Ideological Pillars Of Unity
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
We remember Prithvi Narayan Shah as a unifier of modern Nepal. If Prithvi Narayan Shah had not taken up the challenge of creating a countervailing force capable of stemming the tide of imperial conquests advancing inexorably from the north and the south, there would not be an independent and sovereign Nepal in the world map today. Unfortunately, however, the political significance of the accomplishments of Prithvi Narayan Shah is yet to evolve consensus within the ongoing historical discourse of unification.
There is a tendency to view Nepal’s national unification from the perspective of a war of conquest inspired not by an ideology of nation building but by an instinct of an ambitious ruler for aggrandisement. This has led to the evaluation of unification war of the nineteenth century Nepal not from the macro-view of global politics but through a narrow lens of parochial insularity. During the past two-and-a-half centuries, Prithvi Narayan Shah’s personality and achievements have been subjected to critical review from various angles. There is a tendency to depict him as an aggressor driven by a blind ambition for personal aggrandisement. Many historical researchers have subjected the contextual relevance and the scope of his accomplishment. But only a few of them have tried to probe into the ideological dimension of his thought and vision of nation-building.
Unlike the conquerors and empire builders of the past, Prithvi Narayan Shah was a ruler who was enlightened and was guided by ethical principles. When he thought of expanding the Gorkha Kingdom in the capacity of its king, he was not driven merely by a raw ambition of seizing a large territory with a view to wipe off the stigma of being a king of an insignificant hilly principality. Instead, he thought of strengthening the Gorkha kingdom as a bulwark of resistance against the rolling waves of colonialism. His exhortations documented in his Dibyopadesh make it clear that Prithvi Narayan Shah had undertaken the unification campaign with a view to preserve Nepal’s traditional values, religions and cultures from being swamped by alien aggression. He had visualised the need to acquire capability to repulse the impending onslaught of British colonialism which was rapidly swallowing Indian indigenous states to entrench itself in the Indian sub-continent.
Prithvi Narayan Shah thought that British colonial aggression and expanding Chinese empire in the north could be resisted only by unifying 54 divisive principalities that dotted the southern slope of the Himalayas. He was the only ruler in this part of Asia to realise the shifting contours of power equation. Being the most enlightened, astute and farsighted leader it was natural that he took upon himself the task of repelling the forces of subjugation by unifying the brave Nepali people torn asunder along parochial borders.
From early period of his life, Prithvi Narayan Shah had cultivated high qualities of leadership under the close supervision of his step -mother Chandrapravawati and the able mentorship of learned scholars of his time. Unlike other kings of his epoch, Prithvi Narayan Shah was not given up to indulgence and abstained from luxury and life of comfort. From the standard of his time, he was well educated in religious scriptures, principles of state affair, theory of combat and diplomacy. That provided him relative advantage to emerge as a natural leader of unification though there were more resourceful and richer principalities.
During the war of unification, he displayed an immense versatility in the use and adaptation of military science in the specific context of Nepal’s geo-political reality. Prithvi Narayan Shah surpassed all his contemporary kings in imparting combat skills to his soldiers, arming them with modern weapons and introducing guerrilla warfare to defeat the enemies. Prithvi Narayan Shah never thought of building an empire after the fashion of Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Nader Shah or Alexander the Great. They were purposeless aggressors who brought untold misery to the people to satisfy their lust for blood and opulence. Instead, Prithvi Narayan Shah was a ruler who was crafting a unified existence of a nation as a response to aggression from conquering alien forces.
He was a great military strategist who invariably perfected and used the art of war against superior enemies with a smaller combat force. He recommended forming a company of 100 soldiers arming half of them with traditional weapons and the other half with firearms. He instructed his subordinates to build fortresses on high hills and strategic passes with at least one cannon ready at its gate so that incursions by enemy could be checked in time.
Critics say that Prithvi Narayan Shah was an aggressor who exterminated the ethnicity based states to create an empire of the Khas people. But the truth is that, Prithvi Narayan Shah was not ethnicity conscious. He accorded equal treatment to all the ethnicities and considered them as different flowers of a garden. Prithvi Narayan Shah had given equal access to state service for all the ethnicities. Chhetris and Magars formed the backbone of his unification army but there were Gurungs and even Muslims in his military service. Prithvi Narayan Shah lived most of his life in the battlefield together with his soldiers and hardly had any time to consolidate and institutionalise the empirical findings of the war of unification but what littlie he has left behind is sufficient to cast insight into the vast wisdom he had on various dimensions of the affairs of state.
Apart for his excellence in military strategy, he was a good diplomat and was able to formulate diplomatic principles which were successful to keep the rising empires at bay during his time and helped articulate Nepal’s geopolitical vulnerability and the need for a balanced relation with neighbouring counters.
Prithvi Narayan Shah was more an ideologue than a ruler. He used to give a great emphasis to mining, manufacturing of home products, harvesting of valuable herbs and their export to foreign markets. He was the first ruler of modern Nepal who attached importance to the preservation and development of productive land. He thought of developing industrial infrastructure as a source of earning revenue and put emphasis on the need of export trade. We can realise the insightfulness and far sight of Prithvi Narayan Shah when we find ourselves struggling to achieve what he had exhorted us to do two and half centuries before.
Prithvi Narayan Shah drew attention to the fact that this country was created with his arduous effort and that his descendants should be able to protect it from crumbling down. He had seen the rise and fall of empires and ephemeral nature of acquirements won against popular consent. He was not interested in creating something that would come crumbling down as soon as he departed from the stage of history.
The continued existence of unified Nepal for two-and-a-half centuries even after his death shows that he had built unified Nepal on strong ideological pillars of national independence, freedom from subjugation and unity in diversity of cultures, ethnicity and languages enabling it to withstand the ebbs and flows of time.