Nepal came into existence in the 18th century with the conquests of the Gurkha King Prithvi Narayan Shah. He brought under his reign various hill kingdoms and declared, he is establishing ‘Asal Hindustan’ (real India), lamenting at the Muslim ruled north he called it Hindustan (India) under the occupation of Malecha. Malecha is a word used for fair-skinned foreigners often in a derogatory sense for people who don’t bath.
Such resurgence of native Indian Kingdoms happened in many regions at various points of time during the Muslim rule in India. Prithvi Narayan Shah was a Rajput with origins in the west of India. Before Shahs, some likely but ununited power was with Mallas. They had fled the Maithili regions of what is Bihar now during the campaigns of Khiljis. Most of the people of what is now Nepal are Indians who at the time in the past escaped to hill areas for safety. Nepal does have indigenous population groups other than Indian and Tibeto-Burmese arrivals. One such group, Kiratis (limbus) are mentioned in the Mahabharat, the grand epic of India. The region which is now called Nepal were different kingdoms historically which were part of India. Then how did Nepal become different? Nepal was as much a sovereign as any other Kingdom which came in contact with the British. But, unlike others who were wiped out completely or forced under alliance agreements, the Kingdom of Nepal didn’t formally accept the same conditions. It was due to slightly different colonial experience, Nepal became a bit different but remained culturally tied to India. It was never completely sovereign and was under ancient India as well as British India.
Instead of being under British despots, they were under the tyranny of allies of British, the Ranas, another group of Rajputs with origins in Rajasthan. Ranas were ministers of Shahs who had usurped power and were the de facto rulers of Nepal during the British colonial era in India.
The political resurgence of native Hindu kingdoms was not without religious resurgence. Most of the temples in Nepal like anywhere else in North India were raged to the ground or dilapidated by Muslim marauders. The Hindu revival under Shah’s reestablished religion in the region. When one performs any ritual in Nepal, the address to Gods that are invoked refers to Nepal as a part of India. Like Rajputs who are called Chhetri (from kshatriya), Brahmins from many parts of north India found refuge in Nepal. These people who became part of Nepal during the period of turbulence in medieval times are called Bahuns in Nepal. Much like the resurgence of Hindu faith during the time of religious leader Adi Shankracharya, Brahmins from south India were highly sought by Nepalese Kings but they were distinct from the now Pahadi (mountain) Brahmins identity of Bahuns forged earlier. Nepal has been politically and spiritually India.
Nepalese identity which was forged earlier consisted of North Indian arrivals, and arrivals from Tibet and North-East India apart from the indigenous groups. But, these are not the only people. One-third of Nepal is Madhesh (middle/lower country), this is the southern region of Nepal which runs parallel to hills. During the Shah rule, people from neighboring southern regions were encouraged to migrate to eastern Tarai (lowlands). Thus emerged the main two demographic distinctions of Pahadis (hill people) and Madhesis (lower country people). Some of the Tarai areas were gifted to Nepal for Rana’s loyalty to the British. Rana’s had helped quell the Indian rebellion of 1857, much of the rebel forces were from UP and Western Bihar, the gifted areas comprised of these parts.
India over time has developed its Nepalese population from those who served in the Indian Army and Paramilitary. Nepalese is one of the twenty-two officially recognized national languages. Apart from India’s ethnic Nepali population, India has given refuge to Lhotshampas (Nepali minority of Bhutan) who were ethnically cleansed from Bhutan. Nepali citizens are allowed to work, travel, own property, and even apply for government jobs in India. Nepalis not just join the Indian army as recruits as they do in the British Army, they can join as officers too and settle in India. They can even apply for civil services and various state government jobs. Nepalese regardless of origin enjoy having rights that are unheard of between two countries anywhere else in the world.
Nepalese history, geography, demography, culture, commerce, religion is entwined with India. Even its political developments have been influenced or shaped by India. It is not a separate country; it is best a part of India which India didn’t claim after Independence. India’s first Prime Minister didn’t take the offer when King Tribhuvan offered Nepal to be made a part of India.
So where is the problem arising? Before we come to recent developments, it is important to understand where it stems from. It stems from the domination of Nepal by Pahadi people and racial/caste bias against the Madhesis. Unlike the Pahadis, who are more than half Bahun and chhetris, the Madhesis comprise in the same way as the population in India. Madhesis are usually many backward communities, mostly engaged in agriculture or manual labor with dark skin. The Pahadis originated from India too but there is a break in history that distanced them from their folks in India. One will find Kshetri, Sharma, Bhandari, Pant, Dixit, etc in the Nepali Pahadi population as well as in India, but unlike Madhesis who continue to have connections with their folks in India, Pahadi identity grew in protection and isolation of hills, making them distinct. The region of Madhesh borders two of India’s most populated and least developed states. Most Madhesis and their relations across the border in India are materially deprived and have historically experienced discrimination. The result is that for a Pahadi, a dark-skinned poor is just a labourer worthy of scorn, they are pejoratively called Dhoti (a racist term for Indians/Madhesis).
Nepali Pahadis too are not that materially well off, but with political power, they are relatively better. This creates a sense of superiority and bigotry amongst them and a contemptuous attitude towards Indians which people in New Delhi, Mumbai, or Bengaluru will not understand.
Living as second-class citizens, the political and social subjugation of Madhesis is rampant in Nepal. As there are Indians from the neighboring states of UP and Bihar working in Nepal, similarly about 12 million Nepalese work or study in India. This doesn’t make them appreciative of India. Once they move out of India for work or studies, the racial biases resurface. The present problems are the manifestation of decades of contempt. No Indian government either of Modi or Rajiv can be blamed for what has emerged. Nepal’s grievances relating to river, power generation, and land affect the common Nepali little and are heavily outweighed by the privileges given to them by India. Independent India freed them from Rana’s rule, pressurized the King to bring democracy which came first in the form of Panchayats and then Parliamentary democracy, help end the civil strife, and ensured transition after Monarchy. India will be still hated because India doesn’t stand up for Madhesis. Placating the Pahadis have brought India to this position. It has enabled the group that has decades of misgivings and hates India. What has happened over the past few years has brought to the surface which New Delhi ignored.
Nepal government recently changed its map. Attaching more Indian land in the trijunction area with China and India. It rebukes that the Republic of India is not the successor of British India but lays claim to more lands than what the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal controlled. China which has previously announced itself as the protector of Nepalese sovereignty is itching to replicate Doklam. India is already confronting Chinese forces on its eastern borders. Nepal has not just divorced India politically but has made India its enemy. The entwined relationship has been trampled for sovereignty which Nepal never had in the past and will not have in the future. It has become a client state of Chinese by putting all its eggs in their basket. The balance of power between three players keeps each other in check. If one completely sides with another, it loses its place and there remain only two players. In their contempt towards India and Indians, Nepalese people and their government have tossed the very sovereignty which they were championing against India.
So what can India do? India has three options. The most ideal is the most difficult and the least ideal is the easiest. The most ideal option is to make Nepal a part of India, it will strongly be contested by Pahadis and will get support from enemy nations of India. Like Russia, which gives national IDs to pro-Russia people in other sub-nationalities that emerged after the breaking up of the Soviet Union, India should start by giving citizenship to the presently serving and former Nepalese in its military and government, and other pro-India groups in Nepal. Nepal for time being should be placed under a senior military personnel of Nepali origin. No political party and leader of Nepal will openly show support to India, but given India’s long experience with dissent and separatism, any opposition will gradually wither out. It will take a lot of political will and commitment.
The middle path is to topple the present government, but it is unlikely that any new government will undo the changes in its map, at best it will keep a lid on the simmering water. A military coup will be more preferred than a civilian transfer of power. A coup backed by India and countries which want to reduce China’s influence over Nepal. This can be a win-win for both India and Nepal, but its efficacy depends on the players and the execution.
The third is the most sinister but easiest, and will probably leave Nepal to rubble. India should support insurgents in Nepal, with many active insurgencies with the main one being of Madhesis. Vietnam and Afghanistan have taught that insurgencies are an unwinnable war if supported by other players. A permanent insurgency will either leave Nepal occupied with it not bothering India as China’s stooge or it will ask Chinese for help. Like the Parchamites who invited Soviets into Afghanistan only to be hated by different ethnicities; if China intervenes, it will be fighting not a regular war but a war of attrition waged by insurgents. This will bleed China and reduce its strength. If it doesn’t intervene on Nepal’s behalf, it will leave Nepal with no other option than to come back to India’s fold.
Which way things will go depends more on providence than what India or another actor will decide. It is about time, the arrogance of high caste Pahadi Hindus be broken. Their connivance will not go unpunished. A road that takes pilgrims to Kailash(Shiva’s abode) was objected to by demons(faithless Chinese and Nepalese Communists); Kedarnath and Pashupatinath are incomplete without each other. Nepal, an anomaly of history should have ended with the end of the monarchy. These demons full of ignorance and arrogance are like Mahishasur -buffalo demon that needs to be slain. This Bichitra Natak (Cosmic Drama) has left less room for sagacity. Regardless of how it concludes, it will nevertheless bring a smile to Kaumari.
Nepal is not Nepal anymore.
Nepal doesn’t exist for the reason it was formed.
India now fulfills the reason for which Nepal was once formed.
It’s best, Nepal doesn’t exist anymore.