Kawaguchi's letter to Chandra ShumsherThis letter is curiously very different from anything written by any Western scholars during that time.
A professor of Buddhist studies, commenting on my virtual presentation about my plays with Buddhist themes, over a month ago referred to my book written about the remarkable Obaku Zen priest Ekai Kawaguchi (1866-1945). I did research on the life and work of this remarkable monk in Japan towards the final years of the last century. My host was the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. I am not writing this article to recall the experience of that research but to link some findings to conduct some new historicist interpretation of one particular event described in the aforementioned book, titled Ekai Kawaguchi: The Trespassing Insider (1999).
The presentation was a regular seminar organised by the Central Department of Buddhist Studies. The professor who commented on my oeuvre that day had followed some of my research trials in Japan, especially in Tokyo, and had seen and noted the spaces and archives that I have described in the book.
I want to focus on one particular section of that book in which I have discussed a historical letter that this monk wrote to then Nepali prime minister Chandra Shumsher Rana. The theme of the letter is how to govern, develop policies to run your country without letting the neighbours, obviously the British Raj in India, raise their eyebrows. What is remarkable is the audacity of the monk to advise a powerful autocratic ruler about running the state, organising an army to defend the land if such moments arise and pursuing economic policies. What struck me most when I first read the letter, acquired from Kanak Dixit, is its multidimensional perspectives about security, development and a rule of law.
This letter is curiously very different from anything written by any Western scholars during that time. Kawaguchi's letter may look little impractical or odd in a new historicist perspective, but by the same token, it is also very eloquent. Though he was a monk, Kawaguchi seeks to explore the avenues of change in this region from what was then evoked as a concept of pan-Asianism. Kawaguchi very cleverly read the mood of Chandra Shumsher at that moment. According to Rishikesh Shah, Rana ‘had sought to impress his countrymen as the person who had played the grandiose role of a peacemaker between British India and Tibet, but Lord Curzon would never have let him perform that function. Chandra was merely used as an agent for carrying out wishes in disregard of his own country's own interests and also despite Nepal's solemn treaty obligations towards Tibet’.
The Nepali prime minister was feeling humiliated, when Kawaguchi turned up at his door in a somewhat dishevelled condition. That played well with Rana, who considered him as some kind of messianic messenger of the Japanese Emperor. Kawaguchi played with that mood and in his later visit came up with this letter. Kamal Mani Dixit, who published the Nepali translation of the letter in Nepali literary magazine (February-March 1992) says that Rana appears to have given great importance to this letter as he had kept it within his easy reach.
Kawaguchi very cleverly plays with the psyche of Asian power by evoking Japan's victory over the Russians in May 1905, during the Invasion of Manchuria. He directly says in the letter written in October only five months after the victory, ‘The Manchurian war shows clearly what I mean’. He does not fail to evoke the concept of pan-Asianism in this letter.
The new historicist interpretation has three aspects here. First, Chandra Shumsher easily trusted the foreign especially the British scholars or journalists and not the Asians. A British journalist named Perceval Landon, who first visited Nepal three years after Kawaguchi wrote this letter, was commissioned later by Chandra Shumsher to write a history of Nepal. Landon wrote favourably about Rana’s administration. The funny part is that many people still quote Landon, more than John Whelpton or Father Stiller, as the authentic historian of Nepal. Kawaguchi's letter exposes another side too, which is Rana’s dilemma of trust. Nowhere do we find any example of him fully trusting Kawaguchi's advice or those of the pan-Asianists (except in a brief note by Kamal Dixit about the possibility of him following some of Kawaguchi's advice).
The third and final new historicist interpretation of Kawaguchi's letter is that this letter still evokes the boogie of the neighbours as I wrote in the Post earlier under the title ‘Kawaguchi’s message’ (July 27, 2014). Today's rulers' perception of the neighbours is mostly guided by a sense of the same psyche. There is a deficit of trust partly caused by the neighbours' actions from time to time and partly, and very significantly, by the rulers' mistrust of the neighbours in matters of taking sides with their opponents within the country or within their own parties. The boogie syndrome is partly caused by the geo-political position of Nepal, and partly by the inner power rivalries that would prompt each rival group to develop conspiracy theories about the neighbour's influence.
Kawaguchi's advice to Chandra to change the law of succession among the brothers to the law of primogeniture should be considered clever and significant. Successions within the same party that takes an uncanny turn as is being seen with the Nepal Communist Party and the Nepali Congress today, appears to govern the politics of the parliamentary system in Nepal. People in a somewhat bizarre and anachronistic way appear to seek to bring back a history of autocratic rulers who ruled by birth status for centuries. Kawaguchi had recognised the power of that psyche to avoid the uncanny rivalries that it prompts creating problems for a smooth transition of power. Well, even big democratic countries like America are discussing this subject of transition today, let alone Kawaguchi whose suggestion given to a dictator of this land over a century ego can be treated only as a primordial component of the psyche of power succession and inheritance.
But during my entire research nowhere either in his writings or his mission did I find Kawaguchi's inclination to power and politics. This letter is just a unique, one-time experiment.
What do you think?
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