King Mahendra and the (failed) Communist card

A common, and I think broadly accurate, critique of US foreign policy in Cold War Asia was its tendency to exaggerate the extent of Communist power within countries. Which makes it always interesting to find a countervailing case, in which the US did not buy the Communist card being deployed by a local actor.

An example is the State Department’s assessment of King Mahendra’s December 1960 coup in Nepal; after a meeting with the king on December 20 in which he claimed his coup was a result of needing to overcome corruption and communism, the Embassy offered its analysis:

“In analyzing this coup d’etat, for this is what we believe it to be, we feel that the King’s motives in taking the precipitate action he did were guided less by the issues of corruption and Communism than by a growing fear that his own personal position and prestige were dwindling and that if he did not act soon, it might be too late. [2 lines of source text not declassified] While it is doubtless true that there has been corruption in high places and evidence, some true and some fabricated, will be presented to prove this, and, less likely, there may be discovered some vague connections with Communist activity, the real motive behind the move was the preservation of the monarchy and the Shah dynasty in its absolute form. Although the King protests that the decision was his alone, we are convinced that it was aided and urged by the group around him, which may also have misled him. This group includes members of his and his wife’s family, remaining Class A Ranas, hereditary Generals and reactionaries and “feudal remnants” generally, who, themselves, are concerned over the survival of their privileged positions. Added to these forces are those land owners and others who stood to suffer financially from the enforcement of the recent tax and land reform laws.”

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