Some aspects of agrarian challenges of Gorkahli government: from later half of the 18th century to the first half of 19th century
This paper is a step towards discussing a phase in the history of the landlocked Asian state of Nepal from the later half of the eighteenth century to the first half of the nineteenth century, a phase historically significant in the history of Nepal as it marked its transformation from numerous fragmented kingdoms to a single unified political whole. Economic factors seemed to become more significant after the political unification of Nepal was achieved. It was due to this reason that economic challenges, and more significantly agrarian challenges, came to the fore, which were earlier shrouded by the challenges of political unification. The primary purpose of this paper is to discuss, explain and examine the challenges faced by the then ruling Gorkhali government in fulfilling its agrarian interests in the given phase of history. The paper mainly derives from archival work done, sourcing from Royal Orders issued on different dates and periods as well as from detailed written accounts by foreigners, along with views of noted scholars in the field. The paper mainly presents a historical discourse based on two parameters: first, the nature of challenges faced by the Gorkhali government, and second, the nature of the conflicts of interests between the peasantry and the government. Providing evidences to fulfil both these objectives involves, in turn, structuring the paper into two major sections. The first section, regarding the nature of the major challenges faced by the Gorkhali government, mainly categorises such difficulties into two sources: internal challenges and external challenges. This paper clearly, and separately, discusses all those economic challenges which originated from within its territorial domain and differentiates it from those which originate from outside its territory. This ranges from the challenge to boost the revenue involving the push for greater agricultural output, while facing problems such as scarcity of labour, and rivalry with British India in attracting supply of manpower. The situation further worsened during the war with British India (1814 – 1816) where several cultivators fled the land due to war.
The second section discusses the conflict of interests which was brewing up between the government and the peasantry. The conflict of interests was itself enmeshed with complications like malpractices in tax collection and oppression on part of the government officials. The paper evidentially explains how the conflict impeded the government in attaining its agrarian interests given the situation that both these sections were quite dependent on each other. Power asymmetries also need to be taken into account, as the government was in a better position to impose its interests on the cultivators. The point, to be observed, is that despite the extent of asymmetry which gave a upper hand to the Gorkhali government, the interdependency between the two sections eventually, at least, to some extent, restrained the government from over-exploiting its peasantry for its agrarian interests and gave some degree of bargaining power to the peasants.
Hence, this paper will try to critically examine the various aspects of the agrarian interests of the Gorkhali government and its challenges in the light of primary and secondary documents.