Why Nepalis should unite to commemorate King Prithvi Narayan Shah

The primary motive for King Prithvi to launch the battle for Nepal's unification was to save the country from the threat of annexation by the powerful British East India Company which was looking to subjugate Nepal.

Photo: Chandragiri Hills

Prem Singh Basnyat

  • Read Time 5 min.

The call for declaring Poush 27 as a National Unity Day and a national holiday to mark the birth of King Prithvi Narayan Shah has become much louder across the political spectrum as well as among the general public.  Unlike in the last few years, this time around the majority of political leaders seems to have come to the conclusion that Poush 27 should indeed be celebrated as such to commemorate the birth of the nation.  

One good thing for nationalist and patriotic persons like me is that the people, who were guided by vested interests to launch smear campaigns against King Prithvi Narayan Shah, are no longer listened to. People seem to have seen through what that smearing campaign was for, who it was funded by, and why those people should not be believed in. The anti-Prithvi Narayan brigade of intellectuals, it has now been proven, was in the mission of discrediting our history and heritage and they used every tool at their disposal to create the narrative that the root of the problem Nepal is facing is the very unification drive. For over a decade, this brigade of irresponsible intellectuals, as well as equally irresponsible political parties, tried to fool the people by spewing venom against the founding father of the nation. 

The situation has changed. And it is a matter of great relief for all the patriotic people. 

Reason to remember 

The contributions of King Prithvi Narayan Shah for Nepal and Nepali people are as clear as the light of the day. No doubt, a lot of other warriors such as Kaji Kalu Pandey and Bada Kaji Amar Singh Thapa had shed their blood during the battle of unification and without their contribution, Nepal’s unification campaign would probably not have been possible but the architect of the mission was King Prithvi Narayan Shah himself. 

He led the unification battles against the principalities and also fought against the foreign invaders. From the battle of Nuwakot to that of Kirtipur he was the one who led the process. His special contribution was in resisting the attempts by Mir Qasim to invade Makawanpur palace. He led the troops himself and moved from Indra Daha of Dahachok to fight the enemy himself. The king prepared for a spoiling attack by stationing troops at Dhunge, Dadhuwa, and Makawanpur forts.  The Muslim troops attacked the Makawanpur palace in January 1763 but soon reinforcement troops reached from Dahachok and Gorkhalis attacked from three sides. Mir Qasim’s troops were badly defeated. This war with Muslims marked the first victory of Nepal against foreign troops, though Nepal was yet to be unified and consolidated. 

The battle of Sindhuli was perhaps the fiercest battle against the foreign invaders launched under the leadership of King Prithvi Narayan Shah. It can be said that if Nepal was defeated in this war, unification would not have been possible. The British would probably make Kathmandu Valley, and later the whole of Nepal, their colony to make it a point to access Tibet and China.  It can also be said that if the British won this war, Tibet, and probably China as well, might have become the British colony within a decade.  Thanks to Nepal’s resistance against the British, Tibet and China did not have to suffer that fate. 

The ugly narrative created around King Prithvi Narayan has proved to be false. There was no truth in whatever they were propagating against Nepal.  

Prithvi Narayan Shah may have had his share of weaknesses. But he was into the unification drive not because he wanted to create an empire. The primary motive for the unification drive was to save the country from the looming threat of annexation by the powerful British East India Company, which had already taken much of the Indian subcontinent under its control and which was looking to subjugate Nepal. Nepal, our home, would probably have not been there as it stands today if we had no leader to save it from the threat of subjugation.

Dismayingly, even this simple, clear undisputed truth was distorted and misinterpreted by some political leaders as well as intellectuals for nearly a decade.

National awakening

Now people have come to realize that those irresponsible intellectuals, as well as political parties, were misleading them all these many years. Now they have realized that the decision to scrap the national holiday on Poush 27 was guided by vested interest groups (the government led by Girija Prasad Koirala in 2006 had removed the status of national unity day and holiday in 2006). They are all demanding that the government should correct that mistake. 

The national unity that is steadily building up in favor of celebrating Poush 27 as a national unity day and a government holiday is itself an indication of great national awakening. But there are other reasons why people of the country should stand united for this cause.

First, we had been told all these many years that the cause of Nepal’s backwardness was the monarchy.  We were wrongly misled into believing that once monarchy is abolished and the country becomes a federal republic, it would change the face of the nation.  The radical Maoists started to demolish the statutes of the former kings including that of King Prithvi to vilify the former kings. Over 14 years into the republic and in four years of federalism, political leaders themselves have proved that the real culprits of the country’s backwardness were not the former kings but their own greed for power and money.  The illusion they created has been shattered by themselves: King Prithvi had nothing to do with the problems the country is facing today. 

People gather near the statue of late King Prithvi Narayan Shah on the occasion of Prithvi Jayanti. (File photo/RSS)

Second, the ugly narrative created around King Prithvi Narayan has also proved to be false. If that ugly narrative was founded on truth and evidence, it would not be weak, it would not be fizzled out. Now it has.  This means they were only misleading the country and the people and there was no truth in whatever they were writing and propagating against Nepal. 

Third, corruption and misuse of resources in the name of federalism have made it clear that the problem was not the unitary state. 

Over 14 years into the republic and over seven years of federalism, political leaders themselves have proved that the real culprits of the country’s backwardness were not the former kings. 

When one tries to do something merely out of vested interests to malign the country and people, it does not hold for a long time. The anti-Prithvi Narayan rhetoric was the product of ill intentions to vilify the unifier of the country and weaken Nepalis’ self-esteem and love for the country. Nepal’s national narrative had been hijacked by a few radical leaders and those intellectuals who have no respect and regard for the country. Now it is time to free our history from their hands.

Thus all the people of Nepal should unite to pressure the government to declare Poush 27 as a National Unity Day and a public holiday to commemorate the great king. 

Interestingly, though this call is resonating across the country and among all the people, and though a huge majority of people are demanding that Poush 27 should be restored as a National Unity Day and national holiday, no political parties have shown any spine to take the decision to this effect. The government led by K P Oli did not do it, apparently Sher Bahadur Deuba does not care about it at all. But we should keep fighting for this noble cause until the decision to this effect is taken by the government.  Let us all be united for the sake of the nation, more importantly for the sake of the great king whose legacy is Nepal, our nation. 

Prem Singh Basnyat is a Brigadier General (Retired) of the Nepal Army. A Ph.D. in military history, he has authored several books on the military and political history of Nepal, besides being a visiting lecturer to universities in Nepal and abroad. He is also the Chairman of the Nepal Museum Association.