13-19 January 2017 #841

“Respect Prithvi Narayan Shah”

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Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi interviewed by Vijay Kumar Pandey, YouTube 8 December

Vijay Kumar Pandey: What is your take on the debate over whether Prithvi Narayan Shah’s birth anniversary should be celebrated as National Unity Day?

Bimalendra Nidhi: Prithvi Narayan Shah should not be dragged into controversy. The Nepal we live in today was his construct. That is a fact and we should never ignore it. I leave it up to scholars to conclude whether he expanded his Gorkha kingdom or annexed other principalities into it. But he unified Nepal at least geographically. Whether his birth anniversary should be marked as National Unity Day is a political issue. One school of thought argues that multiple nations may exist within one country, on the other hand whether Nepal’s unification was an act of nation building at all can be a matter of debate. Even today, ideologues are divided over whether Shah should be remembered as a symbol of national unity. But modern Nepal exists because of him, and we should not belittle his contributions. We should all respect him.

Do you yourself respect or loathe him?

If royalists want to revive the monarchy by celebrating Shah’s birth anniversary, it will be short-sightedness. But if republicans like me belittle his contribution only because he was a king, it is also our narrow mindedness. These are both extremist views. Shah could have unified Nepal to rule it as an authoritarian leader, but what matters more now is the country that he left behind for us. His act of unification should not be judged by modern yardsticks. Republicans should not fear being labeled royalists for respecting a king who contributed to our nation-building process.

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