KATHMANDU – In an era when the kings were considered almighty and the normal practice of the time accepted that “the king was the country”, a king of this Himalayan country robustly declared that the people were the real wealth of the country.
This clearly demonstrates that Prithivi Narayan Shah was a king who believed that the divine power once handed by the Gods to the ancient kings, now, actually rested in the hand of the people. His quote from DivyaUpadesh, “He, with whom the people are pleased, he it is who is made Kaji” validates his acceptance in people’s representation and people’s participation in the government system. Prithivi Narayan Shah’s strategy was to win the hearts and the minds of the people.
Isn’t winning the hearts and minds of the people the true essence of democracy? The great king had joined the soldiers and the peasant, armed them and led the masses and classes and assimilated all the existing castes within the country into a single “Nepali Caste” and handed the county into the hands of the people’s people.
These facts indicate that the historians, political intellects, and even the military intellects of Nepal have failed to provide due recognition to the Great King. They have just provided him the status of Unifier; thus, giving the impression that Gorkha possessed a huge army and the king used his military might to accomplish these farfetched endeavors. This has completely masked the king’s personal abilities and his relentless efforts in accomplishing this enormous task of creating Nepal. Therefore, making it vital to explore through the personality of the Great King, the obstacles he overcame to create Nepal, and the gains received by the people through his endeavors with the aid from the facts presented by the history of the country.
At the time of Prithvi Narayan Shah, Nepal had merely remained as a political expression in the Himalayan region. Constant battles amongst the principalities had ruined the lives of general people living in the entire region. They strongly desired a stable nation that could provide them protection, the rule of law and a society where they could flourish. At the period when an environment of darkness and uncertainties had engulfed the entire Himalayan region, Prithivi Narayan Shah had become the King of Gorkha.
The history of Nepal clearly indicates that Gorkha lacked both the resources and the economy to conduct any campaigns. SJ Stiller confirms this and mentions unless some invisible factor assisted Gorkha it was impossible for Gorkha to launch a unifying campaign. According to him, leadership was clearly the main factor; it supplies the only rational answer to the persistent question “Why Gorkha?” It was clearly the profound leadership quality of King Prithvi Narayan Shah and his visions that stirred the people and persuaded them to throw their full energies to the campaign.”
Stiller also mentions that Kirkpatrick states “It is this quality of leadership that made possible Gorkha’s first step on that long journey of quest. Given the facts of the economics, geography, and politics of the hill state, no other explanation seems to a position where it could seriously challenge the full might of the East India Company.”
The Niti Shastra mentions, “For the intelligent, in every endeavor the people are the preachers.” Farsighted Prithvi Narayan had understood that people were the strength of the nation. Therefore, this young king conducted a door-to-door campaign and consulted with the wise and experienced people of his country. With their advice, he brought forth a vision and intelligently touched everyone’s heart and inspired the citizens to forge a common interest with the ruler. The previous campaigns conducted by various other rulers in the past were just the king’s war. However, Prithivi Narayan Shah adopted a different strategy, he mobilized the people and then involved them directly in his battles.The notion of people’s involvement in war motivated the entire citizens and thus they stood unwaveringly behind their king.
This united energy handed by the people to their king to lead them into war in true sense is termed as the “Nation in arms.” This clearly illustrates that Gorkha’s war was conducted for the interest of greater numbers. Long before the Marxist had adopted their revolutionary concept of immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority; history is the testimony that the great king had applied this concept in Gorkha.
Therefore, if democracy is to be understood as the will of majority then the battles conducted by the inspired people of Gorkha should be understood as a democratic crusade conducted for the betterment of greater numbers. Distinct to the wars of his period, the great king led the masses and classes or in other words he had actually led the “People’s War” in this Himalayan region and changed the character of war from feudal skirmishes to a national war to overthrow the dictators of the other principalities who opposed him and the people’s inspiration.
The Great King had himself mentioned that he had conquered the principalities of Kathmandu Valley with the good will of the people from the east and the west. S.J Stiller highlights this and states that 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. According to which in response, Kirkpatrick wrote, “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.”
Prithivi Narayan Shah was a realistic king, who had understood that the ultimate source of power rested on the people. Quotes from DivyaUpadesh stating, “If the king is wise, he will keep the soldiers and the peasants on his side” clearly sheds light that he strongly believed that the very existence of a king depended upon the people.
DibyaUpadesh also reveals about the king’s intention to adopt the good practices of previous worthy kings and make suitable reforms accordingly. This involved collection and documentation of various virtuous practices of the past and an analytical synthesis of how these practices were to be implemented. He had given his final instructions to his brothers and the courtiers just before he departed from this world in January 15, 1775. Based upon his DivyaUpadesh three years before America adopted their constitution in 1788, King Prithivi Narayan Shah had shown his keen interest to establish a constitution that best suited Nepali soil buoyed through Nepali history and tradition.
Theories of Karl Marx were put into practice by Lenin who led the proletariat revolution in Russia. According to J.F.C Fuller Lenin’s outlook on the peasantry closely followed that of Marx, who despised them as “Rural idiots.” Fuller in his book “The Conduct of War” provides a glimpse of Lenin’s pamphlet “Two Tactics of Social-Democracy;” published in 1905. Lenin’s pamphlets clearly demonstrate the Russian communist’s attitude towards the peasants and their desire to utilize them as their launching-pad. In China, considering that the proletariat revolution was not an adequate strategy, Mao turned the industrialist revolution to agriculturist revolution and led the “peasant war”.
History testifies that 142 years before Lenin led Bolshevik communists and established the Soviet State of proletariat in Russia in 1917 and 174 years before the peasants led by Mao Zedong proclaimed China as the People’s Republic in 1949. King Prithivi Narayan Shah, the Great, had led both the workers (proletariat) and the peasant and created Nepal.
Prithvi Narayan Shah regarded Nepal as a garden and mentioned, “This is a garden of four Varnas and thirty-six castes greater and lesser”. According to this quote, the great king has clearly declared that Nepal belonged to all the citizens and all the citizens had equal rights to enjoy the blessings of the country’s hard-earned endeavors. It also explains that although various caste and creeds were living in Nepal, the great king had combined all these castes and creeds into one single “Nepali Caste;” who owned the county in a collective manner.This truly exceptional cooperation between the king and people had created our unique “Nepali culture and Nepali ideology” in this Himalayan kingdom.
Prithivi Narayan was a courageous king, the very fact that a weak principality like Gorkha advanced to conquer the strong three cities of Kathmandu valley clearly demonstrates his courage. A glimpse of his battle strategy displays that first he captured the trade route to Tibet adjoining Gorkha. Then after strengthening this region, he advanced over the other trade route to Tibet and then conducted an embargo around the valley.
After he conquered the principality of Makwanpur, he consolidated his gains and tightened the embargo to cripple the morale of the enemy. He had adopted the strategy of attrition with a policy of negotiation held in reserve. Finally, demonstrating adequate impressions regarding their fate if he really intended to do so, he kept the western principalities at bay and conducted relentless attacks over the valley kings until they were completely subdued.
His unyielding efforts not only accomplished this unbelievable task, but also defeated the Bengali troops which Mir Quasim had trained and prepared to fight his war with the British. Beside this, he even defeated the British troops who were subduing the Indian subcontinent at Sindhuli. His wars clearly demonstrate that his battles within the Himalayan region aimed to win the hearts and minds of the people. However, when foreigners advanced to threaten the sovereignty of the country, his battles aimed for the total destruction of enemy’s fighting forces.
He was a king who was blessed with patience. He knew any haste to conquer the valley would lead to terrible destruction. Thus, to prevent the citizens of the valley from this unnecessary devastation, he waited with great perseverance for 24 years to conquer Kathmandu Valley after occupying Nuwakot. His strategy of embargo around the valley illustrates that he was against destructive wars. This demonstrates that as all military historians have accepted, the governing principle of his war was peace and victory were only the means towards its achievement.
Chanakya believed that the rule of law in a country depended upon the self-discipline of the ruler. Prithvi Narayan Shah believed that it was his religious duty as a king to provide justice to his people. Therefore, he mentioned, “the king should ensure that justice is done, eliminate injustice from the country.” Plato viewed that the good men of the society should be given the responsibility of established laws. The Great King instructed, “In each court put a man skilled in the law and conduct the court according to the law”. Prithivi Narayan Shah was a people orientated king.
He made attempts to eliminate immoral practices that existed in Nepalese society. He had taken steps to abolish slavery in Nepal. History clearly shows that slavery still existed in America a century after the great king had made his efforts in Nepal to abolish such practice. Furthermore, he also made attempts to uplift the lives of the deprived people of the society by eradicating the social malpractices based on caste systems.
The great king strove to eliminate all the existing evil doings of the society and provided the people with a government where the rule of law prevailed. A fare analysis positions Prithvi Narayan Shah the Great as to what the Germans think about Frederick the Great the King of Prussia (24 January 1712 – 17 August 1786). Both these Kings were contemporaries. Both their kingdoms were small when they ascended their thrones. However, at the end of their reign, King Frederick II had established Prussia as the fifth European power and Prithvi Narayan Shah had established Nepal as the power that could challenge the British might in South Asia.
Both the kings were profound administrators, military geniuses and excellent field commanders. Frederick applied oblique order formation—quick and skillful movements of troops and mobile artillery in the correct place at the correct time to dominate the warfare in Europe. Similarly, Prithvi Narayan Shah’s strategies to exhaust the enemy well ahead of the actual battle and channeling them to pre-selected killing areas demonstrates him as a military genius. Napoleon Bonaparte considered Fedrick the great as the tactical genius of all time.
World history states that after Napoleon’s victory in the battle of Fourth Coalition in 1807, Napoleon had visited Frederick the Great’s tomb with a group of his generals and had purportedly instructed them “hats off gentlemen, if he were alive, we wouldn’t be here today.” In the 1814-1816 Anglo-Nepal War, when the British launched their well- planned offensives with great superiority in numbers and equipment and yet failed to secure a single noteworthy tactical victory. They must have experienced the chilly sensation at the back of their neck regarding their fate in this Himalayan kingdom, had Prithvi Narayan Shah still been alive.
Both these kings strove to elevate the economy of their countries with skilled labors, industries and reformed their administrative and legal systems. They reorganized the taxation system to generate more revenue, showed religious toleration, and attracted people with diverse skills to their countries. Frederick, the great, stands as the symbol behind unified Germany; Bismarck had made gains over the foundations laid by Frederick. Similarly, Greater Nepal and the present boundary of the country became possible only due to the foundation laid by King Prithvi Narayan Shah the Great. Above all, both the kings inspired their states and their people and used wars as a tool to build nationalism.
Kautiyla the key advisor of Chandragupta was in view that the king who was accustomed with the six-fold foreign policy could bind his enemies with his intellect. After bearing the responsibilities of the king, Prithivi Narayan Shah led Gorkha on continuous victory campaigns. He even compelled the British Empire that was dominating the world to accept Nepal as a sovereign state and address him with the title of MaharajaDhiraja. Furthermore, “From Mao’s work,” Samuel B. Griffets writes, “men emerge as the decisive factor in war. Weapons are important but not decisive. It is man’s directing intelligence which counts the most.” The above quotes and the facts about Gorkhas position clearly prove that the Great King had bound all his opponents through the chain of his intellect.
Therefore, there is no harm in mentioning that King Prithivi Narayan Shah, the Great, was much more than just an astute strategist. He was indisputably a virtuous leader who was augmented with immense directing intelligence. Although King Prithivi Narayan Shah had ascended the throne of Gorkha at a very young age, his visions were well ahead of his time. In the era when the other kings were accustomed to the theory of the divine rights, he had explicitly mentioned that the king should join the peasants and the soldiers.
Furthermore, in the period when the king was considered almighty, he had advocated equality before law and ensured that great care was taken to provide justice. His beliefs that the people’s people should govern clearly demonstrates that when no country of the modern world was a democratic country in a true sense, he had set the foundation of democracy in Nepal. A thorough analysis of DivyaUpadesh proves that these instructions establish a sound foundation of all the three pillars of democracy; the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary system. In addition to these, respect for authority, fairness, loyalty, avoidance of harm and unity stood as the five principles embraced by Dibya Upadesh. These notions validate the fact that at the period when the world was struggling for a people-oriented government. King Prithivi Narayan Shah had set the foundation of democracy in Nepal.
At that period, to curb all the unnecessary foreign influences and to consolidate the identity as a means of independence from imperial influence, Prithvi Narayan Shah had mentioned, “Yehi ho Asali Hundustan (Nepal as the true land of the Hindus.)” Yet he had also instructed the people “Do not leave your ancient religion.” This quotation clearly explains that the Great King had provided the citizens freedom of religion and encouraged the people to follow their traditional belief. Thus, this makes him a true democratic king.
Furthermore, his adherence to Bisha Nagarchi’sa dvice in the methods of collecting funds required for the campaign establishes the fact that the Great King had adopted the philosophy of Liberalism where the voices of commoners were heard and their views were respected. These astounding accomplishments he made for the people makes him not only the “Unifier” of the country, but also ‘the father of democracy in Nepal’.
Plato was in the view that city state was to be led by Philosopher king and the Philosopher king required possessing love of wisdom, intelligence, reliability, and a willingness to live a simple life. Plato viewed that their inherent love of truth and wisdom would help the philosopher king to endure against corruption and evil. Prithivi Narayan Shah not only made attempts to eradicate corruption and evil, but also provided the country with a corruption free administrative mechanism structure that inspired the people for progressive activities.
His time-tested instruction embraces all those characteristics which in the present-day world would be termed as a democratic government that protects human rights of the citizens. His pragmatic approaches in the administration system clearly demonstrate that, for him, it was as the Niti Sastra states “Praja Sukhe Sukham Rajnah, or the king’s happiness lies in the happiness of the people” “Prajanam cha hitehitam in the wellbeing of the people is his own wellbeing.”
Surprisingly, Plato stressed that their lack of interest in ruling actually made them an ideal king. In a situation when the courtiers had proposed to crown Prithivi Narayan Shah whilst his father was still alive. The young prince had mentioned, “Those who have advised me to deprive my father’s head of the crown will advise the same to others against me” and rejected their proposal. This clearly illustrates that the young prince valued his responsibilities more than the glitters of the crown and the power of the throne. This very quality of prioritizing responsibilities over the crown and throne makes Prithivi Narayan Shah an ideal King.
Prithivi Narayah Shah viewed that the sole responsibility of a ruler was to serve the people. He introduced a new government system in this Himalayan region that strove for the well-being of subjects. He stands as the first king of the modern time world who actually put into practice the divine rights rested in the hands of the people. Therefore, it would only be logical to recognize and address “King Prithivi Narayan Shah, the Great” as a “Philosopher King” as he gave the modern world a fine example of a democratic government that executed through people’s representation and participation. Therefore, not only Nepal, but the world community should also respect his achievements and provide him with due respect that he well deserves.
Rana, who took premature retirement from the Royal Nepalese Army, holds a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Tribhuvan University (Nepal) and MBA from Southern New Hampshire University (USA). He is the author of ‘Remedy and Apparatus for Resurgence of Nepal The Unifier and his Instruction’.