Nepali Times
BHARAT BASNET
Guest Column
Prithbi Narayan’s message


BHARAT BASNET




MIN BAJRACHARYA

Every day for the past two months, the country's new democratic wave washes up yet another protest at the statue of Prithbi Narayan Shah at the Singha Darbar intersection.

If it's not women activists seeking greater say in decision-making, it is janajatis or dalits demanding participation, or labour unions who want a minimum wage, or kamaiyas demanding land promised them by successive governments.

They all appear at the foot of Prithbi Narayan Shah, the country's great unifier whose vandalised figure is wrapped in a fading red shroud. There is a certain irony that excluded Nepalis gather below the king of Gorkha seeking justice. Even before Nepal existed, the Gorkha kingdom was renowned for its righteousness. They used to say: "If you seek justice, go to Gorkha."

But after 237 years, instead of nation-building we Nepalis are busy running down a king who built the nation. Nepal is the oldest nation state in South Asia, and one that was coveted but never conquered by the colonial power in the region.

The descendents of Ram Shah must have realised early on that their small hilltop principality overlooking the Marsyangdi would not survive if it stayed small. If young Prithbi hadn't taken it upon himself to begin the Gorkha expansion, Nepal as a nation would not exist today.

The warrior king was driven by ambition and the vision of a country woven together from its ethnic, linguistic, religious and gender diversity. Prithbi Narayan Shah celebrated Nepal's plurality and preached inclusiveness centuries before it became a buzzword. He wasn't after conquest, but unification. His standing instructions were not to vanquish but incorporate, not to impose Gorkha culture but to preserve local customs. He didn't force the kingdoms and principalities he overran to assimilate, but assimilated Gorkha into an emerging Nepal. An example of this is how he grafted Gorkha into Kathmandu Valley's Newar kingdoms, preserved the local culture and festivals and integrated himself into the social fabric.

The figure inside that red shroud represents a king who was ahead of his time. He sought not just to unite Nepal but to have a prosperous, self-sufficient and strong country. Before he died, Prithbi Narayan passed on his mission statement to successors in the famous work, Dibyopadesh in which he laid out the basics of a governance structure that was representative, inclusive and participatory.

He imagined Nepal as a garden of all religions and ethnicities blooming side by side. He thought a stable and prosperous country would ensure Nepal's survival at a time when it was threatened by expanding empires in the neighbourhood. And the wise king knew this was only possible if all the people had a say in the governance process and were treated equally.

"If citizens are empowered, the nation is strong," he wrote in Dibyopadesh. If only his successive rulers of Nepal acted on this simple yet important message. Nearly two and half centuries ago, King Prithbi Narayan left instructions to carry out the very tasks that the placards at demonstrations below his statue today demand: 'inclusive democrac&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#̵'216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;', 'national capital developmen&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'&#'216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;216;', 'justice for all'. He understood the geopolitics of being sandwiched between two giant neighbours and sought to maximise its benefit for the national interest.

So why do we treat this great king as if he is to blame for what came later? Why do we fault a statesman who had the wisdom to see that citizens and king should be alert about abuse of power by the other?

Perhaps that is why the statue was erected at the gates of the government secretariat, to remind Nepal's rulers what the nation's founding king had said long ago. Why are we destroying the memory of the very person who made us Nepalis who we are? So we can hold our heads high?

Bharat Basnet is an environmental activist and tourism entrepreneur



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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