290. Despatch From the Embassy in Nepal to the Department of State1

No. 136


  • Memorandum of Conversation Between King Mahendra and the Ambassador

There is enclosed a Memorandum of Conversation between King Mahendra and the Ambassador which took place on Tuesday, December 20 at 8:00 P.M., at the Royal Palace.2

The King made the following points with regard to his recent seizure of power:3

He took the step on his own responsibility with no outside influence whatsoever brought to bear.
He had planned this move for some time and knew of the approximate timing when the Ambassador last saw him on December 9.
He professed a strong belief in democracy, which he claims he himself has brought to Nepal and will continue to work towards it.
He hopes to maintain friendly relations with all countries, including the United States.
He dismissed the Government and imprisoned its leaders because they were guilty of corruption and of aiding and abetting Communism.
He intends, before the end of the year, to appoint a Council of State which will form the new government and help him rule the country until such time as he feels the country is ready for another attempt at parliamentary government.
He assured me that former Prime Minister B. P. Koirala and other members of the late Government were being well treated and that he did not contemplate harsh action against them.

Comment: During the interview, which lasted about half an hour, the King was relaxed and self-confident, spoke freely and, for him, with unusual fluency in English. He was straightforward and looked the Ambassador straight in the eye.

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In analyzing this coup d’etat, for this is what we believe it to be, we feel that the King’s motives in taking the precipitate action he did were guided less by the issues of corruption and Communism than by a growing fear that his own personal position and prestige were dwindling and that if he did not act soon, it might be too late. [2 lines of source text not declassified] While it is doubtless true that there has been corruption in high places and evidence, some true and some fabricated, will be presented to prove this, and, less likely, there may be discovered some vague connections with Communist activity, the real motive behind the move was the preservation of the monarchy and the Shah dynasty in its absolute form. Although the King protests that the decision was his alone, we are convinced that it was aided and urged by the group around him, which may also have misled him. This group includes members of his and his wife’s family, remaining Class A Ranas, hereditary Generals and reactionaries and “feudal remnants” generally, who, themselves, are concerned over the survival of their privileged positions. Added to these forces are those land owners and others who stood to suffer financially from the enforcement of the recent tax and land reform laws.

The King’s method of seizing power is consistent with Nepalese history. Confident of the Army’s complete loyalty (without which he would have failed and which he may not have in the next crisis), he acted with great secrecy and superb organization. He waited for the moment when all of his Ministers except those three who were out of the country were assembled at one place and when the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army was on an official visit to Nepal and when troop movements of various kinds would cause no special comment because they would be associated with the visit. This coup differed from previous sudden changes in government in that the cabinet was arrested before the King’s proclamation dismissing the Government and dissolving parliament.

The King has solved his immediate problem—that of disposing of B. P. Koirala and the Nepali Congress. However, by doing so he has created a new set of problems and it is characteristic that in solving the first one he seems to have failed to anticipate solutions to the consequent ones. One of the major problems he now faces is what to do with Koirala and the leaders of Nepali Congress. If he lets them go they will be in open, avowed hostility to him and his family and will lose no time in forming a revolutionary party and plotting direct action. If he executes them he faces shocked disapprobation of all Western countries and especially India. A third possibility, which is the course we think he will follow, is to hold these people indefinitely— until he is able to feel secure against them, and some of them may be prosecuted.

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Another, perhaps more serious problem is whom to select to be members of his new Council, who, in effect, with him will run the administration of Government. He says he will seek the best men, party considerations aside, and that he is in the process of making this selection now. But who is there available who has the necessary ability, training and intelligence to take on the tasks of running the country? He has tried this before and has not succeeded any better than the Ministers he has successively dismissed. It is difficult to think of someone who would subject himself now to the King’s prodding—and possible arrest. Finally, the King must, in the long run, provide revenue in the form of taxes and he must, if the country is to progress, broaden the tax base. Unless these unpopular measures are taken the country will continue to be dependent solely on foreign aid with no prospect in view of the country itself contributing to its own development.

We believe that the King will find it impossible to provide solutions to these problems and that despite his high hopes, his new government, after some months perhaps of riding the wave of popularity engendered by the enthusiasm of those who now believe they will never have to pay taxes, will become more and more bogged down. The result may be disastrous [1½ lines of source text not declassified].

For the short run we foresee the probability of a fairly quiet interlude while the King and his Council try to consolidate their position, try to “get things done” which will please the people and improve on the Nepali Congress efforts.3

Henry E. Stebbins
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 790C.00/12–2160. Confidential.
  2. Not printed. Stebbins also cabled a summary of this conversation with the King to the Department of State in telegram 446 from Kathmandu, December 21. (Ibid., 790C.00/12–2160)
  3. On December 15, the King dissolved the Government of Nepal. The Embassy reported to the Department on this development in telegram 405 from Kathmandu, December 16, and telegram 428 from Kathmandu, December 19. (Ibid., 790C.00/12–660 and 790C.00/12–1960) On December 20, Ambassador Rishikesh Shaha met with representatives of SOA to explain the King’s action. A memorandum of that conversation, drafted by Jelley, is ibid., 790C.0/12–2060.
  4. On December 20, Allen Dulles briefly discussed recent developments in Nepal (and Ethiopia) during his intelligence briefing of the National Security Council: “Mr. Dulles reported that the King of Nepal had arrested the members of the Cabinet because they were too progressive [1½ lines of source text not declassified]. Nepal may now be going back to a more archaic form of government. Mr. Dulles said no anti-Americanism was involved in either revolt.” (Memorandum of discussion by Marion W. Boggs; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records)