Remembering Rishikesh Shaha, a great Nepali diplomat of all time

Published On: November 13, 2020 03:29 PM NPT By: BIRAT ANUPAM/RSS

ITAHARI, Nov 13: Today is the 18th Remembrance Day of Nepal's noted diplomat Rishikesh Shaha. Born on 16 May 1925 at Tansen of Palpa district, Shaha breathed his last at Kathmandu on 13 November 2002.

Despite being the oldest son (prince) of Raja (king) Tarak Bahadur Shaha and Queen Madan Dibyeshwari Shaha of Nepal's princely state of Bhirkot, he was one to support renouncing the state allowances to the then regional royal families in 1961 when the then King Mahendra imposed his direct rule in Nepal. He has explained this in his autobiographical book titled 'Prarabdha ra Purushartha' which was first published in February 2014 by Himal Books.

Writing an obituary to Shaha for Nepali Times on 15 November 2002, Deepak Thapa rightly called Shaha as "Nepal's scholar-statesman". He further added, 'I doubt if there is any other Nepali who can share that designation'.  True to Thapa's texts, Shaha had worn many hats of political, diplomatic, constitutional, academic, governmental as well as civilian fronts. He was one of the founding members of Nepal Democratic Congress that was one of the two parties merged to form a single party called the Nepali Congress, which brought in democracy in Nepal. He was also an architect of Nepal's constitution of 1962, the fourth of Nepal's seven constitutions so far. He had served at various ministerial positions during King Mahendra's direct rule. He is accused of being pro-monarchy. Interestingly, he was also arrested at times even in times of the king’s direct rule.

Despite wearing many different hats in public life, Shaha is widely remembered as one of the great diplomats of Nepal. There are mainly five factors behind this.

First Nepali Permanent Representative to the UN

Nepal's formal proposal for UN membership dates back to 1949 during the Rana Regime. Nepal was successful to be a UN member only on 14 December 1955. Nepal sent its Permanent Representative to the UN in 1956. Nepal's first Permanent Representative to the UN was none other than Rishikesh Shaha.

Shaha served from 1956 to 1960 at the UN. Shaha, in his autobiography, has said he landed at New York City in October of 1956. He played an incredible role in historic UN discourses like denouncing Anglo-French-Israeli armed intervention in Egypt that is commonly known as the 'Suez Crisis'. Likewise, he formally condemned Soviet Union's armed intervention in Hungary that gained a great publicity as India had abstained from the vote on the UN resolution.

Explaining this, Shaha in his first autobiographical book titled Looking back at my own career, has said, ''My explanation of my vote gained publicity for Nepal, and other powers saw that even India could not always take Nepal for granted.''

Chief of International Commission to Investigate Murder Case of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold

Despite being new to the UN system, Shaha had made an impressive diplomatic personality among world leaders. Because of which he was appointed as the Chairman of the International Commission to investigate the plane crash death of the then UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold in 1961. Also a famous Swedish economist and diplomat, Hammarskjold was killed on 18 September 1961 in the then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). He was the second UN Secretary General after Norway's Trygve Haldan Lie.

First Nepali author to be published from Oxford University Press

Even today, not many Nepali authors and scholars are published from the world's top university presses. Rishikesh Shaha was published by Oxford University Press, Ely House, London  in 1965.  His book titled 'Heroes and Builders of Nepal' was a product of the transcreation of a Nepali book titled 'Nepali Birharu' authored by Nepal's literary personality Surya Bikram Gyawali.  His catalogue of heroes and builders of Nepal includes Nepalese from ancient to modern Nepal making great national and international marks from varied fields. The names include Gautam Buddha,  King Janak, Manadeva, Amshuverma, Narendradeva, Araniko, Pratap Malla, four  noble ladies like Tripura Padumalladevi, Devaladevi, Nayakadevi and Rajalladevi; Dravya Shah, Prithvi Narayan Shah, Rajendralakshmi, Balabhadra, Jayaprakash Malla, Amarsingh Thapa, Bhanubhakta Acharya. The second edition was also published by Oxford University Press, Faraday House, Calcutta in 1970.

Besides his Oxford University connection as an author, Shaha was also a visiting professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University of India and Regent's Professor at the University of California at Berkeley of the USA.

A trusted Nepali diplomat behind global neutralism

On 22 November 1962, Shaha landed at Beijing. He was received well and was served a state banquet at China's famous Great Hall of the People. Interestingly, he had no formal position at that time. He was just removed from his former formal role as Nepal's Foreign Minister for three months starting from 1 July 1962.  During his individual China visit, he had exclusive talks with China's Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. It was just the immediate aftermath of the 1962 Sino-Indian war. He has recalled his talks with Zhou Enlai about causes and consequences of the war in his first autobiographical book. Shaha was a very close pal of China's Vice Premier Marshal Ch'en-yi who had invited him to China on an individual capacity through the then China's Ambassador to Nepal, Dzang Shi Jie.  Shaha was also a close friend of the then Indian Home Minister Krishnan Krishna Menon who was forced to resign on 31 October 1962 at the height of the Sino-India war from 20 October to 21 November 1962.

Not only in India and China, Shaha had good rapport with world leaders as an influential international diplomatic figure for the Non-Aligned Movement during the cold war era. This is documented in Time magazine on 24 October 1960. Time had written, ''The year 1960 may come to be known as the year neutralism became respectable. The Big Five of neutralism- Tito of Yugoslavia, Nehru of India, Nkrumah of Ghana, Nasser of Egypt, Sukarno of Indonesia- are magnetic, colorful and messianic personalities, but too much so. The most effective work has been often been done by second-echelon diplomats: men like Burma's U Thant, Nepal's Rishikesh Shaha and Tunisia's Mongi Slim.''

One of the very few scholarly Nepali diplomats

Shaha represented Nepal in the international arena both in diplomatic and academic ways. Diplomatically, his role at the UN and other global forums proved powerful. He was even rumored to be UN Secretary General. However, in his second autobiographical book 'Purbardha ra Purusartha',  Shaha has made it clear that it was just a rumor created to divert attention by an Indian lobby who were against Burma's (now Myanmar) U Thant who became the third UN Secretary General.

Besides being Oxford University-published author and visiting professors in India and the USA, Shaha wrote many notable books to make Nepal's academic standing on the international stage. He has written noted books like 'Nepal and the World', 'Heroes and Builders of Nepal', 'Nepali Politics- Retrospect and Prospect', 'An Introduction to Nepal', 'Modern Nepal Volume One and Two', 'Ancient and Medieval Nepal', 'Politics in Nepal', among others. These books created an international window to peep into Nepal for westerners.

In addition, Shaha was the person to write a 49-page-long introduction to a very famous book titled 'Jang Bahadur in Europe' authored by John Whelpton.

Even on civilian activism and human rights, Shaha was the pioneering figure in Nepal. It was he who established Human Rights Organization of Nepal and Civil Society in Nepal. He was detained in 1969 for promoting human rights in Nepal.


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