Economic growth accompanied economic liberalisation in Nepal through the 1990s. This was concentrated mainly in the service sector, however, in which less than 10 per cent of the workforce was employed, primarily in a few cities. This trend led to a widening of the gap between both the rich and the poor, and cities and villages, which was reflected in a rise in the country’s Gini Index (a measure of inequality) from 0.3 to 0.35 between 1985 and 1995.
The 1990s also saw mass migrations of people from the villages to the cities and from the hills and mountains to the plains. This was the result of the opening up of the post-1990 political space, an expanding transport infrastructure, and the growing insurgency, among other factors. It resulted in a much more diverse population in the large cities and contributed to the breakdown of some established – and conservative – social structures: women gradually stepped out of their traditional roles, while Kathmandu saw the rise of several movements working for a greater understanding of progressive issues such as women’s rights, Dalit (‘low caste’) oppression and Janajati (indigenous) identity. School attendance also expanded, with almost as many girls as boys attending, while the proliferation of mass media meant that this young and educated population was more politically conscious than earlier generations.
All of these factors would prove decisive in the evolution of politics in Nepal in the 2000s, in particular in relation to the role of the king.