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Nepal-The Rana Oligarchy

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Nepal Index


The gilded copper Sun Dhoka gate, built in 1753, in Durbar Square, at the medieval city of Bhaktapur. The gate, which is the entrance to the main courtyard palace and the Taleju Bhavani Temple, is flanked by a small shrine of the Rana period.


Hanuman Dhoka Palace, the old royal palace, Kathmandu
Courtesy Harvey Follender

After the death of Jang Bahadur, his eldest surviving brother, Ranoddip Singh, became prime minister (1877-85). Because he was childless, his term in office was full of plots by Jang Bahadur's sons and nephews over succession. These plots were complicated by the death of King Surendra Bikram Shah in 1881 and the royal accession of Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah (reigned 1881-1911) at the age of six. Finally, the doddering Ranoddip Singh was assassinated, and Bir Shamsher, son of Jang Bahadur's youngest and closest brother, became prime minister (1885-1901). Bir Shamsher immediately launched a purge of his opponents. While in power, he brought piped water to the Kathmandu Valley, built a suspension bridge at Kulekhani, and set up a palace school where English was taught. His successor for three months was the progressive Dev Shamsher, who emancipated all female slaves, established a network of Nepalilanguage schools called Bhasa Pathsalas, and started the first Nepali-language newspaper, Gorkhapatra (Gorkha Newsletter). A coalition of his brothers, upset with his radical tendencies, forced Dev Shamsher's resignation and retirement to India.

Chandra Shamsher took over (1901-29) and attempted to resolve the unending family feuds over succession rights by amending the Rolls of Succession that had originally been set up by Jang Bahadur. The modified Rolls of Succession contained three schedules: "A" class Ranas were the direct, legitimate offspring of Ranas, who could dine with any high-caste Chhetri family; "B" class Ranas usually were born of second wives and could take part in all forms of social interaction with high-caste Chhetris except the sharing of boiled rice; and "C" class Ranas were the offspring of wives and concubines of lower status with whom interdining was forbidden. The "A" class Ranas could fill the highest positions in the army or civil administration, but "B" or "C" class Ranas at that time could only reach the level of colonels in the army and could never become prime ministers. At the time, this plan seemed adequate for finalizing everyone's position in the state and stopping conspiracy. In the long run, however, the rigid Rolls of Succession alienated large numbers of aristocrats who saw little room for advancement in the Rana system, lost interest in preserving it, and even began opposing it. The alienation increased when Juddha Shamsher (in power 1932-45) removed all "C" class Ranas, including some of his own sons, from the swollen Rolls of Succession and appointed many of them to administrative positions in districts far from the capital. In this way, the Rana dictatorship slowly created opposition within its own ranks.

Prithvi Narayan Shah and his successors had used the older administrative systems of Gorkha and the kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley to run the central government of a united Nepal that was in theory accountable to the king. Jang Bahadur had inherited control over these systems and proceeded to undercut their power by packing them with his own officials or by establishing parallel offices that duplicated functions and, in effect, took over the work of older offices. There had always been an Assembly of Lords filled by leading aristocrats, military leaders, administrators, or head priests. In the past, this assembly had met periodically to advise the king and make important decisions. Under Jang Bahadur and his successors, it was full of Ranas and their henchmen. Aside from the codification of the Muluki Ain, the assembly functioned as a rubber stamp for Rana decisions. Accounting procedures and records had been kept by an Office of Accounts, a State Treasury, and a Land Revenue Office. Under Jang Bahadur, separate offices staffed by his appointees kept records of military grants, religious endowments, land revenue, treasury correspondence, and military correspondence--in other words, the most important components of the older royal administration. Special offices for the investigation of corruption and for police matters (staffed by army personnel) formed the core of a police state. There were few avenues open for government personnel to work outside of a network dominated by Rana interests; those who did could be detected and were either punished or coopted into the Rana system. The government of late nineteenth-century Nepal thus stripped the monarchy of any real power and maintained a late medieval administrative framework.

Because their power was ultimately illegitimate, resting on the abdication of responsibilities by the king and his virtual incarceration, the Ranas became expert at preventing any kind of challenge. In the process, they succeeded in isolating Nepal from many of the changes happening throughout the world and even in nearby India.

The Ranas were not totally inactive during the period of dictatorship, however. On the legal front, suttee, or the suicide of a wife by throwing herself onto her husband's funeral pyre, was abolished in 1920, and slavery was abolished in 1929. Tri-Chandra College was established in 1918, and by the 1940s there were several high schools in the country and two Nepali literary magazines (see Education , ch. 2). The Ranas also attended to economic development by founding the Pharping Hydroelectric Company in 1911 and establishing the Nepal Industrial Board, a jute mill, a match factory, two cotton mills, the Nepal Plywood and Bobbin Company, and several rice mills during the 1930s (see Industry , ch. 3). As for public health, the first tuberculosis clinic was set up in 1934. In view of the population of approximately 6 million in the 1930s, these accomplishments seem pitiful. Almost all Nepalese remained illiterate and uninformed about any part of the world outside their villages or, at best, their valleys. Public health and economic infrastructure had not advanced past medieval levels in most areas, and doing anything about it was proving impossible. Under Bhim Shamsher (reigned 1929-32), fifty people were arrested and fined for setting up a public library.

Because the Ranas relied on the goodwill of the army and the British government to support their dictatorship, the army served as a legitimate--and perhaps the most viable--means for Nepalese citizens to achieve upward mobility or to see the world. During World War I (1914-18), the government of Nepal loaned more than 16,000 troops to the British, and 26,000 Nepalese citizens who were part of British Indian regiments fought in France and the Middle East. In gratitude the British government in 1919 bestowed on Nepal an annual payment of 1 million Indian rupees (US$476,000) in perpetuity and in 1920 transformed the British resident in Kathmandu into an envoy. A Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship signed in 1923 confirmed the independence of Nepal and its special relationship with British India. As long as British rule remained stable in India and the army offered a safety valve to release social pressures in Nepal, the Ranas were able to use their total control over internal affairs to isolate their country, a situation that could not long endure.

Data as of September 1991

BackgroundIn 1951, the Nepalese monarch ended the century-old system of rule by hereditary premiers and instituted a cabinet system of government. Reforms in 1990 established a multiparty democracy within the framework of a constitutional monarchy. An insurgency led by Maoist extremists broke out in 1996. The ensuing ten-year civil war between insurgents and government forces witnessed the dissolution of the cabinet and parliament and assumption of absolute power by the king. Several weeks of mass protests in April 2006 were followed by several months of peace negotiations between the Maoists and government officials, and culminated in a November 2006 peace accord and the promulgation of an interim constitution. Following a nation-wide election in April 2008, the newly formed Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a federal democratic republic and abolished the monarchy at its first meeting the following month. The Constituent Assembly elected the country's first president in July. The Maoists, who received a plurality of votes in the Constituent Assembly election, formed a coalition government in August 2008, but resigned in May 2009 after the president overruled a cabinet decision to fire the chief of the army staff.
LocationSouthern Asia, between China and India
Area(sq km)total: 147,181 sq km
land: 143,351 sq km
water: 3,830 sq km
Geographic coordinates28 00 N, 84 00 E
Land boundaries(km)total: 2,926 km
border countries: China 1,236 km, India 1,690 km

Coastline(km)0 km (landlocked)

Climatevaries from cool summers and severe winters in north to subtropical summers and mild winters in south

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Kanchan Kalan 70 m
highest point: Mount Everest 8,850 m
Natural resourcesquartz, water, timber, hydropower, scenic beauty, small deposits of lignite, copper, cobalt, iron ore
Land use(%)arable land: 16.07%
permanent crops: 0.85%
other: 83.08% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)11,700 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)210.2 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 10.18 cu km/yr (3%/1%/96%)
per capita: 375 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazardssevere thunderstorms; flooding; landslides; drought and famine depending on the timing, intensity, and duration of the summer monsoons
Environment - current issuesdeforestation (overuse of wood for fuel and lack of alternatives); contaminated water (with human and animal wastes, agricultural runoff, and industrial effluents); wildlife conservation; vehicular emissions
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation
Geography - notelandlocked; strategic location between China and India; contains eight of world's 10 highest peaks, including Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga - the world's tallest and third tallest - on the borders with China and India respectively
Population28,563,377 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 36.6% (male 5,327,484/female 5,127,178)
15-64 years: 59.2% (male 8,094,494/female 8,812,675)
65 years and over: 4.2% (male 566,666/female 634,880) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 20.8 years
male: 19.8 years
female: 21.7 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)1.281% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)23.18 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)6.97 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)-3.39 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 17% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 4.9% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.92 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.89 male(s)/female
total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 47.46 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 47.4 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 47.52 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 65.46 years
male: 64.3 years
female: 66.67 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)2.64 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Nepalese (singular and plural)
adjective: Nepalese
Ethnic groups(%)Chhettri 15.5%, Brahman-Hill 12.5%, Magar 7%, Tharu 6.6%, Tamang 5.5%, Newar 5.4%, Muslim 4.2%, Kami 3.9%, Yadav 3.9%, other 32.7%, unspecified 2.8% (2001 census)

Religions(%)Hindu 80.6%, Buddhist 10.7%, Muslim 4.2%, Kirant 3.6%, other 0.9% (2001 census)
note: only official Hindu state in the world
Languages(%)Nepali 47.8%, Maithali 12.1%, Bhojpuri 7.4%, Tharu (Dagaura/Rana) 5.8%, Tamang 5.1%, Newar 3.6%, Magar 3.3%, Awadhi 2.4%, other 10%, unspecified 2.5% (2001 census)
note: many in government and business also speak English (2001 est.)

Country nameconventional long form: Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal
conventional short form: Nepal
local long form: Sanghiya Loktantrik Ganatantra Nepal
local short form: Nepal
Government typefederal democratic republic
Capitalname: Kathmandu
geographic coordinates: 27 43 N, 85 19 E
time difference: UTC+5.75 (10.75 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions14 zones (anchal, singular and plural); Bagmati, Bheri, Dhawalagiri, Gandaki, Janakpur, Karnali, Kosi, Lumbini, Mahakali, Mechi, Narayani, Rapti, Sagarmatha, Seti
Constitution15 January 2007 (interim Constitution); note - in April 2008, a Constituent Assembly was elected to draft and promulgate a new constitution by May 2010

Legal systembased on Hindu legal concepts and English common law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage18 years of age; universal
Executive branchchief of state: President Ram Baran YADAV (as of 23 July 2008); Vice President Paramananda JHA (as of 23 July 2008)
head of government: Prime Minister Madhav Kumar NEPAL (as of 25 May 2009); Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar GACHHEDAR
cabinet: cabinet formed in May 2009 by a majority coalition made up of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist, Nepali Congress, Madhesi People's Rights Forum, and several smaller parties
elections: president elected by Parliament; term extends until the new constitution is promulgated; election last held 21 July 2008; date of next election NA
election results: Ram Baran YADAV elected president by the Constituent Assembly in a second round of voting on 21 July 2008; Ram Baran YADAV 308, Ram Jaja Prasad SINGH 282

Legislative branchunicameral Constituent Assembly (601 seats; 240 seats decided by direct popular vote; 335 seats by proportional representation; 26 appointed by the Cabinet (Council of Ministers))
elections: last held 10 April 2008 (next to be held NA)
election results: percent of vote by party - CPN-M 38%, NC 19%, CPN-UML 19%,Madhesi People's Right Forum 9%, Terai-Madhes Democratic Party and Sadbhavana Party 5%, other 10%; seats by party - CPN-M 220, NC 110, CPN-UML 103, Madhesi People's Rights Forum 52, Terai-Madhes Democratic Party 20, Sadbhawana Party 9, other smaller parties 61; note - 26 seats filled by the new Cabinet

Judicial branchSupreme Court or Sarbochha Adalat (the president appoints the chief justice is appointed by the monarch on recommendation of the Constitutional Council; the chief justice appoints other judges on the recommendation of the Judicial Council)

Political pressure groups and leadersother: several small armed Madhesi groups along the southern border with India; a variety of groups advocating regional autonomy for individual ethnic groups
Flag descriptionred with a blue border around the unique shape of two overlapping right triangles; the smaller, upper triangle bears a white stylized moon and the larger, lower triangle bears a white 12-pointed sun

Economy - overviewNepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world with almost one-third of its population living below the poverty line. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, providing a livelihood for three-fourths of the population and accounting for about one-third of GDP. Industrial activity mainly involves the processing of agricultural products, including pulses, jute, sugarcane, tobacco, and grain. Bumper crops, better security, improved transportation, and increased tourism pushed growth past 5% in 2008, after growth had hovered around 3% - barely above the rate of population growth - for the previous three years. The deteriorating world economy in 2009 will challenge tourism and remittance growth, a key source of foreign exchange. Nepal has considerable scope for exploiting its potential in hydropower and tourism, areas of recent foreign investment interest. Prospects for foreign trade or investment in other sectors will remain poor, however, because of the small size of the economy, its technological backwardness, its remoteness and landlocked geographic location, its civil strife and labor unrest, and its susceptibility to natural disaster.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$31.39 billion (2008 est.)
$29.81 billion (2007 est.)
$28.86 billion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$12.28 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)5.3% (2008 est.)
3.3% (2007 est.)
3.4% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$1,100 (2008 est.)
$1,100 (2007 est.)
$1,100 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 32.5%
industry: 16.6%
services: 50.9% (FY07 est.)
Labor force14.6 million
note: severe lack of skilled labor (2008 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 76%
industry: 6%
services: 18% (2004 est.)
Unemployment rate(%)46% (2008 est.)
42% (2004 est.)
Population below poverty line(%)30.9% (2004)
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: 2.7%
highest 10%: 40.6% (2006)
Distribution of family income - Gini index47.2 (2008)
36.7 (1996)
Budgetrevenues: $1.7 billion
expenditures: $2.3 billion (FY08)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)7.7% (2008 est.)
6.4% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$2.106 billion (31 December 2008)
$2.184 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money$4.885 billion (31 December 2008)
$4.745 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit$5.556 billion (31 December 2008)
$5.636 billion (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares$5.5 billion (31 December 2008)
$4.909 billion (31 December 2007)
$1.805 billion (31 December 2006)
Economic aid - recipient$427.9 million (2005)

Agriculture - productspulses, rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, jute, root crops; milk, water buffalo meat
Industriestourism, carpets, textiles; small rice, jute, sugar, and oilseed mills; cigarettes, cement and brick production

Industrial production growth rate(%)1.8% (FY08)

Current account balance$241 million (2008)
$58 million (2007)
Exports$868 million (2008)
$830 million (2006)

Exports - commodities(%)clothing, carpets, leather goods, jute goods, pulses, grain
Exports - partners(%)India 59.2%, US 8.7%, Bangladesh 8.3%, Germany 4.3% (2008)
Imports$3.229 billion (2008)
$2.398 billion (2006)

Imports - commodities(%)petroleum products, machinery and equipment, electrical goods
Imports - partners(%)India 55.4%, China 13.3%, Singapore 2% (2008)

Debt - external$3.285 billion (2008)
$3.07 billion (March 2006)

Stock of direct foreign investment - at home$NA
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad$NA
Exchange ratesNepalese rupees (NPR) per US dollar - 65.21 (2008), 70.35 (2007), 72.446 (2006), 72.16 (2005), 73.674 (2004)

Currency (code)Nepalese rupee (NPR)

Telephones - main lines in use805,100 (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular4.2 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: poor telephone and telegraph service; fair radiotelephone communication service and mobile-cellular telephone network
domestic: combined fixed-line and mobile-cellular telephone service subscribership base only about 15 per 100 persons
international: country code - 977; radiotelephone communications; microwave landline to India; satellite earth station - 1 Intelsat (Indian Ocean) (2008)
Internet country code.np
Internet users499,000 (2008)
Airports47 (2009)
Roadways(km)total: 17,282 km
paved: 10,142 km
unpaved: 7,140 km (2007)

Military branchesNepal Army (2009)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)18 years of age for voluntary military service; 15 years of age for military training; no conscription (2008)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 7,322,965
females age 16-49: 6,859,064 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 4,886,103
females age 16-49: 5,525,764 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 365,567
female: 352,643 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)1.6% of GDP (2006)
Disputes - internationaljoint border commission continues to work on contested sections of boundary with India, including the 400 square kilometer dispute over the source of the Kalapani River; India has instituted a stricter border regime to restrict transit of Maoist insurgents and illegal cross-border activities; approximately 106,000 Bhutanese Lhotshampas (Hindus) have been confined in refugee camps in southeastern Nepal since 1990

Refugees and internally displaced personsrefugees (country of origin): 107,803 (Bhutan); 20,153 (Tibet/China)
IDPs: 50,000-70,000 (remaining from ten-year Maoist insurgency that officially ended in 2006; displacement spread across the country) (2007)
Electricity - production(kWh)2.781 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 8.5%
hydro: 91.5%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)2.243 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)140 million kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)213 million kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production(bbl/day)0 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)18,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)0 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)16,920 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves(bbl)0 bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
Natural gas - production(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)0 cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)0.5% (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS70,000 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths5,000 (2007 est.)
Major infectious diseasesdegree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne disease: Japanese encephalitis, malaria, and dengue fever (2009)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 48.6%
male: 62.7%
female: 34.9% (2001 census)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)(years)total: 9 years
male: 10 years
female: 8 years (2003)
Education expenditures(% of GDP)3.4% of GDP (2003)

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