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Political Economies and Political Rationalities of Road Building in Nepal: Notes from the Archives

Katharine Rankin

University of Toronto



From the first moment that Nepal institutionalized a formal modern bureaucratic state apparatus, roads have featured as a priority mechanism for pursuing governmental goals—vis à vis its neighbors and those with geopolitical interests in the region, as much as its populations and territory. At the same time, we find that roads feature prominently in contemporary social science scholarship concerned with socio-political relations. Drawing on some key conceptual contributions from the international scholarly literature, this paper investigates the articulations among local, national and geopolitical dynamics in histories of road building in Nepal. To do so the paper develops a typology of “regimes of territorialization” as follows: “managing coloniality” (1846-1950), “integrating the nation” (1951-1970), “building economy” (1970-1990)—and concludes by reflecting on how the historical record offers perspective on contemporary and future regimes and political dynamics more generally.

The paper is organized into three sections detailing each of the three regimes under consideration, based on analysis of secondary literature on the history of Nepal (in English and Nepali languages), as well as selected primary sources, such as National Planning Commission documents. The goal is to render visible the multi-scalar, socio-political infrastructures underlying the material territoriality of the road, in a manner that would denaturalize the prevailing regime of territorialization in relation to the historical record, and open up debate over desirable future arrangements.