The 298th Prithvi Jayanti was marked amidst public enthusiasm on Sunday to pay tribute to the late King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the architect and unifier of modern Nepal. Many hail his bravery, extraordinary capability and vision for the unification that he showed immediately after ascending the throne at the age of 20.
Still a section of people question the motive of the unification 250 years after he accomplished the historic mission. But it sounds unfair to see the deed of the nation’s founding father for the today’s eyes. Then the world didn’t know the modern ideals of democracy and human rights. Almost all people feel proud of being Nepali. For this, the credit goes to P.N. Shah. It is assumed that manipulative history was recorded and written after his death by those who disliked his unification campaign and success. In this context, former leader of Nepal Communist Party and former minister Modnath Prashrit, and geo-poltics experts Keshab Bhattarai and researcher Rajan Lal Joshi expressed their divergent views on the role and actions of Prithvi Narayan Shah at the weekly dialogue Gorkhapaptra Sambad. Excerpts:
Shah had special diplomatic vision, knowledge of geo-political situation : Prashrit
Before putting my views on the role of King Prithvi Narayan Shah in the unification of Nepal, I want to remember a Sanskrit stanza which has the essence that whenever anarchy appears, the god sends special kings to resolve it. Prithvi Narayan Shah was such a king who unified the country ending anarchism that stemmed from the fights and quarrels among divided small principalities for power.
Although the unification process was also initiated during the Lichchhavi regime by King Manadev, it could not be long-lasting. Later the country was divided into various principalities known as Baise (22) and Chaubise (24) states. Prithvi Narayan Shah consciously initiated the formal unification process of Nepal with clear plan and vision. He gradually started unification towards east. After defeating Nuwakot, he set his eyes on the Kathmandu Valley. He first attacked Kritipur where he faced tough battle and won in the third attempt.
King Shah had a special diplomatic vision, knowledge of geo-political situation and nature of respecting all which helped him in unification of Nepal. His geographical notion of Nepal’s location as expressed in his adage- Nepal is a yam between two boulders- is still relevant. He was fully aware of the need of a unified Nepal to safeguard its sovereignty from the British rule that were colonising one Indian state after another in the south.
Although there are both positive and negative arguments on the actions of King P.N. Shah and his troops during the unification process and post-unification era, it should be taken at the macro level. There is a myth that he instructed his men to cut noses of the people of Kritipur. The unification process started by P.N. Shah, which later concluded by his successors, played a very crucial role in creating a distinct identity of Nepali people. Imagine, had he not unified Nepal, what would have been the status, international relations and identity of the territory divided into small kingdoms?
This is not just the case of Nepal. While analysing unification process of all nations, we see that this was possible through war and sacrifice of blood. In all unification process, people came from other places and attacked another country. Unification is the outcome of domination of one state by another and one caste by another. This is universal phenomenon as the defeated people or states feel a sense of being dominated. We can also see such feelings in some communities of Nepal after the unification of the country.
Despite some weaknesses that appeared during the unification process, the role of king Prithvi Narayan Shah is very crucial in building Nepali nation state. Nepali society is now at a new stage where we, all, different communities are living with very cordial and mutual relation.
We all should forget the domination of one state by another and one community by another during the time of unification. And Prithvi Narayan Shah should be recognised as the founder of unified Nepal.
It is baseless to say that PN Shah triggered ethnic hatred : Bhattarai
As I see it, the era of Prithvi Narayan Shah also coincided with an era that marked the beginning of the modernisation period in the world history. So it’s very important to note that it was during this important era, he started the unification process of Nepal. America became independent and France saw revolution exactly after his demise. So this is the first and most noteworthy point to note that he made in the history to unify Nepal.
Secondly, we should also recall his exceptional capability of what he did as a king at the young age of 20. Just look at his diplomatic capacity that is praiseworthy. Remember he was a mere Hindu king, born in a small Gorkha state, who did not even have proper education, but relied solely on simple teachings by his mother and the priests. So imagine the level of brilliance that inspired him to have a dream for the unification of the Nepali state.
So even if we compare this with today’s global contexts and studies anywhere, isn’t it amazing what a boy born around 300 years ago did to unify Nepal and how he managed to gain the idea, concept, dream of unifying the Nepal as one?
He was in touch with all the small states along the way and tried to reunite all of them. He created congenial strategy among the then small states and planned and thought of unifying the nation. He even knew the importance of maintaining ties with the then Baise and Chaubise principalities. So, he told his Prime Minister Kalu Pandey that there was need to have good relationship with the Baise and Chaubise.
Smaller states in the west were very strong then, including those from the western side of Gandaki. He had good relationship with Indian king of Kashi, the ones of the middle and as well as other states. He also managed to develop cordial relationships with all states to achieve the unification dream. Other important thing to note is- he only stayed for 5-6 years in Kathmandu after becoming the king; two years in Gorkha and the remaining years in Nuwakot.
Just think about our recent talks on railway connectivity with China. PN Shah had thought of the importance of Nuwakot 300 years ago, he knew the importance of the road that it was going to be a pivotal point of market and business for economic progress, and decided to focus on that part, so he stayed in Nuwakot for 18 years and ruled Nepal. He knew the importance of business services from Nuwakot, and that the Kathmandu’s Valley progress relied on Tibet, and that he wanted to expand relationship there.
Some people do criticise him for his actions that happened during the process of unification, such as in the incident in Kirtipur. It was unfortunate then. But, Krikpatrik, the writer, had arrived Nepal after two decades of the death of P. N. Shah. Based on what he was told and what he saw disfigured noses of some porters, and he wrote about him and many bought his version. There were some contradictory statements regarding him but he was not sure of the fact.
On the case of the Kathmandu Valley and ethnicity, the Lalitpur’s Kajis (power courtiers) were very heartless and used to treat people inhumanly, so when P.N. Shah conquered, they accepted him.
But PN Shah, despite his Istadevta (family god) being Gorakhnath, he printed coins in the name of Machhindranath. If he had nurtured ethnic hatred as people blamed, why would he do that? It’s because he was liberal, he knew his army had people of all castes, so he tried to take all into confidence.
Just look at the British Gurkha Army recruitment from Nepal these days, they don’t’ take in Bhramins, do they? So it appears that recruitment of army during the war was related to castes with physical strength and courage. In India, the Sikhs formed majority in the Indian army and Pathan are warriors, but Brahmins are not warriors. So it appears that they look for warrior castes for wars.
Blame that he triggered ethnic hatred is baseless, as he was the one who maintained balance between all castes. There were so many powerful states here in Kathmandu, but there was no opposition or revolt here after he conquered them at all. Some signed of revolt were seen elsewhere in eastern parts. So it proves P. N. Shah had the capacity to include, accept all communities and ethnicity and castes. He punished Jayant Rana, who betrayed Gorkha, but at the same time he provided all support to Rana’s family and children.
So I don’t think he was cruel. What happened during the Maoist war? How did Nepal suffer in the name of Maoist conflict and revolution? They are our powerful leaders now. What did Nepal face after 300 years? Don’t forget, 300 years ago in the world, there was no knowledge of democracy, even the UK had voting rights later and the US still practiced slavery.
When America became independent, human beings were slaves tied to chains
Is it just to compare a king of 300 years ago with 21st century modern world and today’s definition of moderniation? On final point, let me add, on the allegation of Doti incident involving the punishment of 500 women by P.N. Shah. Doti was not part of P. N. Shah’s kingdom then.
PN Shah started politics of deceit: Joshi
On the basis of explanation of raitis made so far, Prithvi Narayan Shah was a great king like Alexander. When turning the pages of history, there is no doubt that he enlarged the geographical territory of the country. But, he, however, failed to really unify the nation. Instead, he fomented the caste-based division and animosity.
Unification is not only the expansion of the territory. Unification in a real term is the unification of thinking and hearts. He could not contribute to the unification of hearts and thinking. He took the strategy of clearing opposition to stick in the power. He started the politics of deceit.
He could not change the divided and poor thinking as the king of the unified nation. He did not treat the people of Newar communities equally in Kathmandu even after establishing his empire here. Similar was the situation in Majh-Kirant in the east.
His remarks regarding various ethnical communities were discriminating. Prithvi Narayan Shah contributed to promoting the caste-based discrimination.
He also made attempt to cause cultural division but surrendered later on. Besides, Shah was the first person who started the foreign intervention in the country by involving Indian army in the 2nd war with Kritipur.
Shah remained cruel for some communities even after the unification which still pinches the respective communities. His punishment of confiscating property is still affecting the lives of the current generation of the victims.
He punished severely the people of intellectual Newar communities who were against his domination inviting them in the name of party.
Though there are various negative sides in the expansion of the country’s territory by PN Shah, historians have been one-sided and only showing the positive sides of the Shah rulers to show their loyalty. This is injustice to the community which had been affected from the wrong doing during that period. Let’s clearly write and read the true history by including negative sides of unification process.
This will give some sympathy to the communities victimised during the unification process.
Of course, the role played by Shah was not unification, his was just expansion of the country’s territory.
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