Nehru Rejected Rana’s Offer to Merge With Nepal? Experts Weigh In
Former Nepal Ambassador to India Dr Lok Raj Baral says that it was only a “rumour.”
On Thursday, 4 June, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Subramanian Swamy took to Twitter to claim that former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru rejected an offer made by Nepal’s Rana rulers in 1950 to 'merge' Nepal with India.
But, how is the BJP leader making this claim? What is the evidence supporting it? Before we look at what experts have to say, let’s first understand who the key players are.
The Ranas: An autocracy that ruled Nepal from 1846-1951 and adhered to a policy of isolation.
King Tribhuvan: He was the King of Nepal from 1911 and came back to the country in 1951 when he overthrew the Rana rulers. He, then, introduced democracy under a constitutional monarchy system.
The Nepali Congress: The political party was formed in 1946 after a merger of Nepali National Congress and Nepal Democratic Party.
‘No Concrete Evidence’: IDSA’s Prof Muni
It was not the Ranas but King Tribhuvan who had proposed to have a federation and even then, there was no mention of a “merger” of India and Nepal, says Professor SD Muni, member of The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses' executive council and professor emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Prof Muni stated how the Ministry of External Affairs has not been able to trace those documents, which is why, there is no concrete evidence except for what's being said by 'word of mouth'.
“This is true that King Tribhuvan was quite willing to have the closest relationship possible with India but Nehru wanted Nepal to be independent because he knew otherwise the British, the Americans would interfere and create problems.”Professor SD Muni, member of IDSA’s Executive Council and professor emeritus at JNU
An excerpt of ‘India’s foreign policy towards Nepal and Bhutan’ published on Shodhganga reads, “After overthrow of the Rana autocracy, King Tribhuvan expressed his desire for merger of Nepal with India. However, Nehru rejected the offer of the king because he wanted Nepal to retain her independence."
Regarding Tribhuvan’s proposal, Professor Muni said that it was not a formal proposal but “a line of thinking.”
“Some people in the Ministry who are not alive anymore told me that there was some sort of a letter from King Tribhuvan to that effect,” he said.
‘A Rumour’: Former Nepal Ambassador on Swamy’s Claims
Professor Muni is not the only one who denied the availability of any official record to the claims being made by Swamy; former Nepal Ambassador to India Dr Lok Raj Baral, too, mentioned that it was only a “rumour.”
“That was a rumour, it was not Rana, it was King Tribhuvan who had, kind of, made such a remark but it was only a rumour. I don’t think it was the Ranas who wanted to integrate Nepal with India. We have not yet found any evidence of such kind.”Dr Lok Raj Baral, former Nepal ambassador to India
He further said Sardar Patel had proposed to Nehru to integrate Nepal but Nehru had officially declined the suggestion.
Meanwhile, Akanksha Shah, a Nepalese journalist and researcher based in Delhi, too, said that there is nothing official about the claims being made by Swamy.
Speaking to The Quint, she said, “There has been nothing written about this. Although, there have been talks among Nepal experts that probably King Tribhuvan, had, later asked Nehru to probably look after the defence of the country. But this was without evidence. Nepal has been an independent country for a very long time.”
Nehru on Nepal and Its Independence
While explaining why Nehru wanted Nepal to remain an independent country, Professor Muni said the former prime minister felt that it was best to have close relations with Nepal.
“Nehru also knew that, internationally, since the alliances were being made and the people were to be against China, they would not like India really, as you know there was such a big opposition to India taking Goa, so he avoided this for technical reasons and he said that let us have close relations and those close relations were written down in the treaty of 1950, which was done during the Rana period.”Professor SD Muni, member of IDSA’s Executive Council and professor emeritus at JNU
He further said nobody in Nepal was willing to “to completely surrender their identity and independence.”
Meanwhile, Akanksha Shah elaborated on how the fact is that Nepal has always remained an independent country and that Nehru had said on record that the Himalayas were considered as a natural buffer between India and China.
1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty
In 1950, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed between the then Indian representative Chandreshwar Prasad Narain Singh and the then Nepalese Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana that defined the political, economic and strategic relations between the two countries.
According to an IDSA article on ‘Changing Trends in India-Nepal Relations’, China’s expansion towards Tibet “had perturbed Nepal as it not only exposed China's historical claims of maintaining the Himalayan state as its feudatory but also Nepal's vulnerability in containing any armed aggression from the north.”
With several changes in the political structure in Nepal from the Rana rulers to constitutional monarchy, the country witnessed consequent changes in its foreign policy with India.
The IDSA article cites instances such as when King Mahendra was opposed by parties like Nepali Congress and Communists, he realised India’s support to them and consequently attempted to maintain distance from India by expanding relations with “extra-regional countries.”
Owing to the increasing anti-Rana sentiments and the demand to establish democracy, India helped Nepal to “establish a constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. This was to ensure a progressive, stable and strong Nepal, which would be sensitive to India’s security concerns,” reads IDSA’s research fellow Nihar Nayak’s book titled ‘Strategic Himalayas: Republican Nepal and External Powers.’
While some citizens of Nepal thought that India took advantage of the anti-Rana sentiments to force the rulers to enter into the 1950 Treaty, “but the fact of the matter was that while both Nepal and India were negotiating a standstill agreement, the communist victory in China and its aggression on Tibet altered the geopolitical dynamics in the Himalayan region,” mentions the book.
The Ranas vs King Tribhuvan
Amid the growing tensions that Nepal was experiencing both in terms of military and ideology from China, the country was also witnessing political commotion due to differences between the Rana oligarchy and King Tribhuvan.
King Tribhuvan was supported by the Nepali Congress and a few “dissatisfied Ranas,” who wanted a democratic government in Nepal.
“The Ranas were apprehensive of the ideological linkages of the democrats with the socialists in India and wanted the Government of India to prevent them from having any base on its soil,” quotes an IDSA article titled ‘Movement of Population Between India and Nepal: Emerging Challenges.’
Nepali Congress, in 1950, had declared a revolution to overthrow the authoritarian regime of the Rana government.
“Because the Ranas still held King Tribhuvan in Kathmandu, and because Nepal had been closed off to external elements since its beginnings as a modern state, it was difficult to mount a revolution – armed or peaceful – from within,” mentions a column by Nepali writer Amish Raj Mulmi in The Wire.
The Ranas were overthrown with the support of the then monarch of Nepal King Tribhuvan, who was then reinstated as the Head of the State in 1951 and had allowed limited democracy by establishing an interim Constitution.
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