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Foreword by John Whelpton


Berkeley and Los Angeles,
California University of California Press, Ltd.
London, England Copyright© 1971, by The
Regents of the University of California Library
of Congress Catalog Card Number: 75-100022
International Standard Book Number 0-520-
Printed in the United States of America
Foreword to
Mandala Reprint Edition

Based for more than fifty years at the Berkeley campus of the University of
California, Leo Rose established a reputation as the leading Western specialist on
Nepal and the wider Himalayan region, producing much work of fundamental
importance himself and also encouraging and assisting the careers of many other
scholars, including Nepal's foremost economic historian, Mahesh Chandra Regmi.
Rose's two most important contributions to Nepalese studies were Democratic
Innovations in Nepal, co-authored with Bhuwan Lal Joshi, and Nepal Strategy for
Survival, which built on the foundation laid by his own 1960 doctoral dissertation
on the role of Nepal and Tibet in Sino-Indian relations. Though constantly read and
edited, both books were for many years out of print and I am very glad that, after
re-publishing the first of these in 2004, Mandala is now also making the second
available again.
Unfortunately I did not know Leo Rose well, personally, but he was one of
the scholars I corresponded with in 1980 when I was trying to select a dissertation
topic of my own and I later met him once in Delhi and once in Kathmandu. On the
first occasion, I had an immediate demonstration of one of his much strength as a
South Asianist: although his ancestors were from Europe, he actually looked quite
South Asian himself. An Indian friend and I sat for ten minutes on the other side of
a restaurant courtyard until we realized that the man who we had taken for a lone
Indian diner must be the kuire (Caucasian) scholar we had come to meet. When we
met again in 1990,I reminded him of the incident and he told me that he had once
taken advantage of his appearance to go inside the Hindus-only Pashupatinath
Temple, dressed in the topi and the Daura Surwal his companion, a former
Nepalese cabinet member, had loaned him. The other abiding impressions I retain
from our meetings were his gentle but authoritative manner and a dry, impish sense
of humor.
When I first read Strategy in 1973,two years after its original publications, I
was impressed both by Rose's ability to identify continuities throughout Nepal's
two hundred years as a unified state but also by the wealth of detail he brought to
bear in the earlier chapters of the work, which skillfully weave together
information from a range of Chinese sources as well as the usual works in Nepali
and European languages. Rose was not himself a sinologist, nor was he fluent
reader of Nepali, but he relied on the efforts of a research team to translate relevant
materials. Some of this work was done as part of the Himalayan Border Countries
Project, which Rose himself was appointed to head when he was set up in 1967
and which also sponsored Mahesh Chandra Regmi's work on land tenure. The
fruitful collaboration between the two scholars had begun when Rose first arrived
as a graduate student in the 1950's and encouraged Regmi in setting up his own
research and translation service.
Rose's own individual strengths lay in the analytical skills he brought to the
material made available to him, in his fluency as a writer and perhaps above all to
his skill as an interviewer. In the later chapters of the book, dealing with the more
recent period, for which government archives were not open to inspection, he
relied on his access to many of the key decision makers, and on his ability to gain
their confidence.
Rose's position as an American scholar with good links to the US
government had its advantages but for someone investigating sensitive political
issues sometimes led to problems. A rumor started that Regmi was a CIA agent
and Rishikesh Shah, once himself a close advisor to the King Mahendra believed
that this led the King to remove Regmi from the civil service, whatever the truth of
the matter, the Nepalese scholar almost certainly achieved more working purely as
an independent scholar than he would have done had he remained in the
bureaucracy. Whilst the CIA
rumor was baseless, the Himalayan Boarder Countries Project was quite openly
funded by the US Defense Department, an arrangement which led to controversy
with accusations of "academic colonialism" by more radical American academics
like Gerald Berreman1 as well as heightened tensions between the US and Indian
governments. Rishikesh Shah also maintained that being seen as politically
conservative was at times an obstacle to Rose's career on the Left-leaning Berkely
Campus. None of this, however, alters the fact that that Rose was well-respected
by his colleagues and that every one interested in Nepal and its problems, whatever
their political persuasion, has benefitted from the work done by Rose and his
colleagues under the project.
Ironically, whilst seen by some as too much an American establishment
figure, Rose was also regarded too radical by king Mahendra and his Panchayat
stalwarts. He was an admirer of B.P. Koirala and believed that Mahendra had made
a great mistake in removing him from power in 1960. This opinion did not prevent
him from producing a balanced account of the 1960s in Survival but did lead to
some tensions and perhaps contributed to his concentrating relatively more on
other parts of the Himalayas and of the wider south Asian region in his later years.
Almost forty years after the book's publication, it is, of course, possible to
quarrel with the author's detailed interpretation of particular episodes. Ludwig
Gerald Barreman, 'Academic Colonialism: not so innocent abroad', The Nation.209(16),10 November 1969,p505-
18 & 'Himalayan Research: What, Whither and Whether' in James Fisher (ed.) Himalayan Anthropology: The Indo-
Tibetan interface, The Hague:Mouton,1978,p.70.
Stiller's account in Rise of the House of Gorkha ,for example, makes ex-King
Rana Bahadur Shah less of a master of events during his exile in Benares than
does Rose. In the Silent Years Stiller also suggests that in the aftermath of the
Anglo-Gorkha war of 1814-1816, the attempt to involve China was not so much
part of Bhimsen Thapa's own preferred strategy but rather an initiative by an
opposing faction, which Bhimsen allowed to play itself out. I myself would fault
Rose's account of Nepal-East India company tensions in the late 1880s and early
1840s for its failure to recognize the full extent of Brian Hodgson's interference in
local politics and particularly the installation of the so-called "British Ministry" at
the end of 1840. There is also his inconsistency over the reasons for the
Kathmandu Valley's loss of its entrepot status for trade between India and Tibet. In
the earlier part of the book, he makes this the result of the opening of an easier
route with the completion on 1877 by the British of a road through Sikkim.
However, he later (page 241) links it solely to British India's forcing a
greater 'opening' of Tibet through the Younghusband expedition and subsequent
Nevertheless the overall picture that the book present is valid and it
emphasizes the key factors that have governed Nepal's relations with its neighbors
in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
First, the importance of a continuing balance with the country's southern and
northern neighbors, a task complicated because when for external rivalries reach a
critical point, political actors inevitably look for external support. Second, the fact
that the 'balance' inevitably has to tilt a little to the south because the cultural and
economic ties to India are stronger and because the stakes for India in Nepal are
higher than those for China: an Indian absorption of Nepal would be a bow to
China, but could in the long-run be lived with, as India lives with China's
absorption of Tibet, but a Chinese takeover would be, in strategic terms, an
absolute catastrophe for the Indian state. Thirdly, the psychological difficulty of
accepting the greater closeness to India:
'Nepalis must continuously assert, and indeed exaggerate, their
differences with Indians in order to justify in their own minds their
country's national existence'(p.280).
Finally, the fact that if one neighbor is greatly weakened, as happened to China in
the 19th and early 20th centuries, a much greater tilt becomes inevitable.
Challenging the view held by most Nepalese intellectuals since the final years of
the Rana regime, Rose asserted that their collaboration with the British had not
only been in their personal or familial interest but the best strategy for the
preservation of Nepal's independence and that in consequence 'Jang Bahadur and
Chandra Shamsher deserve recognition as two of the great nationalist heroes of
The years since Strategy was published have seen the weakening and then
the collapse of royal rule, the second experiment in parliamentary democracy, the
Maoist insurgency, Gyanendra's attempt to re-assert royal control and finally the
collapse of the monarchy itself, the election of the Constituent Assembly, and
perhaps most importantly the fracturing of state power which Mahendra had
concentrated in his own hands. There has been some change in the economic
balance as multilateral agencies, Japan and the Scandinavian countries have
replaced India and the USA as Nepal's major aid donors, and Chinese
infrastructure projects in Tibet have made trade with the China less dependent on
the sea route from northern China to Calcutta. However, Nepal's economic ties
with India are still of overwhelming importance. Rose estimated that in the late
1960s, 90% of Nepal's trade (including both legal and illegal) was with India.
Diversification efforts reduced this considerably by the 1980s but the decline in
carpet and ready-made garment exports and the expansion of trade with India
under recent bilateral agreements have swung the pendulum back: India now still
amounts for 65% of Nepal's total declared trade and, of course, a considerably
higher proportion once smuggling across the southern border is taken into account.
Rose's belief that, in last analysis, China would not do much to help a
Nepalese regime that got itself into a confrontation with India was borne out by
China's inaction during the trade blockade that preceded the first Janandolan. It
was again confirmed by the fate of King Gyanendra whose blatant playing of the
China card in 2005-2006 did not save him from defeat at the hands of the alliance
between Maoists and parliamentary parties brokered by India. No one, therefore,
should set too much store by the statement attributed to Chinese Nepal specialist
Professor Wang Hong-we that 'if Nepal's existence is in danger….China's army
will come to its aid..'2The events of 1962,when thee outbreak of hostilities between
China and India saved Mahendra from having to come to terms with his Congress
opponents, were, as Rose argued, very much a one-off. Against this strategic
background, Nepal's Maoists, much shrewder politicians than Gyanendra, are
unlikely to push too far their current flirtation with China's post-Maoist rulers.
There are already signs that they are likely to follow the old pattern of banging the
anti-Indian drum whilst in opposition but taking a softer line when they get into
power and need Indian cooperation on a day-to-day basis.
There are many in Nepal who hope that Nepal's dependence on India might
be radically reduced by further economic development in Tibet and by turning the
old trade route from India to Tibet via Kathmandu into the major link between the
Chinese and Indian road and rail systems. However, any such plan would depend
Nepalko atitwamaa kehi apthyaro paryo bhane hamro shastr asena Nepalko madat garna aaunechhan(interview
published in Janadharana,13/11/08)Professor Wang's interviews with the Nepali press are conducted in English
and there is some doubt over whether his comments are always correctly translated.)
on a much greater strengthening of the détente between India and China than has
so far taken place and Nepal can only hasten that process if it is too obviously
playing China off against India. Even if the government agreed- as enlightened
self-interest would suggest- to re-negotiation of the 1950 treaty, Nepal's greater
dependence on India than on China would continue to be a strategic and economic
At the end of this book, Rose reported a 1962 conversation with one of
Mahendra's ministers who believed that Nepal would eventually be absorbed by
either India or China and that nothing Nepalese governments themselves did would
make any real difference to the outcome. Rose rightly considered this over-
pessimistic. Short of the complete collapse of the Nepalese state, the country's
balancing act is likely to continue indefinitely, albeit with recurring wobbles.
However, India and, to a much lesser extent China, will continue to influence
internal politics and skilful handling of relations with both neighbors will remain
the key requirement for any Nepalese government that wishes either simply to
survive itself or to tackle the many internal problems that Nepal now faces.
John Whelpton
Hong Kong
New Year's Day 2067
14 April 2010

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