Prithvi Thought IV Endowed With Revolutionary Concepts
Ritu Raj Subedi
Prithvi Thought has been derived from military, geopolitical, economic and cultural insights of Nepal’s founding father, Prithvi Narayan Shah. Of course, it was created in the 18th century’s milieu that predates the birth of some great ideas of 19th and 20th century. But surprisingly, Prithvi Thought bears revolutionary concepts that were later developed by iconic figures such as Marx, Lenin and Mao. Such historic conceptions can be traced in his Dibya Updesh (Divine Counsel). Those who have developed the habit of engrossing in ‘The Communist Manifesto’ or ‘Red Book,’ miserably failed to see the gem of ideas in Dibya Updesh that offers pragmatic and predictable guidelines for safeguarding national independence and carrying out peaceful nation-building tasks and economic transformation. There is a reason why many could not grasp its oodles of enlightening contents. They thought it as the creation of a feudal king. But it is a grossly erroneous view to link PN Shah’s unification and nation-building vision with the deeds of his many inapt successors. Most of his ideas stand above the narrow monarchical system and show the path to better survival, sovereignty and prosperity of Nepali nation irrespective of which political system has been adopted or which political party rules the country.
Soldiers & peasantry
Let’s analyse how PN Shah evolved noteworthy ideological terms that unwittingly found space in the philosophy of radical thinkers and revolutionaries. He ‘conceived of the state as resting on two sturdy pillars - a contended peasantry and a loyal army.’ In his Dibya Updesh, he says: “Soldiers and peasants are the very marrow of the king. If the soldiers and the peasants are with the king, he is wise. Join the soldiers and the peasants and there will be no insurrection.’ In P N Shah’s rulebook, the three elements - land, army and farmers - were deeply interconnected. Land was a motivating factor for both farmers and soldiers. But his land policy was more than strategic. Soldiers formed the formidable machine of victory campaign. On the other hand, farmers were the sources of national wealth, with a fair taxation system. Under the unified Nepal, farmers were not exploited but encouraged to boost agriculture production and state’s coffers. In order to protect the peasants from the possible exploitation of powerful courtiers and military officials, PN Shah instructed that ‘king himself was to see that justice be fairly administered, and bribery, which is the death of justice, be strictly punished.’
P N Shah had already recognised the power of ‘soldiers’ and ‘peasants’ that acted as the key agents of major political upheavals in the 20th century. Chairman Mao explored historic role of soldiers and farmers, and methodically applied their strength to usher China in New Democratic Revolution. “Concept of peasant is a social and political construction. In China, peasants were potentially revolutionary as a result of their poverty and exploitation,” writes social philosopher Daniel Little. For Mao, peasants were the sources of inspiration for struggle against domestic and foreign reactionaries. On red army, he states: “The People’s Army is not merely an organ for fighting; it is also an organ for the political advancement of the Party, as well as of production.” This reference attests to the fact that P N Shah was ahead of other statesmen in sensing the revolutionary role of peasantry and soldiers in the evolution of modern nation-states.
PN Shah prescribed several rules to keep fighting spirit and ethical standards of his soldiers that are still relevant. He said, “Whether a man be selected as a soldier or as a courtier, let him not acquire wealth. Give a man only honour, and that according to his worth. Why? I will tell you. If a rich man enters into battle, he cannot die well; nor can he kill. If my brother soldiers and the courtiers are not given to pleasure, my sword can strike in all directions. A soldier who is alert and prepared to not play favourites, and his work is straight.” According to him, pleasure-seeking soldiers can’t win a battle. Soldiers must not be involved in profit-making venture because pecuniary greed can weaken their loyalty to the state and people. Such a tendency could make them tempted to make undue compromise with domestic and foreign parasites that finally jeopardise the national character, dignity and territorial integrity of the nation.
In PN Shah’s view, soldiers should be provided full economic security so that they would fight whole-heartedly and without worry for the welfare of their families. For this, soldiers were granted land exempt from major taxes, which was known as jagir. Similarly, PN Shah had been successful to check the tendency of favouritism and factionalism within his army. Soldiers were recruited and promoted on the basis of merit and performance as historian Ludwig F. Stiller put it: “By the judicious use of the pajani the king could call into question the performance of any officer of the state, from the highest noble to the simplest soldier in the ranks and remove those who failed to measure up to their tasks.”
Behind the success of his ceaseless military campaign lay the adoption of the policy of fairness, justice, incentive scheme and professional development within the army organisation. This is a reason why there was no mutiny and rise of factional groups within the army throughout his 25-year-long period that saw a couple of generations come and go. He demanded integrity, courage and ethical practice from the Gorkhali soldiers, who stood by him through thick and thin. This reasonable military practice continued till the time of Bahadur Shah. With the rise of Bhimsen Thapa, fatal factionalism and cliquishness throve within Nepal army and this was perhaps one of the factors behind the humiliating defeat in the Anglo-Nepal War fought under his commandership.
In the post-unification phase, P N Shah had taken peace initiative to allay fear among the people of conquered states. “Prithvi Narayan Shah used to forge people-army bonhomie in order to establish order and lasting peace. He always wished his newly-created kingdom would grow and thrive each passing day. He was often concerned that it would be fully secure and never perish,” wrote historian Baburam Acharya. Nepal Army that has been accused of involving in profit-earning commercial activities can emulate valuable advice from its own founder to enhance its professional standards and nationalistic credentials.
PN Shah has been attributed to develop the concept ‘spark’ in military and political sense. He said: ‘In a poor man there is spark’. He meant to say that poor man can fight bravely in the battle but this was not possible from rich man as mentioned in his earlier quotes. This line of thought is strikingly in agreement with the philosophical tradition of the West. It appears that even Marx had borrowed the word ‘spark’ from P N Shah to use it in a similar context. He saw ‘spark’ in the proletarian class who, he said, “has nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” For him ‘spark’ amounted to the revolutionary zeal of working class people that will eventually abolish capitalism and establish socialism. PN Shah had already perceived that the ‘poor masses’ are the viable force of change. In Marx’s lexicon, they were transformed into ‘proletariat class,’ under capitalism.
The concept of ‘spark’ had inspired revolutionary literature and newspapers. Bolshevik leader Lenin published a newspaper named ‘Iskra’ meaning ‘spark’ while in exile in Germany. In Nepal, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai had brought a magazine entitled ‘Jhilko’ meaning ‘spark,’ imitating the publication of ‘Iskra’. Ironically, he was unaware of the fact that the concept of ‘spark’ had its origin in PN Shah’s Dibya Upadesh. In a bizarre twist of events, Dr Bhattarai and his Maoist party came under the sway of toxic ethno-centric politics that tried to subvert PN Shah’s nationalistic legacy at the instigation of foreign power centres.
Buddha, Rousseau, Prithvi Narayan Shah and Marx shared one common thing – the need-based economy - and stood against the accumulation of wealth and power at the cost of majority of populace and ecology. Buddha, Rousseau and Marx were unanimous that private property is the root of all social and economic ills. This reminds one of a famous Vedic line: “Earn with hundred of hands and distribute wealth with a thousand hands.” Prithvi Narayan Shah had adopted the essence of need-based economy that promotes equality and just distribution of resources. He did not allow his employs and courtiers to amass money disproportionately. To maintain fiscal disciple and ethics, he set two strict rules: “Keep the life style of the court simple and see that the taxation system is fairly and honestly administered.” Akin to the socialist concept of economy, he had espoused state-controlled financial policies. While discouraging luxurious life style, he had banned gambling throughout the state, terming it as a source of moral decadence. He had minutely fathomed social-psychology that illegal accumulation of wealth will lead the society on the path of corruption, depravity and deviation. So his administration had introduced tougher measures to curb abuse of power, funds and profligacy in the society. (Concluded)