Keeping One-upmanship At Bay
Ritu Raj Subedi
Centuries before Nepal emerged as a unified and assertive nation in the heart of Asia, it faced a couple of foreign invasions. In 1406 BS, the Bengalese sultan, Samuddin Ilias Shah, had mounted a fierce attack on the Kathmandu Valley. His soldiers ran amok for a week, causing massive destruction and depredations in all three cities. Aggressors took Kathmandu by storm. With their defences down, the terrified kings and subjects of the Valley could not resist the invaders and fled to hide in the forts. The attackers torched Swoyambhunath and broke the statute of Pashupatinath into three pieces. They left the valley in ruin, took as much wealth and valuables as possible with them. This horrific event continued to linger in the Nepalis’ psyche for centuries and even got a mention in the Dibyaupdesh of Prithvi Narayan Shah.
In 1819 BS, Kasim Ali Khan sent a large military force under his army chief Gurgin Khan to attack Nepal but PN Shah successfully beat back the enemy. These attacks planted a creeping fear in Nepalese mind that one day it would be converted into ‘Muglan’ as described in the Dibyaupdesh. In order that such trepidation would never come true, PN Shah created various forts in strategic points and strengthened military position. However, five years later, the British East India Company made incursion via Sindhuligadhi where Gorkhali soldiers fought a ferocious battle and pushed back the Company’s armies. The British Empire that devoured the Indian states one by one had nursed humiliation of defeat at the hands of Gorkhalis and revenged the Himalayan nation by launching all-out war against it many decades later. Though Nepal lost battles as well as a huge portion of territory, it destroyed the myth of invincibility of British military and inflicted colossal damage on the British side. With its unprecedented valour and moral strength demonstrated in the Anglo-Nepal war, Nepal proved that its sovereignty cannot be easily smashed no matter how powerful nation comes to confront it.
This scribe is making references to the distant and near history of country to note that Nepalese brave ancestors made huge sacrifices to create a strong Nepal and safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Unifier PN Shah was a bulwark against foreign bullying and aggression. He played a paramount role to keep the nation’s dignity and integrity intact. First Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa stood his ground to preserve the nation’s sovereignty in the face of his hostility with Britishers. His nemeses inside the palace plotted his tragic downfall. The continued conspiracies and gory encounters among the rivalling courtiers gave rise to Jung Bahadur, who ingratiated himself with British master to secure and bolster power. Still, he kept undue activities of British envoys in Kathmandu in check and brought back some territories lost during the Anglo-Nepal War.
First democratically elected Prime Minister BP Koirala refused to compromise when it came to preserving Nepali integrity. His stand on the ownership of Sagarmatha and refusal to kowtow to Indian condescending attitude towards him testified his nationalistic credentials. His bête noire and autocratic king Mahendra also showed shrewdness and pragmatism to uphold Nepal’s sovereignty in the height of Cold War. He defended national interests with his dexterous diplomacy and balance relations with two giant neighbours. Following the multiparty democracy, there was dearth of politicians, who could match above figures.
Accept it or not, incumbent Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli showed signs of audacity to restore the lost glory. He went to the stake for the national sovereignty and right to self-determination. He rejected India’s hegemonic diktats over the contents of new constitution and faced economic embargo that came in retaliation. He has been relentlessly deflating the Indian meddling in the internal affairs of the country and took courageous steps to enhance trade and bilateral relations with the northern neighbour in a bid to end Nepal’s lopsided dependency on India.
However, a Prime Minister can live up to his conviction only if the people, major political actors and his own party lend their unconditional support to him. At the moment, Oli is enjoying huge public backing but major political parties, including opposition Nepali Congress and agitating Madhesi forces are out to cut the ground from under his feet. The NC, the largest democratic party, failed to defy the blockade in the strongest terms and engaged itself in the political manoeuvrings at the beck and call of southern neighbour, damaging its own cherished tradition fostered by BP Koirala and Ganeshman Singh. It is also imperative for the PM himself to reach out to the NC to win its trust to execute his own ambitious political and economic agenda.
Oli is grappling with an ironic situation within his own party. Going by the media reports, he is not getting enough support from his rival stalwarts Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal. They often talk about forming national government in an indication of their open disapproval of Oli’s premiership. For all his shortcomings, Oli has made us to hold our head high after centuries of humiliation and bad treatment of foreign powers. If Nepal and Khanal are jealous of Oli’s soaring popularity and really dead set to cook Oli’s goose, they will unwittingly be axing their own feet. This will not only weaken their party but also flatten the nation’s confidence and reconstruction drive at this critical juncture of history. Any reckless indulgence in one-upmanship will be a self-destructive. Putting up a united face is a must for the party if it really wants to ride out the crises besetting the country.