Elucidate the factors contributed in the freedom movements of Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives

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Freedom struggle in Nepal

In the mid 18th century, Prithvinaraian Shah, the chief of the Gurkha principality unified the whole of Nepal and founded the Shah dynasty. The present borders of Nepal came into being after the war with the British ruler’s in-1814.

Nepal lost considerable amount of territory to British India, but it gained British recognition of its sovereignty. Even though Nepal was never occupied by the British, it was rarely in a position to assert its complete independence. When India became independent, Nepal too declared its independent status.

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Since minor heirs succeeded Prithavinaraian, the prime ministers began to wield immense political power. This resulted in intrigues, conspiracies, killings and counter-killings and instability. This situation continued until the mid-19th century, when Jang Bahadur Rana eliminated all rival political factions and reduced the king to a titular head.

The Shah ruler, who was secluded in the palace grounds, was asked to issue a sansad (royal decree) granting Jung Bahadur absolute authority in civil and military administration and foreign relations. This sansad which also bestowed the office of prime minister upon the Ranas in perpetuity provided the legal basis for the rule of the Rana family in the country.

Since the power of the Rana prime ministers was ultimately illegitimate, resting on the abdication of responsibilities by the king and his virtual incarceration, the Rana rule became autocratic and reactionary in order to prevent any challenge to their authority.

In the process, they succeeded in isolating Nepal from many of the changes happening throughout the world and even in nearby India. Nepal, however, did not remain in complete isolation.

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The reform movements in India and the rise of national movement under Indian National Congress deeply influenced the middle classes. The Rana regime’s suppression of the modernist aspirations of the educated classes gave birth to an anti-Rana movement.

Nepali exiles and those who had come to India for education set up associations which aimed at building a popular movement in Nepal and replace the Rana system by a democratic order. In the 1930s, some of these organisations, such as the Nepali Nagrik Adhikar Samithi, Prachanda Ghorka, Praja Parishad, etc.

formed by Nepali people living in exile in India, demanded immediate political reforms in Nepal and an end to the rule of the Ranas. This precipitated internal disturbances in Nepal. These developments in Nepal coincided with preparations for British withdrawal from the subcontinent.

It may be noted that the Rana system had been supported and sustained by the British rulers in India who saw in Ranas, a useful and subservient ally. The atmosphere within the country was also not in favour of the Ranas.

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The king was aligned with the anti-Rana forces for obvious reasons. Moreover, the Ranas themselves had internal contradictions owing to various categories of expanding and amorphous lineage in the family. Accordingly, many of the Ranas in the lower status of the family hierarchy and lineage (born of less pure marriage) bad either directly joined the anti-Rana movement or were indirectly opposing the ruling coterie as they had no stakes in the degenerated system.

There were also sharp differences of ideology and tactics among the Rana rulers on how to deal with the forces of change. In such circumstances, the then Rana prime minister, Padma Shamsher thought of accommodation with the leaders of the democratic movement. This change in attitude paved a way for political reforms and constitutional developments in Nepal.

In 1948, Rana Mohan Shamsher promulgated the first written constitution of Nepal. It provided fundamental rights to the people and revived the traditional panchayat system without disturbing the traditional powers of the Ranas. When the Rana prime minister, outlawed the Nepali National Congress and showed no interest in implementing the new constitution, anti-Rana forces came together to form the Nepal Democratic Congress in Calcutta in August 1948.

This group advocated the overthrow of the Ranas by any means, including armed insurrection. It tried to ferment army coups in January 1949 and January 1950 but failed. When the Rana government arrested B.P. Koirala and other organisers in October 1948 and subjected regime opponents to harsh conditions and even torture in jail, its democratic opponents turned against it again.

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The break for the nationalist came in 1950 when King Tribhuvan and his family sought asylum in India. Several anti-Rana organisations then joined together under the banner of the Nepali Congress, launched an armed struggle against the Rana regime.

The Nepali Congress set up a provisional government at the border town of Birganj after its forces had captured much of the Terai from the Ranas. At this stage, India, which had just recognised the Rana regime in Nepal and concluded the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1950, decided to intervene to find a amicable way out. India mediated with the three segments of the Nepali politics in the crisis situation, the Ranas, the popular leaders and the Kings to work out a settlement.

India’s approach was that Nepal should follow a middle path wherein the traditional elite should be preserved, at the same time some progress should be made towards democracy.

The agreement concluded in New Delhi in February 1951, envisaged a coalition government of the Ranas and the Nepali Congress as well as restoration of the status and power of the monarchy. An interim ministry headed by Mohan Shamsher with five Ranas and five Nepali Congress Party members was sworn in February 1951 after the King returned to Katmandu.

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Freedom Struggle in Bhutan

Bhutan was divided into several small principalities until 17th century. In the eastern Bhutan a ruling house was founded by the descendents of a Tibetan prince who had migrated in 9th century A.D. The western region was divided into several estates, controlled by different Buddhist monastic schools.

The prince, Abbot-Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, arrived in Bhutan from Tibet as refugee in 1616. With the help of existing monasteries belonging to his school of Buddhism, he launched a struggle to unify Bhutan. In this struggle, Shabdrung defeated the rival schools and also repulsed successive invasions from Tibet and united the country. But after his death, Bhutan was in turmoil once again. Out of this turmoil emerged Ugyen Wangchuk who restored order and peace in Bhutan and founded the present hereditary ruling house in 1907.

When the Bengal Presidency was established by Britain in the later half of the 18th century, its borders touched the Bhutanese territory. This resulted in periodic skirmishes between the British and the Bhutanese. It finally led to the full scale Anglo-Bhutanese war in 1864-65 which settled the border. Thereafter, the British influence in Bhutan gradually increased at the expense of China and Tibet.

In 1910, despite Chinese protests, Ugyen Wangchuck signed a treaty with the British rulers of India in which he “agreed to be guided by the advice of the British government in regard to its external affairs. In return, the British government pledged not to interfere in the internal affairs of Bhutan.

The following year the king attended the famous Delhi Durbar and he ‘knew and accepted the fact that none but feudatory chiefs of India were to participate in the Durbar, the British, however, did not regard Bhutan as an Indian State and did not adopt policies normally applied to native princes, such as recognising and regulating succession, intervening in case of threats to the state or gross misrule.

When India was on the verge of independence, the Bhutanese government was apprehensive that the new Indian government was likely to interfere in the internal affairs of Bhutan and as a counter balance wanted to have some relations with the British government in London. However, when the Bhutanese delegation went to New Delhi to negotiate a standstill Treaty with the new Indian government, it was impressed by the sincerity of the new Indian regime. The Bhutan government and the Political Officer in Sikkim signed the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 1949 at Darjeeling in August 1949.

The Treaty clearly established Bhutan as a sovereign power. India undertook not to interfere in the internal administration of Bhutan while Bhutan agreed to be guided by the advice of India in its external relations. In case of dispute arising in applying the Treaty, constitution of an Arbitration Council with an Indian, a Bhutanese representative and the chairman to be nominated by Bhutan among the Federal High Court judges from India was also envisaged.

Factors contributed in the freedom movement of Maldives:

The early history of the Maldives is obscure. The early settlers here were probably from southern India. Indo-European speakers followed them from Sri Lanka in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. In the 12th century AD, sailors from East Africa and Arab countries came to the islands’.

The Maldivian ethnic identity is therefore a blend of these cultures, reinforced by religion and language. Originally, Buddhists Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam in the mid- 12th century.

Since then the Maldives has been governed as an Islamic Sultanate for most of its history. It came under the feudatory subjection of the king of Cannanore in coastal India. For the first time in its history, the Maldives came under direct control of foreign power, when the Portuguese occupied the northern islands in 1553. Within 15 years, the people led by warrior-patriot, Mohammad Bodu Takuru, drove out the Portuguese.

The Sultan later concluded a treaty with Portuguese, which restricted their independence, and Maldives was forced to send a fixed annual tribute to the Portuguese in Ceylon. When the Dutch and later the British established their hold on Ceylon, the Sultan of Maldives continued the practice of sending an annual tribute to the European Governors in Ceylon, a practice that continued till the first half of 20th century.

The Europeans left alone the local government and internal affairs of the Maldives. Knowing the strategic importance of the islands as well as to protect trade conducted by British subjects, in 1887, the Governor of Ceylon signed an agreement with the Sultan. By this agreement, Great Britain formally recognised Maldives as its protectorate.

According to the terms of the agreement, the responsibility of recognising and installing the sultan and the control of the country’s defence and foreign relations were vested in Great Britain. In return, the islanders were left free to decided internal affairs. Maldives continued to be ruled under a succession of sultans.

The sultans were hereditary until 1932 when an attempt was made to make the sultanate elective, thereby limiting the absolute powers of sultans. Maldives remained a British crown protectorate until 1953 when the sultanate was suspended and the First Republic was declared under the presidency of Muhammad Amin Didi. The sultanate was however, restored the following year. Political developments in the Maldives since then have been largely influenced by the British military presence in the islands.

In 1956, the Britain obtained permission to re-establish its wartime airfield on Gan islands and a radio station on Hitaddu Island. Maldives granted the British a 100-year lease on Gan that required them to pay £2,000 a year.

Before the agreement could be ratified, the new Prime Minister, Ibrahim Nasir, called for a review of the agreement in the interest of shortening the lease and increasing the annual payment. But in 1959, Nasir was challenged by a local secessionist movement in the southern atolls that benefited economically from the British presence on Gan.

He allowed Britain to continue to use both the Gan and the Hitaddu facilities for a thirty-year period, with the payment of £750,000 over the period of 1960 to 1965 for the purpose of Maldives’ economic development. On July 26, 1965, Maldives gained independence under an agreement signed with Britain.

The British government retained the use of the Gan and Hitaddu facilities. In March 1968, the sultanate was abolished by a national referendum. Maldives became a republic in November 1968 under the presidency of Ibrahim Nasir.

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