229. Telegram From the Embassy in Nepal to the Department of State1

7734. Subject: Ambassador’s View of Nepal at Year End.

1. (C–Entire text)

[Page 566]

2. U.S. national interest in Nepal is almost non-existent. We have no significant trade, no defense interest and our political interest is limited to our objectives of regional stability towards which stability in Nepal and Indo-Nepalese cooperation is conducive. My analysis of Nepali political and economic development is set in that context.

3. The monarchy is for now the key to Nepal’s unity. The government is the only significant national institution but is neither strong nor effective. Hinduism has no institutionalized church or organization. Former political party organizations are not dynamic, have not been tested in parliamentary elections for 20 years and were not as politically potent (either in organization or leadership) as many expected in the recent referendum campaign. The Panchas are not now unified but probably have the best potential for national organization. At this time it is nevertheless still potential although it is assumed, as during the referendum that government machinery will be mobilized on its behalf. The judiciary is weak. The press is at best docile. In this situation the King dominates the scene politically.

4. Prior to the referendum relatively small scale student-led disturbances shook the structure, illustrating the fragility of the government and its vulnerability to small urban-based insurgents. That vulnerability remains. The King easily preempted the prior difficulties by the referendum announcement which absorbed political energies for the next year. After the Panchayat victory the multiparty elements have been in disarray and the Panchas split. The constitutional reform process has shown again how dependent all politicians are on the King, and that he intends to continue to manipulate the actors.

5. Nevertheless the reforms offer genuine possibility of participation for all political groups and cannot reasonably be refused. The alternative for the Congress group is confrontation which probably would be partially successful since Congress has strength concentrated in urban and Terai areas, and because the Communists with complementarily based support would join in. However, presumably the government has learned some lessons from its mishandling of the pre-referendum demonstrations, and my judgment is that the popularity, particularly of Congress, is at a low ebb. Consequently, I expect the government would weather the storm of multiparty confrontation. From the point of view of USG interest in stability and economic development, confrontation would be unfortunate. Consequently, I have emphasized the apparent reasonableness of the reforms and have [garble] encouraged wide participation.

6. The Communists also have something to gain by participation since they too risk isolation from the political process under a confrontation strategy and are widely thought not to be particularly popular now. Moscow and Peking have officially supported the King, although [Page 567] there is some evidence and much talk that the Soviets are bent on destabilizing Nepal. Neither has any apparent reason at this time to send their parties into the streets. I must, however, confess that my instincts tell me that the Communists are stronger now, and certainly potentially stronger, than most local observers give them credit for. This may reflect in part an assumption that they will prove, as they have elsewhere, to be better organized than, for example, the democratically-oriented Congress group. They most certainly will be better financed. And, most important, they will be seen as the most radical alternative to a system and a government which, in the longer run, will fail to deliver to the people.

7. I, however, would not expect this to materialize this year. For the time being, the weakness and disarray of Congress and Communist groups will help the King string along potential opposition forces. The Panchas are not united either, but I expect will muster more discipline and thus fare better in the elections. I do expect a continuing series of low level disturbances less than mass riots and demonstrations a la Tehran or even India, and less than full-scale insurrection in the Terai—in this year. At the same time one must realize that even low level demonstrations can get out of hand, the student groups are probably not very effectively controlled by their masters (particularly if they smelled blood), and the government is not very competent or strong. An anarchic situation could develop, but [garble] not rate the chances very high.

8. Instead I expect the elections to be held and most opposition groups to participate. The contests will probably be among personalities for the most part (indeed, one of the most striking features which I have found in the Nepali political scene is the lack of coherent ideology or program among the Congress leaders, a factor which contributes to their weakness). As I said before I didn’t expect it to be a smooth process but unless the government proves grossly inept, it should be able to contain student unrest and political demonstrations. And I believe the palace will continue to dominate politics, through jobs and other favors, drawing on its constitutional powers and traditional authority.

9. Over the longer term one cannot be as optimistic about either the stability of the government or the future of the monarchy. These will depend on the ability of government to deliver services and economic development, the economic situation generally and the ability of the King to maintain popularity in the face of palace association with governmental decisions (which will increase as communications and political awareness among the population improve) and an aloof style of governance. I wouldn’t rate the probability high on any of these counts, but this is all long-term speculation that isn’t particularly useful or even relevant for current policy formulation.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D810001–0382. Confidential; Priority. Sent for information to Beijing, Colombo, Dacca, New Delhi, and Calcutta.