Today marks the 300th birth anniversary of the late King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the country’s “founding father.” The nation celebrates the day as Prithvi Jayanti, which is also called National Unity Day. Restarting this year, the government has given a public holiday on the occasion, which was halted following Nepal’s transformation into a republic in 2008.
But, Unity Day is dividing the nation again as many believe King Prithvi Narayan Shah was not the unifier but a conqueror who imposed an authoritarian monarchy over dozens of independent principalities.
It means regardless of the public holiday announcement as National Unity Day, Prithvi Jayanti has always been a matter of debate in Nepali politics, with people virtually divided over the contribution of the king born three centuries ago.
King Prithvi Narayan Shah: Unifier or murderer?
While there are people who celebrate Prithvi Jayanti by worshipping Prithvi Narayan Shah’s statue, there are also political organisations like the Mongol National Organisation that mark the day by calling for a boycott of the history created under his leadership.
As reported, the pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) pressed the new prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to announce a public holiday on the occasion as the party says the nation should respect Prithvi Narayan Shah’s contribution.
“Undoubtedly, he has established the identity of our country,” says Sharad Raj Pathak, an RPP general secretary, “But lately some deviated leftists are seen against Prithvi Narayan Shah and Prithvi Jayanti. They want to create instability and jeopardise existing harmony in the country.”
Nonetheless, Ang Kaji Sherpa, an indigenous community activist, says King Prithvi Narayan Shah was a murderer. “In the name of unification, Shah killed thousands of innocent lives.”
But, Pathak says the voice of people like Sherpa should be ignored as their hatred does not carry any weight. “There are many people who, with their little knowledge, are following the leftists who deviate from their principles. But, it is our responsibility to make those people aware of the fact.”
Activist Sherpa contradicts Pathak as he says that King Prithvi Narayan Shah does not deserve to get such respect because he just unified the land but not the languages, cultures and religions that people had. He says, “Just because he unified land, he can not be considered the symbol of national unity.”
Sherpa believes his unification gave priority to a single language, culture and religion and posed indifference to minority groups. Hence, such a kind of unification is against the spirit of a country like Nepal having people from diverse religions and cultures.
Holiday or no holiday?
People say Nepali politicians and their leaders tend to politicise every sector to meet their vested interests, and Sherpa says this is true in the recent decision to observe a public holiday on the occasion of Prithvi Jayanti also.
The holiday has been announced for the sake of securing the vote of confidence from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, according to him.
The RPP had proposed the Prithvi Jayanti holiday as a precondition for its support to the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government. Therefore, the government decided on the holiday on the eve of Dahal’s vote of confidence held on Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking in the House meeting before extending his support to Dahal during the vote of confidence yesterday, RPP chairman Rajendra Lingden talked about Prithvi Jayanti although it was not necessary. He even managed to invite other parties to a tea party that his party is hosting on the occasion.
But, Pathak says there is no vested interest as it was meant to honour the glory of King Prithvi Narayan Shah and the history he created. He demands the holiday continue in the next years also.
But, Sherpa doubts if the decision would continue once the RPP gets weaker. “If the RPP hadn’t won considerable seats in the House now, there would not have been any holiday today,” he says.