Jung Bahadur's Foreign Policy


Yuba Nath Lamsal

The infamous massacre known as the Kot Parva took place on the night of September 14, 1846, in which most of the senior officials and military commanders were killed on the premises of the royal place of Nepal, giving rise to Jung Bahadur Rana to power. Soon after the Kot massacre, the powerful Queen Laxmi Devi appointed Jung Bahadur as the new prime minister of Nepal. Jung’s rise to power made a big impact on Nepal's political and diplomatic arena. In politics, it started the clan rule of Ranas rendering the Shah kings into mere rubber stamps whereas the Rana Prime Minister became all powerful, which came to an end only in 1951 following a popular uprising. 

Policy shift

Jung's rise to power resulted in a major redefinition of Nepal's foreign policy, more particularly viz-a-viz China and British India. According to Leo Rose, a practical politician like Jung Bahadur was aware of the decline of Chinese power and it was not in a position or willing to challenge the British power in the Himalayan area. The Kot massacre was solely planned and executed by Jung with perhaps full knowledge of Indian Resident (ambassador) in Kathmandu.

 Historian Baburam Acharya says that when king Rajendra, on the night of the Kot massacre, went to the British Embassy probably seeking help for his personal security, the officiating British ambassador Captain Ottley refused to meet the king. Had the British resident not known the plan of Kot massacre, he would not have denied entry to Nepal's head of the state, who was desperately seeking help for his personal safety. The foreign policy Jung Bahadur adopted later is also evident of the British support for the rise of Jung Bahadur to power. Jung Bahadur was indebted to the British and he adopted British-centric foreign policy, which continued throughout the Rana rule.

As a result, Nepal remained in isolation for many years as far as the foreign policy is concerned. Jung Bahadur adopted the policy of appeasing the British India to ensure security to his regime.  At that time, China was not much interested in Nepal's affairs as it was more occupied with its own internal problems. Moreover, Beijing did not want to antagonise the British. China was satisfied as long as its Tibet's border with Nepal was secure. Moreover, China always felt  a threat in Tibet not from British but from Nepal because of previous wars between Tibet and Nepal. China's only interest and intention of that time was to contain Nepal and keep British far from the Himalayas, for which Beijing wanted Nepal to remain a weak buffer between China and British-India so that there might not be any chance of direct confrontation with the British.

Jung Bahadur chose not to confront with the British, but secured their support for the longevity of his rule. Earlier rulers of Nepal used to tilt towards China and seek Chinese support to counter the British, but this tactics yielded little fruit. Bhimsen Thapa had tried this tactics but failed.  Beijing never came to Nepal's defence even when Nepal made repeated pleas for support in the war against the East India Company. Jung Bahadur knew it well and, thus, did not want to make the same mistake again but to reconcile and collaborate with the British even at the expense of its relations with its northern neighbour. Jung Bahadur thought that friendly relationship with the British was necessary to safeguard Nepal's independence. 

According to Leo Rose, the reorientation of Nepalese foreign policy was given additional emphasis with Jung Bahadur's visit to England as the visit strengthened his view that British rule in India was not going to be easily overthrown and that the confrontation with the British would be something like playing with fire. Moreover, for Jung Bahadur, British-India was Nepal's next door neighbour while Beijing is far away power. During that time, British power was rising whereas Beijing's power was declining. As a part of the move to appease the British and keep Beijing out of Nepal's foreign policy radars, Jung Bahadur cancelled the long-held tradition of sending quinquennial mission to Beijing. This was a move taken to get more British support for stabilising Jung Bahadur's power. But, five years later, once Jung Bahadur's power was consolidated, Nepal again revived the tradition of sending quinquennial mission to Beijing, to which British also did not object. This decision was purely to neutralise China from the affairs between Nepal and Tibet as Jung Bahadur again wanted to restore once lucrative Nepal-Tibet trade.

Trade with Tibet and supply of coins were the most profitable and lucrative income for Nepal. The Nepal-Tibet trade discontinued after the 1792 agreement due to which Nepal lost considerable income from trade. Thus, Jung Bahadur decided to revive the trade with Tibet especially the coin supply. Jung Bahadur also saw the possibility of war as Tibet might not agree to revive trade through peaceful means. In such an eventuality, he wanted to keep China away from Nepal-Tibet confrontation. This was one of the principal objectives of reviving the quinquinnial mission. Jung Bahadur also wanted to restore friendly relations with China to pacify growing dissent within the country on his pro-British policy.  Jung Bahadur, therefore, decided to come out of his British centric foreign policy and maintain a balanced relationship with both its neighbours. Jung Bahadur, then, sent a mission headed by Gambhir Singh to Peking in 1852, which was received in Beijing with mere formality, but suffered mistreatment in Tibetan territories while returning. The mission chief and his deputy died of disease on the way, which was viewed by Nepal with suspicion. Nepal took this incident as an excuse to declare war on Tibet.

 Vijaya Kumar Manandhar  is of the view that from the mid-nineteenth century, the pattern of Nepal's relations with China started changing  mainly due to two key factors -- one is its friendlier and cooperative relationship with the British and secondly China's declining power after the Opium War. But Jung Bahadur wanted to make sure that China would not come in Tibet's defence in the Nepal-Tibet war. Jung Bahadur used the tactics of appeasing Beijing for which he offered military support to quell the T'aiping rebellion. But the Chinese emperor refused Nepal's offer saying that China had no tradition of accepting military assistance from other countries.

Jung Bahadur had been thinking of declaring war against Tibet for some time after he consolidated power apparently for two key reasons. One was to revive Nepal's lucrative trade with Tibet, which had discontinued after the 1792 treaty; the other one was to engage his army. Nepalese army had remained idle for a long time after the Anglo-Nepal war.  Jung Bahadur knew well that an idle army might be threat to his regime, and he invaded Tibet to keep his army engaged in war.

Restoration of trade

The Nepal-Tibet war ended with the signing of the Thapathali Treaty on March 24, 1956. The treaty not only restored the traditional trade between Nepal and Tibet but also raised the status of Nepal's diplomatic presence in Tibet. The Article 5 of the Thapathali Treaty states, "Gorkha (Nepal) is permitted to station a Bhardar (envoy) in Tibet instead of a Nayak that had been stationed there previously".

Similarly, Jung Bahadur skillfully kept China away from Nepal-Tibet dispute, which was his major diplomatic success. By restoring close and friendlier relations with China, Jung Bahadur also corrected his overtly British-centric foreign policy and maintained a balance in the relationship with both northern and southern neighbours.



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