No, Nepal was neither a British Colony nor a part of India at any time.
Nepal is a beautiful Himalayan country sandwiched between two large neighbors, India and China. Through time, Nepal has mostly remained isolated due to its geographic location and self-imposed isolation and has been ruled by various dynasties during different phases of its history.
Relations with Great Britain and Colonial India
In 1610, the British arrived in India as traders through the East India Company, and as the East India Company grew stronger, with the support of the British Government, it progressively expanded its influence across most of the Indian subcontinent. India became Great Britain’s largest and most profitable colony.
The territory of modern-day Nepal comprised several principalities over time and has been through different phases of unification and conflict among the principalities. In the latter half of the 18th Century, the state of Gorkha emerged as the strongest.
Prithvi Narayan Shah took over as the King in 1743. It was he who succeeded in bringing all principalities together as part of one kingdom. As the kingdom aggressively expanded its territory and influence, it came into conflict with the East India Company, which at the time, was busy establishing its control over the Indian subcontinent.
The Anglo Gurkha War (1814-1816) and the Treaty of Sugauli
Clashes between the Kingdoms of Gorkha and Sikkim led to the Anglo Gurkha War (1814-1816) fought between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Gorkha. It led to the signing of the Treaty of Sugauli in 1815 and was the beginning of friendly relations between Great Britain and Nepal and continues till the day.
The Treaty of Sugauli stated, in case of a dispute between the Kingdoms of Gorkha and Sikkim, both parties would approach the East India Company for arbitration. Many consider this clause as Nepal’s subjugation as a colony of Great Britain. This is incorrect. The Kingdom of Nepal was and has remained an independent territory.
Although the Treaty of Sugauli established friendly relations between the British Government and the Kingdom of Nepal, the latter felt its foreign policy restricted under the treaty and continued to negotiate with the British for recognition as a sovereign nation.
The Prime Minister of Nepal (1901-1929) General Sir Chandra Shumsher Junga Bahadur Rana of the Rana Dynasty, advocated recognition as an independent sovereign state with the British.
Nepal Britain Treaty (1923)
In 1923, the Nepal Britain Treaty was signed between Nepal and Britain, nullifying the earlier Treaty of Sugauli but further cementing peace and friendship between the two countries. The Treaty was recorded in the League of Nations, giving Nepal recognition as an independent sovereign state.
The Revolution of 1951
Widespread rebellion against the ruling Rana dynasty led to violent protests across Nepal. King Tribhuvan fled the palace to seek refuge in India. Political instability continued as the non-Rana Prime Minister failed to keep the coalition of ten members that attempted to establish some form of government on the British Model, under a monarchy. The Interim Government Act failed to establish a smooth working relationship between the Monarch and the political establishment.
The failure of establishing a functional democracy led King Mahendra to initiate a coup in 1960 by dismissing the Koirala government and establishing a new constitution based on a party-less system of administration at the village level, called the Panchayat.
Political dissatisfaction and instability continued till 1972 when the 27-year old King Birendra succeeded his father to the throne, amidst violent protests. In May 1980, a referendum was called to decide between the Panchayat form of governance with reforms or a multi-party democratic system. The people voted for the former. However, Nepal continued to remain politically unstable with frequent clashes between the government and political factions.
On June 1st, 2001, Prince Dipendra assassinated his parents along with seven other family members in a drunken outburst before turning the gun on himself. King Gyanendra (King Birendra’s brother) took over as King, but Nepal continued to remain unstable.
On May 28th, 2008, the newly-elected Constituent Assembly voted to abolish the 240-year old monarchy and replace it with a Parliamentary system of government. Nepal declared itself the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. On September 20th, 2015, a new Constitution was introduced but faced opposition from various minorities based in the southern plains of Nepal bordering India.
Nepal continues to build democratic traditions as it attempts to modernize the country with assistance from both India and China.
The Gurkha Warriors
The British, impressed by the fierce fighting capability of the Gurkhas during the Anglo-Gurkha War, requested the ruler to offer their men to serve as soldiers in the British Army, a tradition that carries on to this day.
The British raised the Brigade of the Gurkhas to serve its combat arms. The Gurkhas proved to be fierce warriors and extremely loyal. During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 in India, the Kingdom of Nepal extended support to the British East India Company. During World War 1, and later during World War II, the British Gurkha Regiments once again proved to be great warriors.
In 1947, as India won its freedom from British rule, six Regiments of the Gurkhas, which formed part of the British Army, were transferred to the new Indian Army, under a trilateral agreement signed between Britain, India, and Nepal. Today, the British and the Indian Army continue to maintain respective battalions of the Gurkhas.
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