Your search keywords:

Nepal’s geopolitical challenges and Prithvi Narayan Shah’s teachings

Nepal’s geopolitical challenges and Prithvi Narayan Shah’s teachings

Today (27 Poush of Nepali calendar) is the 302nd birth anniversary of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, widely regarded as the creator of modern Nepal. For a long time, the country celebrated this date as a national unity day until it was discontinued following the abolition of monarchy in 2006.

There are divergent views among political parties regarding their view of Shah. During the insurgency period, it was one of the key contentious issues within the Maoists that was waging an armed rebellion against the state ruled by monarchy. Even though the Maoist fighters demolished the statues of kings, including that of the unifier, the party supremo, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, acknowledged the contributions made by Shah. His second-in-command at the time, Baburam Bhattarai, however, was against all things monarchy. 

But of late, there is a growing consensus among all political parties—not just the Maoists—that Shah deserves the credit and acknowledgement for bringing together dozens of tiny warring states under a single banner. On 25 September 1768, Shah officially announced the creation of the Kingdom of Nepal with Kathmandu as the national capital.

Irrespective of the government’s position, royalist parties to this day celebrate Poush 27 as the National Unity Day. Last year following pressures from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the government of Pushpa Kamal Dahal decided to mark the day as the National Unity Day. Prime Minister Dahal and the leader of CPN (Maoist Center) naturally drew flak from the supporters of the republic and his own party members for the decision.

This year the government has not announced any special day to commemorate “the Great King”. But it has not deterred the royalist forces from doing so. In fact, they have become more louder in their demand for the restoration of monarchy.   

The Rastriya Prajatantra Party is set to host a tea reception to mark the birth anniversary of Shah today. The party has invited political leaders and individuals from all walks of life to the event.

While there may be divergent views among political parties and citizens about King Prithvi Narayan Shah, his outlook on Nepal’s external relations cannot be disregarded. How prescient was he when he said: “Nepal is a yam between two boulders.” This adage is still relevant today when talking about Nepal’s foreign policy, particularly concerning India and China.  

In his journal article published by the Nepal Army in 2022, Manish Jung Pulami says: “The origin of ‘yam’ as a discourse emerged amidst the turmoil in the Indian sub-continent and Nepal under the Himalayan belt. The problematic situation in which Nepal developed as a nation-state in the Indian sub-continent under the Himalayas has also led Nepal to be portrayed as a ‘yam’.”

Pulami goes on: “‘Yam’ as a theory comprises the elements of cautiousness, gradualism, peaceful co-existence, and friendliness in foreign policy. The theory incorporates the strategies for the major power politics in the region and outside the region.” 

“It also provides Nepal with the diplomatic and foreign policy strategy for the survival and sustenance in the geopolitical sphere with competition, antagonism, and cooperation. This theory also provides in light of the Dibya Upadesh about the military, strategic, economic and internal policies of Nepal.”

What’s in Dibya Upadesh?

In his deathbed, King Prithvi Narayan Shah is said to have imparted his counsel on various topics ranging from nation to nationality and governance, which is better known today as Dibya Upadesh (Divine Teachings). 

The provenance of ‘yam between two boulders’ can be traced back to Dibya Upadesh.     

Under the title of, ‘External Relations,’ it states: “Whereas, this state (Nepal) is like a yam (gourd) between two stones. Keep a strong friendship with the Emperor of China; one has to maintain a friendship with the Emperor of the sea (English Emperor) in the south. But he is very clever. He is occupying Hindustan.

He is eyeing the plane area (of Nepal also). When Hindustani (Indian) people will wake-up (not tolerate them) he may find it difficult to stay there. He might have been searching for a safe fort and there is every possibility that he may come here at any day. Therefore, we have to find out our Sandhisarpan (weak points) and we also have to change them into strong forts. We have to create obstacles on the way they try to enter. Mind it they may arrive here anytime.

Do not go there (down) to fight with them. Let them come here (hilly region) and fight with them. If we could do so, they could easily be beheaded at the crossings of the Chure Hills. If we could do so we will be able to collect arms and ammunition which would suffice for our Four to Five Generations. And we will be able to extend our border up to the Ganga River.

If they could not fight with us they will try to come here utilizing Lolo Poto (tricks) or any other types of conspiracies. This is a Thakhat (suitable place/natural fort) of Nepal. If they (Englishers) get this fort they will win over all the Four Emperors of the world. This state itself is a fort created by the God himself. It does not need any human touch on it. Prepare seven strong forts in these places namely Shivapuri-1, Phulchowki-1, Chandragiri-1, Mahadevpokhari -1, Palung-1, Dapcha -1 and Kahule-1.”Still relevant today

In the words of Prof. Surya P. Subedi, Prithvi Narayan Shah’s description of Nepal as “a yam between two boulders” refers to the Celestial Empire of China to the North and the Emperor to Seas to the South, i.e., British Raj on the Indian subcontinent. It sums up Nepal’s position at the time. 

“It is the first major statement on Nepal’s foreign policy which has not only entered the psyche of the people of Nepal but has also guided foreign policy makers,” contends Subedi.

Foreign policy experts agree. With the resurgence of India and China as  global powers, they say King Prithi Narayan Shah’s vision still provides a broader guideline in the conduct of Nepal’s foreign policy.  

“Today, the essence of King Prithvi Narayan Shah’s yam theory can be very reliable for Nepal to deal with the geopolitical vulnerabilities encircling the country,” says Pulami. 

“Similar to the times of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, contemporarily, Nepal has been a ‘yam’ between the two boulders—India and China. The rise of China and India in the neighborhood and the geopolitical and geoeconomic ambitions of both countries makes the ‘yam theory” more relevant than ever.