Prime Minister Oli is in the situation Amshuverma was 1300 years ago, who had to deal with two strong neighbors in a very delicate manner
There is an astonishing parallel between the situation now and 1300 years ago. Nepal is today positioned in the same delicate tight-rope as it was then. Yes, geography remains the same—with Nepal perched between India and Tibet (now China)—although Nepal was much smaller in size then.
Strong personalities had risen to power in the neighborhood. India was ruled by Harshaverdhan and Tibet by Srong-Chang-Gampo. They were strong rulers like President Xi Jing Ping of China and Narendra Modi of India today. President Xi has been endorsed as the Chinese ruler not only for the second term of office till 2023 but also constitution has granted him open road to life-long presidency. Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only secured an absolute majority in Indian parliament in 2014 but also turned the electoral tides in various states to his favor. His party is likely to win the next term as well. Both China and India are geared toward fast economic development and eliminating corruption.
Caught between these two strong personalities is Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. But he is in the situation Amshuverma was 1300 years ago. He has to deal with similar agenda and deal with two neighbors in a delicate and sensitive way. During Amshuverma’s time, maintaining ties with two neighbors was as difficult.
Srong-Chang-Gampo emerged as a powerful king with an outgoing penchant, if not aggressive designs. He overcame the Himalayan barrier and opened the hitherto unknown and difficult snow-covered passes towards Nepal. King Harshavardhan of India too was a dominant monarch with an expansive posture. Both appeared aggressive towards Nepal. Tibetans were in an exploratory temper in their initial opening towards the south and Indians were promoting their existing contact, trade and political influence in Nepal. King Amshuverma had to countenance these inexorable bearing from the neighbors as PM Oli has to do today. Both Chinese and Indians are going to offer competitive gestures of attractive economic packages with political strings attached.
Oli resembles Amshuverma in terms of internal politics as well. Like Amshuverma, Oli is the most powerful head of the government. Oli has to share power with Pushpa Kamal Dahal as an equal partner under a common communist front they organized before the general elections of 2017. Amshuverma had to do the same: He had to share power with King Shivadev (First). He however took over the state power by declaring himself as the king to deal decisively with the mounting pressure and danger from the neighbors. For this, he did away with the system of dual rule and dethroned King Shivdev not out of malice or power struggle but out of necessity to act decisively and single-mindedly.
Oli might face the same foreboding eventuality at some point in the future. It may be necessary for him to depose his equally powerful partner in power (Dahal).
Amshuverma had tough times. He had to do something to make Nepal the confluence between India and China. And he was able to leave proud legacy for the future generation. He opened the northern route for trade, which not only lasted long but also established Nepal as the meeting point between Indians and Tibetans and Chinese.
Prime Minister Oli has earned accolade for signing the transit accord with China in 2016 and paving the way for building railways in Nepal with Chinese assistance. The opening of Tibet in the seventh century was as critical as the connectivity with China by rail and roadways today.
Only difference is contribution of Amshuverma is a thing of the past and potentiality of new opening in the north is a thing of the future. Oli faces acid test on diplomacy, determination and dexterity. Will he be able to follow on Amshuverma’s footstep? We should wait and watch.
Coincidentally, Nepal’s independence and sovereignty was as much under threat then as it is today. One Indian historian has claimed that Nepal was under control of King Harshavardan of India whereas French historian Sylvan Levy argues the opposite and speculates that Nepal was under Tibetan control.
Of course, Nepal is a fully independent country today but our southern neighbor is often seen to micro-manage our internal politics. In this situation, there is a lurking doubt on how and whether Nepal will be able to fully assert itself against external maneuvering. King Amshuverma used to say he “is not a king willing to bow down before other kings with hands folded.” Oli will have to display similar disposition. Big question is: Will he be able to?