Yuba Nath Lamsal
Nepal saw a systemic political transformation in 1951 having a huge impact on all aspects and sectors of the country. A popular movement overthrew the Rana's family oligarchy and established a multi-party political system in Nepal in 1951. The political change heralded a new chapter in Nepal's foreign policy and diplomatic arena, as well. Although efforts for diversification of Nepal's foreign policy and diplomacy started during the Rana rule, not much progress had been achieved due to lack of political and democratic legitimacy. Nepal had diplomatic relations with a single country—the United Kingdom—for almost 130 years until 1947. Rana rulers were happy and safe as long as they continued to get British support and they did not feel necessary to develop relations with other countries. When the British withdrew from India, Rana regime started felt insecure and hastened to establish relations with other countries. In the later part of the Rana rule, Nepal's diplomatic relations were established with the United States, France and independent India besides the United Kingdom. Although some efforts had also been made to establish diplomatic relations with China but had yielded no results.
Even after the establishment of multi-party pluralist system, the initial years did not made any significant progress in the foreign policy front as the new government was heavily preoccupied with domestic affairs and could not pay much attention to foreign policy and relations with other countries. Foreign policy was the issue of the least priority for the new government as it lacked experience as well as interest in dealing with international affairs. In the interregnum between 1951 and 1959, Nepal saw a height of instability and confusion in political and other sectors. This is the period which also witnessed the record change of governments. As the foreign policy is the extension of the domestic policy, the state of confusion and uncertainty in political front also had negative impact on Nepal's foreign policy and diplomacy.
The first three years between 1951 and 1954 were absolutely pessimistic in terms of foreign policy and diplomatic dealings. India, due to its role in the 1951 political change in Nepal, had its heavy influence in Nepal's political and foreign policy affairs.
King Tribhuvan was too grateful to India because he was under impression that he got his laurels back only with India's support, which was true, to a large extent. Although popular movement was the primary factor and the external support was only the secondary one for the 1951 political change, King Tribhuvan was more indebted to India than the Nepalese people. King Tribhuvan's remarks as having said that Nepal's democracy was a gift from India is self evident of how grateful he was to India. King Tribhuvan was unwilling to take any independent decision on foreign policy front. However, things started to change in 1955. King Tribhuvan died in 1955 and his son Mahendra took over power of Nepal. King Mahendra was not as grateful to India as his father was. King Mahendra had a different perspective on foreign policy orientation and he practically departed from his father's policy. Thus, the year 1955 can be taken as a point of departure in the foreign policy of modern Nepal. Immediately after King Mahendra ascended to throne, Tanaka Prasad Acharya became the Prime Minister. Acharya, too, had different foreign policy vision, who took some bold steps in Nepal's foreign policy issues including the once concerning the decision to remove the Indian check posts in northern Nepal bordering with China and establish formal diplomatic relations with China. King Mahendra together with Prime Minister Tanka Prasad Acharya, therefore, can be taken as the principal architects of modern Nepal's foreign policy and diplomatic diversification.
The new found open political system had contributed to the rise of intellectual renaissance in Nepal. A section of intellectuals and political activists had already started criticizing the government's foreign policy and demanded that relations be established immediately with the next door Neighbor China. Public resentment on Nepalese foreign policy had already been there right after the Indian military mission arrived in Kathmandu in 1952. The Koshi agreement between Nepal and India in 1954 was yet another issue of public debate and dispute as the opposition parties and activists criticized the Koshi project as being against the interest of Nepal. The Nepali Congress, the dominant political force of that time, was also not happy with the government's foreign policy handling and it officially passed a resolution demanding the establishment of diplomatic relations with China. These developments had served as a pressure on the government of that time to change foreign policy orientation. Although King Tribhuvan had India-centric foreign policy perception, newer developments and public sentiments in the domestic front had, to a large extent, forced the king to change his foreign policy orientation in the later part of his life. King Tribhuvan in 1954 expressed his desire to change his foreign policy orientation stating that 20th century's Nepal could no longer remain isolated from the rest of the world.
China also had undergone a huge political transformation. In 1949, Chinese revolution succeeded in establishing the People's Republic of China (PRC) under the leadership of Mao Zedong. The PRC had also shown interest in establishing contact and relations with Nepal. Nepalese government of that time was a little apprehensive of extending friendly relations with China as it was not confident of India's reaction. However, that was the 'Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai' (India-China brothers) era and India and China had a kind of bonhomie in their bilateral relations. Although India may have been desirous to keep Nepal under its domain of influence in terms of foreign policy and security matters as India considered the 'Himalayas as its security frontier', New Delhi refrained from obstructing Nepal's move to establish diplomatic relations with China. The then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had suggested Nepal to go slow and be cautious in diplomatic dealings with China. But Nehru did not advise or coerce in any form on Nepal not to establish diplomatic relations with China. Indian President Dr Rajendra Prasad, sometimes after the establishment Nepal-China diplomatic relations, paid a state visit to Nepal. During the visit Dr Prasad said in public that 'Nepal and India had common friends' indicating that India did not at all take the establishment of Nepal-China diplomatic relations in a negative manner. These developments had encouraged Nepal to diversify Nepal's foreign policy even with other countries. Moreover, King Mahendra and Prime Minister Acharya were clear and determined on their foreign policy mission and goal, which helped, to a large extent, brought Nepal's foreign policy out of Indian influence.
With the establishment of diplomatic relations with China, the number of countries having diplomatic relations with Nepal reached five—the United Kingdom, the United States, France, India and China. In other words, Nepal was able to establish diplomatic relations with four of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. One year after or in 1956, Nepal formally established diplomatic relations also with Russia establishing diplomatic relations with all permanent members of the UN Security Council, while Nepal and Japan established diplomatic relations in 1957. Thus, the era of genuine diplomatic diversification started for Nepal and this process picked momentum in the years to come.