Several weeks ago the King and Queen of Nepal paid a state visit to London. You may recall the event, particularly if you were a Londoner caught up in the traffic chaos that day and were not mollified by the background of pageantry.
The City of London, however, showed pleasure unalloyed. The Crown Prince Birinda of Nepal watched the Guildhall luncheon in honour of his father, King Mahendra. Four hundred guests tackled lobster soup; sole and pheasant.
The king wore the same gorgeous uniform. as he did for his reception by the Royal Family on his arrival, with the addition of the baton of a British field-marshal, newly presented to him by the Queen. In his speech he said:—
London is especially attractive to us because here was begun the battle of liberty and freedom, centuries ago, and here it was won during the latest—and let us hope, the last—challenge in war.
The task is now to press on with the Battle of Peace—and we in Nepal unshakeably believe that London is going to be our greatest friend in this struggle, too.
Why do the Nepalese King and Queen hob-nob with “our” Queen, and what is the significance of Nepal to the British ruling class? What meaning lay behind the King’s speech at the Guildhall? Such suspicious questions seem to come naturally to Socialists, for we have learned by experience in capitalism not to take too much notice of the description on the label.
May we now proceed to attempt to unravel the little mystery of the royal visit even though it may rather take some of the glitter off the tinsel.
Nepal is a border state between India and Tibet. It is 525 miles long and up to 140 miles wide, with a population of 5½ million. The family of the present ruler has been in power for decades and the history of Nepal is a long story of royal ruthlessness, trickery and bloody outrages.
Nepal invaded Tibet in 1855 and received annual tribute until 1952, when Tibet was colonised by “Socialist” China. Since then China has reversed the process and has become in turn the aggressor. The Chinese last June invaded Nepal’s border, killed a Nepalese army officer and took prisoners back. It naturally gave a severe jolt to relations between them and makes it understandable that the Nepalese ruling-class should now wish to lean on the U.K. And with India on its other border Nepal is between two dangerous giants.
But the so-called Socialist Government of Nepal is good at playing one off against the other and in the process doing well for the ruling-class. To date the economic and technical aid from India amounts to about 100 million rupees (£8 million). Besides, India has been helping Nepal build up her vital lines of transportation and supply. A 972 mile highway linking Katmandu, the capital, with the Indian border was constructed by Indian engineers. In 1958 an agreement with India was signed for the laying of nearly 900 miles of roads. India has also agreed to contribute R’s 500,000 for irrigation and waterworks.
From China, too, Nepal has received R’S 10 million in economic aid as part of a R’s 60 million aid programme. Russia, too, has agreed to set up a hydro-electric power plant, a sugar factory with a diesel power plant, and to prepare a road survey costing three million roubles.
Whilst Nepalese capitalism is expanding, the Nepalese working-class is suffering heavy unemployment and is embarrassing the so-called Socialist government of the country. They, however, hold out hope in the start of the second five-year Plan now beginning, which has made provision to absorb about half a million working people during the Plan period. Social services cannot do much to tackle this thorny problem and the population is growing at the rate of 1.5 per cent. per year.
Amongst the Nepalese underprivileged, so great is the struggle for existence that normally children over 10 work and some even below that age. But unemployment means cheap labour, and cheap labour can give rise to good profits. No wonder the City of London are interested. The dinner at the Guildhall was bread cast upon the water, to be returned with interest.
The recently elected “Socialist” government of Nepal serves to mark that country’s entry into the world of capitalism. The Sino-Indian dispute and its repercussions loom large on the Nepalese political horizon, but as a way out the Nepalese ruling class is developing a world consciousness.
When the King of Nepal referred to liberty and freedom, he was no doubt referring to the liberty and freedom for the ruling class to make money with as little in the way of restrictions and hindrances as possible. Those who remember the journeys and activities of the Duke of Windsor when he was Prince of Wales will realise that the King of Nepal is not the first royal commercial traveller.