ranas started an extravagant European lifestyle whilst leaving the Nepalese population to a life of undevelopment and poverty. Even in the early twentieth century Nepal had only 1 school and hospital.
The Shah come back
With India becoming independent from Britain in the 1950s, the time for Rana despots had come to an end and the return of a Shah king started a journey toward democracy in a largely medieval country. The decade long journey ended with a new king taking back power and ruling directly for the next 40 years.
Political parties succeeded in fighting for multi-party democracy and the first elections took place in 1991. Unfortunately the new democratic constitution was “given” to Nepal by the king and a few political leaders and was wholy inappropriate.
A splinter group of a left-leaning political party started a violent struggle following its rejection from taking a role in constitution making and governance. Emphasising many of the legitimate grievences in Nepal, particularly amongst the rural people and low castes, the Maoists quickly gained control over much of Nepal.
King dissolves Parliament
The “people’s movement”
The people’s movement was 19 days of massive protests in Nepal and ended with the king announcing that he would hand power to a coalition of the political parties and the Maoists, who would for the first time enter a consensus government to form a new constitution.
Since the people’s movement, two constituent assemblies have been elected to write a new constitution for the country. Unfortunately the first assembly could not agree on the finer points of the constitution before the constitutional deadline, so a second assembly was elected, which is currently the status quo.
Historical periods before Nepal existed
The Himalayan tantric form of Buddhism flourished and the Hindu caste system became more rigid under the Mallas who were Newar kings. During this time the Mughal invasion of India also pushed many high caste Hindus to escape to the safety of Nepal.