For those unacquainted with Nepal’s political system, they could do worse than pick up “The Politics of Nepal: Persistence and Change in an Asian Monarchy”. Leo E. Rose and Margaret W. Fisher’s short book covers the country’s history from the time of Prithvi Narayan Shah to the late 1960s, when it was written. Lok Raj Baral’s preface to the new Mandala Print Edition partly covers the subsequent evolution of Nepali politics between late 1960s and now.
The strength of this brief book, like the other books Rose has written on Nepal, is it’s jargon-free, simple language. Anyone can pick it up and easily understand the historic evolution of Nepali polity, while also getting a glimpse of other factors that have shaped Nepal’s destiny over the years: it’s unique geography, its rich ethnic mix, and it’s challenging geopolitical position.
Besides the preface, and foreword by Richard L. Park, the book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter ‘Political and Social Heritage’ discusses the evolution of Nepal as a country and its many geographical and ethnic attributes. Also included is an account of the country’s political experimentation since the time of PN Shah until the late 1960s.
The second chapter ‘Monarchy and Representative Institutions’ is basically a history of Shah monarchy: how it was subverted during the Ranarchy and how its role changed drastically in post-1950 politics. Most notably, after dismissing the elected government of BP Koirala in 1959, King Mahendra imposed a party-less Panchayat system the following year.
Other chapters in the book are: ‘The Administrative and Judicial System’, ‘Political Forces in Nepal’, ‘The Modernization of the Nepali Economy’, ‘Nepal’s International Relations’, and ‘Modernizing Nepali Politics”. These chapters are followed by a comprehensive literature guide on Nepal, and suggested further readings.
Again, the book is an initiation into modern Nepali politics. Yet more serious scholars on Nepal would also find it of some interest. Even though it is a brief volume, Rose and Fisher offer their unique take on the course of events in Nepal. For instance, the authors are ready to give King Mahendra benefit of doubt on his imposition of the partyless-Panchayat system, even as they are unsure the experiment will succeed.
They try to understand King Mahendra’s possible motivations. Among other things the monarch must have considered: “Would crown functions be usurped by the present prime minister and the monarch relegated to a figurehead…?”, “Was the very existence of the monarchy imperiled by the growing power of the Nepali Congress…?”, “Was Nepal itself in danger of becoming an Indian satellite?” It would be strange, write Rose and Fisher, if “they [these questions] had not arisen in the mind of a monarch who was only too aware of the underlying factors in both the founding and the collapse of the Rana regime, whose virtual prisoner he had himself once been”.
He argues King Mahendra’s strong prejudice against political parties is “not without substance”: “The record of the political parties in Nepal, as in much of the non-western world, does not inspire confidence in their capacity to provide the leadership and authority necessary in a difficult transitional period”. Yet the writers are far from dyed-in-the-wool monarchists. King Mahendra, they write, must also share some of the blame “for the failure of the Nepali parties to mature” as the palace itself was often engaged in playing favorites among political groups.
Nonetheless, as Baral hints in his preface, it was because of Rose’s rather sympathetic reading of the role of Nepali monarchy that King Birendra awarded Rose ‘Gorkha Dakshin Bahu’ in 1984.
The book hews to the maxim that every two has two sides. It would be wrong to ignore the version of the monarchs even if the reader is a firm believer in the democratic process—for doing so would entail an incomplete reading of Nepali history.
The guide to literature on Nepal that the book ends with is also an invaluable repository of the required reading to understand the country better.
The book, now republished by Mandala Book Point, was originally part of the broader ‘South Asian Political Systems’ series Richard L. Park edited. The series took up cases of individual countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Afghanistan. Writes Park, “The rapid rise of nationalism in Asia in the twentieth century, the decline of Western imperial systems, and the founding of the many independent states in the early years of the United Nations have all contributed to a growing interest in Asian culture and politics.” Hence the need for books like ‘The Politics of Nepal”.
It’s worth a read for anyone even remotely interested in understanding the evolution of the Nepali political system.
The Politics of Nepal: Persistence and Change in an Asian Monarchy