Modern ‘residency’ : Setting the tone for Nepali politics
India during the British Raj was divided into British controlled areas and areas under native rulers. The British areas were directly ruled through British district officers; native rulers presided under their control. But the native states had a resident of British India, who aided and advised the ruler. British residents, according David Gilmour, “often acted as Guardian, Tutors and Private Secretaries to the chiefs [native rulers] who were minors or who had recently taken charge of their states”.
Till the Anglo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship of 1923, Kathmandu too used to have a British resident. The dependency and reliability of the resident was to the extent that the courtiers and officers (Bhardars) used to seek refuge in the residency to save themselves from the wrath of sitting rulers. The rulers, too, used to visit the residency, sometimes to seek the support of its occupant.
The residents used to exercise extensive powers to the extent of recommending the government to remove native rulers. David Gilmour in his masterpiece on British Raj in India, The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj, provides a relevant case.
The seniormost prince deposed after the Mutiny
was Mulhar Rao, the Gaekwar of Baroda. In 1863, he had tried to take over the throne by attempting to poison the ruler, his brother Khander Rao, who as a result put him in prison.
Seven years later he succeeded Khander Rao and followed his example of ‘gross misrule’. In 1873, after three years on the throne, Mulhar Rao was warned by the British that he would be deposed unless he reformed his regime within 18 months. Shortly afterwards Colonel Phayre, the rather tactless and overbearing Resident at Baroda, claimed that the Gaekwar had tried to murder him by persuading his servants to poison his sherbet.
The government of India decided to remove Phayre and replaced him with Sir Lewis Pelly, who implicated Mulhar Rao. Pending inquiry, troops were sent to arrest the ruler and take over the state administration. The inquiry commission, however could not come to conclusion, its three British officials unconvinced that Rao had instigated the plot. In the end, Mulhar Rao was removed for ‘incorrigible misrule’.
Nepal’s sovereignty and independence was for the first time recognised by the British in 1923 in signing the Anglo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship and upgrading the status of their resident in Kathamndu. However, the system of residency continues till the present day, whether in the guise of residents or ambassadors.
They have played important roles in all major political developments in the country, be it the conclusion of Delhi Treaty of 1950, which led to the downfall of the Rana system and beginning of the first short-lived democratic system (1951-1962) or current developments in Nepali political scenario, from appeasing King Gynendra to showing an olive
branch to mainstream political parties, to creating an atmosphere for signing of
the 12-points agreement between seven political parties and CPN-Maoist, to extending support to Jana Andolan II, to coaxing King Gynendra to revive the dissolved House of Representatives (HoR) and surrendering the executive power to the leader of the Nepali Congress.
As a result of the developments after the promulgation of the Interim Constitution, 2007, Nepal is going for CA elections on November 22. The resulting CA would then decide the fate of the monarchy. Till a few days ago it was doubtful if Nepal would have a free and fair election because of the deteriorating law and order situation. Although the Tarai is still not free from trouble, the way the current resident, a Bengali pundit, moved about different political quarters in Kathmandu, it was obvious that he was determined to have the CA elections on the scheduled date. When this author raised doubts with a top political leader of one of the major political parties, he was told, “Don’t you see how India got MJF and government to come together to pave the path for CA polls?”
The leader must be right because he, unlike me, must be aware of all the behind-the- scene activities of modern residency in Kathmandu. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to watch how the Bengali pundit would bring about the rapprochement between the government and the other troublesome groups and deal with the anger of the CPN-Maoist
directed against the recently signed agreement between the MJF and the Minister for Peace and Reconstruction.
One of the most important things we Nepalis would be watching in the days to come is whether King Gyanendra would be pushed aside in favour of his grandson or the way would be paved for a republican Nepal, setting broad outlines of a new constitution. And how the safe passage of King Gyanendra and his whole family out of the country would be facilitated.
Dhungel is a political analyst with IIDS