On Indo-Nepal Co-operation

Quick on the heels of Premier Narendra Modi’s highly successful two-day Nepal visit Chief Minister Harish Rawat has sent a letter to Water Resource Minister Uma Bharti demanding a supply of 13 per cent of power production besides a comprehensive R & R package for Pancheshwar Multi-purpose Hydro Project affected region and people. In this case beside the two national Governments Uttarakhand is the only other major stake-holder. This brings Uttarakhand centre-stage in the future Indo-Nepalese negotiations. Bhutan, the first Himalayan neighbour Premier Modi visited, as a part of his neighbourhood-improvement strategic initiative, has nothing in common with the other mountain states except being an out and out mountain country. The case of Nepal, the country that Premier Modi visited, however, has many dimensions that we in Uttarakhand have to reflect on and which can be very beneficially leveraged as Modi Government’s further initiatives unfold. Indeed, Uttarakhand Government, must quickly inventories all that can happen with and through the collaboration of Uttarakhand institutions.

Nepal –Uttarakhand Connection                                                                                                                                             By all accounts the recently concluded visit of Nepal has been hailed as an unqualified success and according to Nepal –watchers there is no aspect of Indo-Nepal relations that has not be touched. A few close observers have also noted how the speech made by the Prime Minister in the  Nepalese Parliament was able to touch politicians of all hues, including the rebel turned democrats like ‘Prachand’ who was publicly seen nodding his head at all major points touched. The ‘restoration’ of the Nepalese sense of pride and the very special relationship that has always existed between the two Asian neighbours for centuries was the high-point of Indian Prime Minister’s widely acclaimed address. In this context a far closer relationship between Nepal and its mountain-neighbour Uttarakhand deserves to be high-lighted both to understand their past relationship as well the potential that exists of a win-win collaboration between the two. The stated closer connection would be better understood through a map this writer would like to share with the readers of this column. This map shows how the Gorkha Empire looked like on the eve of East India Company War with Nepal ( 1814/15), after which all the principalities east of river Kali won their independence and the Gorkhali Empire, one spreading from Teesta in the East ( Sikkim ) to the Sutlej, in the far west ( Kangra of Himachal ), bordering the then Punjab Kingdom of Raja Ranjit Singh. The story of the rise of the Gorkhali Empire is nothing but the territorial expansion of the state of Gorkha, during the latter part of the eighteenth and earlier part of the nineteenth century, after the capital of that State was shifted from Gorkha to Kathmandu in 1768. The Nepali ‘pride’ part i.e. having once been the only Himalayan Kingdom  ( 1768-1814 )  the world history has known so far being reduced to the present day size of Nepal, one among the Least Developed Countries ( LDCs).

Imperial Nepal ( 1768 – 1815 )

As the appended map of the Gorkha Empre, as it stood in 1814, just before annexation of Kumaon and Garhwal and other principalities in the west by the East India Company, would show that the present day Nepal is a pale shadow of what was once a great Empire, founded by the House of the Gorkhas. The sense of ‘pride’ harks back to those days when the Gorkha Empire was a force to be reckon with and be over-awed by. Lord Moira, the then Governor General, in his private Memoirs acknowledges what a close shave their Nepalese adventure was ! The Nepal War almost cost them their Bengal Presidency territories and which could have been worse. While the Gorkhali Empire had shrunk considerably the Gorkha soldiers had earned reputation as a warrior race, as one of the finest fighter races. Dehardun, of all places, has many monuments testimony of that acknowledgement by an emerging European power, the British, at that time just a commercial Company which had stumbled into governing a nation they had actually come to trade with. By 1833, the Governor of Bengal Presidency had become the Governor General of India, and for the first time an Indian administrative entity known as the ‘Government of India’ come into existence, spread over most of the North India, the south-eastern coast ( Madras Presidency ) and the western coast ( Bombay Presidency). While the Government of India expanded further and consolidated it did so at the cost of the erstwhile Gorkhali Empire, the ascendency of the former ensured decadence of the latter.   

The Gorkhali administration ( 1792 – 1815)

It is rather intriguing that the Gorkhali administration in Kumaon ( 1792-1815 ) has not attracted the attention of Nepali historians and as far as the Indian historians are concerned, the Gorkhali record in Kumaon has long been a subject of controversy. And, this controversy has been marked by nationalistic prejudices. While one Nepali historian has taken the stand that the Gorkha administration ‘presents a deep contrast to the succeeding British administration….inspite of the alleged misrule, the Gorkhalis were commanding a great support from the general population of Kumaon’, a popular history maintains that’ the success of the British ( in Kumaon ) was brought about more by the weakness of the enemy than by any skill or courage of their own…the greatest source of weakness in the Gorkhali cause was the universal disaffection of the people of the country.. Nothing could exceed the hatred which the tyranny and exaction of twenty five years had created.’

The impact of the Gorkhali rule ( 1792-1815 ), the longest in any principalities west of the Kali, has recently been analysed by a Nepali historian of considerable repute. According to Mahesh Regmi, the Gorkhli conquest was a traumatic experience fro the people of Kumaon, for it came in the midst of oppression and tyranny by the Chand rulers themselves. The change of masters ( from Chands to Gorkhas ) only meant jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Politically speaking, the Gorkhali conquest of Kumaon was followed by the elimination of its traditional political elite groups; while Mahendra Chand and his uncle Lal Singh, fled to the territories of the Nawab of Avadh, several top-level political leaders of Kumaon collaborated with the Gorkhalis. They included Harsh Dev Joshi, who defected to the Gorkhali side in 1789 and entered Almora in triumph with the Gorkhalis in 1791; only to turn a year later into ‘ a mortal enemy of Gorkhali rule’ as the Gorkhali reneged on their promise to appoint him as chief of the Gorkhali administration in Kumaon. The cultural impact, according to the same historian, ‘provided new sources of income to the ( Gorkhali) authorities, at the cost of the people.’ Socially, he says, ‘ the people of Kumaon were treated as second class people, with the commonest Gorkhali soldier ranking higher than the respectable people of the province.’ He quotes that in 1804, Kaji Ambar Simha Thapa, Chief of provincial administration in Kumaon, ‘was ordered to punish Gorkhali soldiers who enticed or abducted married women, and restore the women to their husbands. Such an order would not have been issued had Gorkhalis not engaged in those malpractices.’ Enslavement was another socio-economic problem that acquired serious proportions in Kumaon under the Gorkhali rule, and it was only in 1803 that the enslavement of Brahmins and Rajputs was banned in the Gorkhali empire.

The Gorkhali conquest introduced a new element in the economy of Kumaon, as their were no pack animals ‘all stores and supplies were carried by non-combatant camp servants’. As thousands of Gorkhali officers and employees travelled through Kumaon on their way to the front and also back to the homes in the heartland and other areas of the empire, the pressure exerted on the food and local labourers must have been enormous. The local labourers were very large in numbers and every soldier ‘had his women slaves and his boy’. Mahesh Regmi concludes that for the people of Kumaon the 25 years long Gorkhali rule had a negative impact on important aspect of their lives, political, social and economic. So, in 1815, when Gorkhali rule in Kumaon came to an end, the landscape was marked by’ numerous waste villages’ and ‘the incomplete state of agriculture which prevails generally in the villages still inhabited ’.

Position Reversed ( 1815 – 2014 )

Nearly two hundred years down the line, thirteen decades of the British colonial rule In Kumaon part ( 1815-1947 ) and nearly seven decades of Independent India ( 1947-2014 ), the position seems to have been just reversed. While a Republican Nepal continues to grapple with crafting its Constitution, a much territorially diminished Nepal, lags among the comity of nations, heading a group of Least Developed Countries ( LDCs). Its ‘Far West’, which is the adjacent east of Kali districts in Mahakali Anchal, present a position which might be similar to what the Kumaoni villages appeared to the East India Company officials, way back in 1815. The intervening 200 years have seen Nepal, the only neighbouring country which never experienced a foreign rule, going from bad to worse. This writer who has had occasions to visit Nepal several times has witnessed periods when the Indo-Nepal relations have been at their very worst and post 1947 period could be called anything but a cordial and good-neighbourly one. In turn Nepal, sand-witched as it has remained between the two Asian Giants, did not mind to play one against the other. Taken all aspects together due to a complex socio-political past worsened by strategic considerations, there has never been an atmosphere where these two natural neighbours could sit to-gether and consider possibilities of ‘growing together’ through mutual help.

Uttarakhand Initiatives ( 2014 – ? )

Taking off from the initiative that Chief Minister Harish Rawat has already mounted through his letter to Water Resource Minister Uma Bharati on the proposed Pancheshwar Multi –purpose Project ( India Nepal/ Champawat/Uttarakhand/India, Baitadi/Nepal ) on river Mahakali, inclusive of a 5600 MW electricity generation potential, plus a 1020 Purnagiri Re-Regulating power generation, the following additional steps appear necessary:

1.      As Uttarakhand is the only Indian State which is going to be directly involved in the single biggest area of Indo-Nepal Cooperation effort, this State must create a multi-disciplinary and multi-departmental Group to immediately co-ordinate and monitor various developments that could be beneficial from Uttarakhand’s point of view, rather than leave the Initiative to a single Department and evaluating the entire Indo-Nepal Cooperation from a  very narrow view point, namely hydro-power generation and what all Uttarakhand is likely to receive under the existing CEA mechanism only,

2.       The ‘Far West’ of Nepal, some 25 odd districts, is next to one of the most agriculturally developed regions of Northern India, namely the Turai Babhar, with the GB Panti University of Agriculture & technology, with an array of as many as 9 Colleges specialising in various disciplines, and commercial institutions like the Turai Seed & Development Corporation, with expertise for certified Seed production, and this part also has several ICAR Institutions with their expertise in ‘Mountain Agriculture’. These agric-centric institutions, with their long experience in agriculture education and extension have a world-class set of facilities which can be easily extended to all the ‘Far West’ districts of Nepal, being located next door. Various other capacity building services and consultancies can be extended by Uttarakhand via the Indo-Nepal cooperation channel. Instead of these being extended through the GoI’s ICAR channel these can also be extended by the Government of Uttarakhand; this could be also suggested by the FRDC Branch of Uttarakhand Government and several scientists and students who are presently engaged in the institutions of the region could be made available for development of ‘Far West’ Nepal districts,

3.       The GBP University of Agri & Technology, as a development module could be also proposed as a ‘Turn Key’ project, under the Indo-Nepal Cooperation programme, which would besides being cost effective would also be fastest and mutually beneficial,

4.       Several Commodities Development Boards e.g. the Organic Commodity Board, Livestock Development Board, Aromatic Plants Centre etc could be also made to extend their respective expertise for the development of the West Nepal districts, under the recent offer made by Premier Modi during his recent visit,

5.       Given the shared history of some 200 years, and an open border, both India and Nepal could constitute a Co-operation Group which could exclusively work out the several areas of collaboration among the industries that have been set up in the three state of the art Industrial Hubs in Sitargunj, Rudrapur, Haridwar and also at Sela Quin, who could explore the possibility of investments in the remotest part of Nepal, the ‘Far West’, which is ‘Next Door’ to Uttarakhand, 

6.       Besides the Government of Uttarakhand, FRDC Branch, SIDCUL the various Chambers of Commerce and Trade in Uttarakhand should also look at this  opportunity of Indo-Nepal Economic Co-operation, as an opportunity to extend their operations in the most backward parts of Nepal, and

7.       It is a well known secret that the present economic development of Uttarakhand, especially in its remotest mountain regions, have now become deeply dependent on physical labour that enters India via Banbasa-Dharchula junctions. One estimate made in 2005 through the mountain entry points suggested that some 1,25,000 Nepalis enter India annually through the Indo-Uttarakhand entry points and only about 1,00,000 are reportedly returning to their homes. This implies that as regards the surplus labour is concerned there exists no dearth of it in West Nepal and the interventions that have been proposed and which if speedily prepared and implemented could transform the present most backward region of Nepal into one of the most dynamic. And given the potential that the proposed Pancheshwar Multipupose Project offers to both the mountain neighbours Uttarakhand Intervention could become a role model for several other States, which lie along not only Indo-Nepal international border, but for all others in the region.


Premier Modi has repeatedly mentioned a much pronounced role for the States, both in his run-up electoral rallies as well as on various occasions after he has taken over as India’s ‘First Servant’. Uttarakhand has as many as five BJP Members of Parliament, as many as three of them who have served the state as its Chief Minister, so they do not need any further elaboration on the various preliminary suggestions that have been made in this piece. Do our CIIs, UAIs and PHD Chambers and senior politicians and bureaucrats see any opportunities in the ‘door-opening’ efforts that area being made by Premier Naren Modi or they wish to do ‘more of the same’. Time has come to move forward, grab every opportunity that comes our way. Happy Independence Day !

Gorkhali Empire Map (2014)
Gorkhali Empire Map (2014)

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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