Government and Politics in South Asia

By Craig Baxter; Yogendra K. Malik et al. | Go to book overview

25
Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives

Nepal

The Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is a small country the size of the state of Illinois, with a population of about 22 million. Sandwiched between its two giant neighbors, the People's Republic of China and India, it is landlocked and thus has access to the sea only through Indian territory (see Map 25.1). Linked with both China and India by all-weather motorable roads, Nepal today occupies a strategic position in the South Asian subcontinent.

Nepal achieved its territorial consolidation in the eighteenth century under a dynamic Gurkha king, Prithvi Narayan Shah, who organized the Nepali army along Western lines. He also promulgated a new, uniform legal and administrative system for the efficient rule of his kingdom. In the 1814 war with the British rulers of India, Nepal not only suffered a defeat but also lost considerable territory to British India, although it gained British recognition of its sovereignty in return. Even though Nepal was never occupied by the British rulers of India, it was rarely in a position to assert its complete independence. When India became independent in 1947, however, Nepal, too, declared its independent status and sought relations with the outside world as a sovereign state. After 1947 Nepal emerged from its seclusion and became active in regional politics.


Ethnic and Religious Plurality

The ethnic composition of Nepal's population and its cultural heritage have been deeply influenced by India and Tibet, two of its immediate neighbors. Its population is divided into two predominant racial groups, Caucasoid and Mongoloid. 1 The Caucasoids possess predominantly Indo-Aryan traits, as their ancestors migrated to Nepal mainly from north India. More specifically, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries frequent

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