Prithvi Narayan Shah A National Hero Forever


Ritu Raj Subedi

Nepal has corrected a historical error by reviving the PrithviJayanti that is a National Unity Day marked in the commemoration of the nation’s unifier PrithviNayaran Shah. In a rage against the autocratic monarch, the republican forces had stopped celebrating the birthday of PN Shah since 2006. A Nepal Congress government had removed the PrithviJayanti from annual calendar probably under the pressure from the then roaring CPN-Maoist that dominated the first Constituent Assembly, which formally abolished monarchy in 2008. That time the Maoist party was swayed by the toxic ethno-centric identity politics that sought to deconstruct and vilify Nepal’s glorious history. Today the fury of ethno-centric politics, fuelled by some western donors, has died down, giving way to the restoration of history and political modesty.


It is entirely wrong to relate PN Shah to his incompetent descendants. He was the ablest, shrewd and visionary king and these great attributes eluded most of his successors. It was not just the internal democratic ire that abhorred the monarchy but there were some external elements inimical to it. Nonetheless, it is inherent fatal flaws that led to the downfall of 240-year old monarchial institution but this must not be an excuse to denigrate PN Shah, who gave us a beautiful nation that never came under the colonial rule owing to his vision and policy. In a rare sight of political consonance, President of republic Nepal BidyaBhandari the other day garlanded the statue of PN Shah located in front of the main gate of Singha Durbar. This amply suggests that PN Shah carries broader legacy and acceptance. This brushes aside the cacophony of a few persons hell-bent on distorting the contribution of PN Shah to the creation of modern Nepali nation.

PN Shah is still a lodestar to guide Nepal in the realm of politics, economy and foreign affairs in the 21st century. His vision of statecraft is well reflected in his dibyopadesh (divine counsels). This is the gem of ideas, offering insights to protect the country from colonial invasion, create independent economy and achieve prosperity and peace for the people. It is filled with nationalistic foresight, democratic elements and intellectual perception. PN Shah was a great military strategist. He spent most parts of his life in war, unifying the small principalities into a greater Nepal. He had aptly said that pleasure-seekers soldiers can’t win a battle. He says, “If a rich man enters into battle, he cannot die well; nor can he kill. In a poor man there is spark. If my brother soldiers and thecourtiers are not given to pleasure, my sword can strike in all directions.”

The line ‘In a poor man there is spark’ strikingly finds resonance with the philosophical tradition and revolutionary movements in the West. It appears that even Karl Marx had borrowed the word ‘spark’ to use it in similar context. Marx saw ‘spark’ in the proletarians who, he said, “have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” For him ‘spark’ amounted to the revolutionary force of the working class that will eventually abolish capitalism. It is interesting to note that Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin published a newspaper named ‘Iskra’ meaning spark from exile in Germany. It was the official organ of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Its motto was ‘from a spark a fire will flare up’, which was extracted from a poem by Alexander Pushkin. In Nepal, Dr.BaburamBhattarai had copied Lenin’s ‘Iskra’ and brought a magazine entitled ‘Jhilko’ meaning ‘spark’. Thus, it becomes clear that the semantic root of the term ‘spark’ lies in PN Shah’s dibyopadesh.

PN Shah had stressed state-led nationalist economy that holds meaning in the current global economy driven by corporate-led capitalism and neo-liberalisation policy. He said, “Do not let the foreign merchants come up from the south. If they come to our country, they will leave the people poor. Forbid the use of cloth made in foreign nations. Show samples to those who know how to make our cloth. Teach them and begin to make clothing. Send our herbs to foreign nations and bring back money.” In the era of globalisation, no nation can go for isolationist policy. What we need is the inter-dependent economy that thrives only when the country runs industries manufacturing the goods of comparative advantage. But Nepal does not have strong industries that can produce exportable items. The liberalisation and privatisation policies, adopted since 1990, led to the collapse of domestic industries and public enterprises. Our economic dependency on India grew by around 90 per cent. The trade deficit with it reached 70 per cent from 30 per cent in last 27 years. When India imposed an unofficial blockade in 2015, Nepalis underwent unimaginable sufferings with a loss of Rs. 1,700 billion in GDP and 14 billion in revenue. Against this backdrop, PN Shah’s call for developing self-reliant economy is highly relevant.


One can trace another far-sighted economic approach in his dibyopadesh. According to Dr. Jaya Raj Acharya, PN Shah had suggested opening a trade route from Rasuwagahdi to carry out commerce and economic transactions with Tibet. He wanted to stop doing trade from entry points in Sikkim and western parts of the country. Then, Sikkim belonged to the Britishers so Nepal could not collect tax from that entry point. He believed that if the trade happened from Rasuwa adjoining Tibetan border, Nepal would be able to receive customs revenues and become prosperous.

It is interesting to note that China wants to build Rasuwagadhi as an international crossing point with modern facilities. It has envisaged it as a gateway to South Asia under its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is the same route through which the much sought-after Chinese rail is expected to roll towards Nepal. CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli had visited Rasuwagadhi immediately after securing a thumping victory in election. This gave a strong signal to New Delhi, prompting Indian PM NarendraModi to call Oli over phone and congratulate him on his electoral win. Modi also expressed his desire to work with Oli in the new government. But it is Nepal’s unifier, who had already perceived Rasuwagadhi as a strategic convergence more than two-and-half centuries ago.


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