KATHMANDU – In the recent decades, numerous people have shown their disagreement regarding the old verdict of Prithivi Narayan Shah and his unification campaign. They criticize him as an expansionist and explicitly mention that his endeavors were merely focused on land grabbing and regard him as a tyrant, who ruthlessly destroyed all the local cultures of various communities of the subjugated areas.
Some of them comment that the British had no intention in occupying Nepal, because their economic losses would be greater had they done so. Thus, they claim that this theory was just promulgated to mystify people and conceal the atrocities conducted by the Gorkhas during their expansion.
There are others who view that the educational institution of Nepal has wrongfully educated them by presenting Prithivi Narayan Shah as a symbol of national unity. Therefore, it is very essential to undertake a thorough analysis of Nepal’s history regarding Prithivi Narayan Shah and his endeavors to arrive at a more appropriate logical conclusion.
The word “Itihas” itself explains “thus had happened”; however, while explaining “thus had happened,” the events are greatly influenced by many factors. The perspective of the viewer, his ability of analysing the incident, his affiliation with the characters involved, the environment he is accustomed to and the motives behind his interpretation are some major factors.
This explains why different people have different opinion regarding the same incident. As a result numerous individuals have come up with their own individual views regarding Prithivi Narayan Shah and his endeavours. It is true that Prithivi Narayan Shah had never mentioned that his campaigns aimed to unify Nepal. Divya Upadesh only states about his desire to conquer the three cities of Kathmandu Valley.
However, these are the events that changed the geographical image of this Himalayan region and Nepal as a country was born from these campaigns.Thus, these battles should in no manner be considered as minor events. Nepal at the present is a democratic country; the right to differ in opinion is one of the prerequisites of democracy. Everyone’s opinion is heard and respected; yet, it would be advisable to adhere to the facts concerning the country’s history while arriving at conclusions.
Therefore, first, let us explore what the history of Nepal says regarding the views of those who comment that the British had no intention to occupy Nepal and their economic losses would be greater had they done so. According to historical accounts there were three factors that generated the Company’s interest in Nepal. First, the fact that gold often came out of Nepal seems to have given them the impression that there were gold mines in Nepal. Second, the fertile land of Terai that produced high quality tar and vast timber resources for ships increased the English interest.
Third, the Company traders viewed Nepal as a rich and potential market to be exploited that could enable them to enhance their relation with Tibet and China. This explains why they were always in search of an opportunity to enter Nepal. They received this opportunity when Jaya Prakash Malla invited them to support him in his battles against Gorkha. However, their intentions were thwarted after the troops led by Kinloch met a crushing defeat at Sindhuli. Campbell clearly mentions what a sanctuary the valley would have become for the people in Calcutta. He also acknowledged that their peaceful intercourse with the Newar kings was disrupted by the Gorkhas.
Privithivi Narayan Shah knew that the British had drained their resources in countering Haidar Ali and Maratha aggressions, and in dealing with drought that had swept across Bengal in 1769. Thus, they neither could send enforcement to Kinloch nor could they risk any enmity with the battle-hardened Gorkhas. Even after Kinloch’s expedition, Prithivi Narayan Shah aimed to establish amicable relations with the British and had destroyed the Sanyasis in Mahotari area upon Governor Hasting’s request. However, he had assumed that when the situation improved, they would definitely enter Nepal. Therefore, he had instructed the nation to remain prepared by cautioning that “one day that force would come.” Privithivi Narayan Shah’s assumption became a reality in the later decades. Historians view the humiliating British defeat at Sindhuli as the leading cause for the Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-1816.
Some historians mention that the Anglo-Nepal war actually opened the eyes of the British and they realized two things. First, they experienced that their local Indian soldiers feared the Gorkhas and hesitated to confront them. Second, the British were aware that one day the Indians would definitely create problems for them in India. They were aware that their local Indian sepoys did not fight the Indians whole heartedly; thus, they were in search of a different community that would fight for them. Through this battle they were convinced that the Gorkhas were the ideal race; thus, they changed their policy and sought to make Nepal a friend rather than a foe.
Although the war concluded with Nepal signing the humiliating treaty of Sugauli on 4 March 1816, the British restrained themselves from meddling with Nepal’s sovereignty aiming for a better relationship with the Gorkhas. The outbreak of Sepoy mutiny in 1857 proved that the British were correct in their judgment. Jung Bahadur Rana led an army of 15,000 troops, fought several hard battles and aided the British in their campaigns around Gorakhpur and Lucknow. An anonymous scholar states that “it was Nepal who provided the British a lease of 90 years to rule India.” Since then, to the present moment the British have been using the Gorkha forces in their endeavors.
Now let us analyze the view that Prithivi Narayan Shah was a tyrant who ruthlessly destroyed all the local cultures of various communities of the subjugated areas. Prithvi Narayan Shah had himself remarked that he had conquered the kingdoms of Kathmandu Valley with the good will of the people from the east and the west. According to B. R. Bajracharya, Bahadur Shah had mentioned to Kirkpatrick that his father’s design was accommodative; to attract the people of various areas towards him even before subjugation. Kirkpatrick also agreed to this fact and mentioned, “His father had invaded Nepaul at the earnest solicitation of the inhabitants at large, who were weary of the distracted government, and several yoke of the soorej-bunshi princes.”
Historians mention that the intellectual circles of the time were aware of the effects that would befall upon their culture had the British entered the Valley. Therefore, on one hand, they were dissatisfied with Jaya PrakashMalla for inviting the British and on the other, they highly admired Prithivi Narayan Shah’s stand against them. After subjugating the valley kingdoms, Prithivi Narayan Shah did not interfere in their cultures and costumes. Instead, he had provided their Chityas and Viharas with extra (Ghuti) lands. Many historians have affirmed this and state that the people of the valley had experienced no changes in their daily lives from the Gorkhali king who had overthrown their Malla rulers apart from better administration and greater respect to their Newari Gods and customs.
Nepal, situated between the foothills of the Himalayan ranges, had offered refuge to various groups from various areas in different times. The entire region was populated by people having their own distinct ways of living, beliefs, experiences and practices. Bondingthese multi- ethnic communities into a single Nepali society and cultivating national feelings stood as the major challenge.
Unlike in Germany, France and other European countries where local level linguistic, cultural and other customary diversity were terminated in the last 200 or 300 years in building one nation ,Prithivi Narayan Shah managed to channel all these diverseethnic,cultural, social and economic groups and firmly assimilate them into a single Nepali culture.
He achieved this psychological merger through his respect towards the cultures of the conquered areas. He further enhanced this by a common language spoken and understood by all under a single administrative umbrella.Thus, he mentioned that Nepal was a garden where people of all castes and creeds could blossom and bloom.
This also explains his strategy to encourage and enhance feelings of nationality amongst the people of the subjugated areas. Nationalism is the feeling of loyalty shared by a group of people united by the same language and culture. Prithivi Narayah Shah had actually united all the castes and creeds within the boundary of Nepal and they had remained firmly united for over 200 years. In fact, if accurately assessed, the signs of culture as a means of identity were first experienced in Nepal only after the fall of Berlin-wall. This view gained prominence after the Maoists brought forth the idea of ethnic Pradesh and ethnic Sarakar into Nepalese politics.
This completely disturbed the existing social cultural cohesion and all the once firmly united ethnic groups of the country started to raise voices for their share of Nepal. Samuel P. Huntington in his book “Clash of Civilization” has stated “In this new world, local politics is the politics of ethnicity and global politics is the politics of civilization.” In the same book Jacques Delors states, “future conflict will be sparked by cultural factors rather than economics or ideology.”
This statement has been proven true in Nepali politics; and the proposed controversial Guthi bill of 2019 stands as its example. Passing such bills would have definitely wiped-out all the centuries old cultural and religious institutions that funded Nepali customs and traditions which even Prithivi Narayan Shah had given continuity to. It would thus have made it easier for westerners to impose their religion and values upon Nepali society.
Up until a few decades ago, cultural cohesion had remained as the symbol of Nepali state.However, as developments in technology started to affect Nepal, the influence of western culture has started to expand rapidly amongst our younger generation. At the present, the indigenous and local culture are undermined and devalued and the country is being influenced mainly by the western culture. Hence, it seems irrelevant to blame the past for what is happening in the present due to technological development, globalization and the new mode of politics.
History should be interpreted with facts rooted in the past. Therefore, although at the present the country is still undergoing the reconstruction phase from the aftermath of Maoist war it is advised that it would be immature and futile to attempt to reconstruct the history of Nepal in the name of reconstructing the country.
Lastly, there are some who view Prithivi Narayan Shah as an expansionist; they claim that he did not unify Nepal, it was merely an expansion of Gorkha principality. They are absolutely correct; it is a fact that Nepal as a country was born due to expansion of Gorkha principality. However, before arriving at any hasty conclusion, let us turn the pages of history and find out some important facts about Nepal itself.
History shows that the boundary of Nepal underwent changes at various times under various ruling dynasties. An account of Emperor Samundra Gupta found in Allahabad (335-380 A.D) provides evidence that the territory of Nepal during the Lichchhavi period extended up to Assam in the east and Kumaun in the west (both places in present day India).
Historians also mention that during the reign of LichchhaviKingManDev 1st (464-505AD) Nepal’s territorial extent was as big as the size of present-day Nepal. According to S.J stiller, in the 9th century, the Lichchhavi kingdom disintegrated into three distinct territories, the KhasMalla kingdom founded by Nagrajraj (996-1593) extending from the west of Kathmandu to Kumaun-Garhwal. Between (1097-1326) the Karnat Dynasty emerged at Simraongad in the Eastern Tarai and Kathmandu valley along with the eastern part of Nepal was ruled by Ari Malladev (1201-1769). Later, the KhasMalla kingdom further disintegrated into two distinct regions; the ChaubisiRajya situated between west of river Trishuli and east of river Rapti/Madi; and BaisiRajya situated between west of river Rapti/Madi and east of river Mahakali.
Jared Diamond in Gun, Germs and Steels mentions that Jean- Jacques Rousseau speculated that states are formed by social contract. However, in contrast to Rousseau he believes“Amalgamation occurs instead in either of two ways: by merger under the threat of external force, or by actual conquest.”A glance through Nepali history surprisingly demonstrates that the initiative taken by Prithvi Narayan Shah seems as an outcome of both these arguments.
Firstly, expansion of the English East India Company in the Indian- subcontinent and their interest over this Himalayan Kingdom had served as a means to generate a feeling of the need for a strong Nepal. Prithivi Narayan Shah magnified this feeling by cautioning the country to remain alert and prepared regarding the impending threat from the southern neighbor. Through this perceived threat, he forged a sense of common interest amongst the citizens and inspired all the citizens to face the challenges. This farsighted strategy had integrated and united all the Nepalese people in a firm manner.Secondly, Nepal remained merely as a political expression divided into fifty-two small principalities. Prithvi Narayan Shah conducted a military campaign and conquered these principalities and created Nepal.
In his lifetime he had managed to conquer two of the three regions disintegrated from the Lechichhaci Nepal; the Karnataka dynasty region from the Sens and Kathmandu valley region from the Newar Malla. The previous Western Khas Malla region that had disintegrated into the Basesi and Chaubesi principalities were yet to be subjugatedto turn Nepal into what it was during the Lichchhavi period. This clearly indicates that Prithivi Narayan Shah had not created a new country; he had simply brought under him parts of the past Lachchhavi territory and renamed it Nepal.
Almost around a century after Nepal was created, Europe shook with the rise of two newly united countries, the Kingdom of Italy in March 17, 1861 and the kingdom of Germany in 18th January, 1871. No conqueror has ever changed the name of his country, unless the quest aimed at a grander purpose. Pidmont and Sardinia led the unification and named the country Italy. Purssia led the unification and named the unified territory Germany. Therefore, the very fact that Prithvi Narayan Shah merged his victorious principality of Gorkha within the country of Nepal explains that his wars definitely had a greater purpose than just mere expansion. Yet, there are some critics who view Gorkhali conquests were for the sole purpose of territorial gain.
It seems that they are unaware about the connotation of their comments. Misinterpreting these events would be ignoring the dignity and self- respect of Nepali people and the existence of Nepal as a sovereign independent country. It would mean supporting the idea that it would have been better if the British had subjugated these tiny principalities in the colonial era.
Clausewitz is quoted as saying, “War is nothing but the continuation of policy by other means.” Machiavelli declares, “War is one of many tools the prince uses for his political ends.”Kautilya declares “all policies lead to war and expansion of the state.” All the above quotes have one thing in common, that both War and Policies are interconnected and they advance together. In regards to their effect Clauswitz mentioned, “when political aim and the military aim coincide together, it will look more like a military quest rather than a political objective.” Therefore, a better understanding of this fact would assist in drawing the correct conclusions concerning Prithivi Narayan Shah’s campaigns.
Nepal is a democratic country, freedom of speech and difference in opinion are fundamental rights of Nepali people bestowed to us by the virtues of democracy. However, getting into disagreements over the same elephant like six blind men did is fruitless. Therefore, it is best to look at the elephant as a whole; only by connecting the entire parts of the puzzle makes the picture complete. The Niti Shastra states, “Satyam eakabiprabhahudabadhayanti (the truth is one however the learned has described in various manner).” The ultimate truth is, it was Prithivi Narayan Shah who had laid the foundation of modern Nepal; and no one can deny this indisputable truth.
However, as Sukracharya observes, “Bahuviryasthutwo dharma ninditwoadharma (whatever the greater number praises is dharma, and what they shun is adharma).” Thus, now it is up to the readers to decide as to what Prithivi Narayan Shah’s campaign should be termed as; and it is our dharma to respect and accept the verdict of the majority.