As the nation remembered the late B.P. Koirala to mark one of his
momentous decisions thirty four years ago, many miss a vital message
that the country’s first elected prime minister and founding leader of
the oldest surviving democratic party sought to give: home-made
national unity and reconciliation based on mutual trust and
understanding is what ails a nation in crisis not a foreign-designed
consensus founded on mistrust and suspicion
By SUSHIL SHARMA
December 30, 1976
Tribhuvan Airport, Kathmandu
As the plane flying from Patna touched down at a far corner of the Kathmandu tarmac, away from the domestic and international terminals,
the waiting Ganesh Raj Sharma’s eyes suddenly became wet. Tears trickled down his cheeks on seeing a familiar lanky face alighting.
The late bp Koirala with Ganesh
As the security forces whisked the man away in a van to what then
seemed an unknown destination a senior Nepali Congress lady leader
made a sarcastic remark, “Ganesh Raj ji must have become happy now.”
He was indeed happy. Not because the man was sent back to Sundarijal jail eight years after he was freed from the same place to face, to
quote himself, “an uncertain future”. But because Sharma believed
that it was the most defining moment of the 50-year political career of the man.
Facing a number of sedition charges, the man could have been hanged
or sentenced to life. But he decided to take “a calculated risk” to
return from the eight years of foreign exile, because “ the existence
of the nation was at greater peril than his individual life,” and as a
nationalist he was “duty-bound” to place the nation ahead of him.
Prime minister Indira Gandhi did not want him to end the exile in India. The ruling Congress chief Deokanta Baruah tried to persuade him
from returning to Nepal. Intelligence operatives hovered around his Benaras shelter to provoke him into changing the mind.
But the man would not budge. He had made up his mind. He was determined to return home and, perhaps, make up for the blunder of the
life he made eight years earlier in going to India after being freed
from Sundarijal jail.
He returned home with the call for national unity and reconciliation (see: BOX). Between traditional forces and the modern forces. Between nationalists and democrats.
To lawyer, close relative and confidante Sharma , it was “a momentous
decision” of B.P.Koirala.
When B.P. made that momentous decision, the Cold War was at its peak, taking its heavy toll on a number of vulnerable countries including in
Nepal’s Asian neighbourhood.
The disintegration of pro-US Pakistan, the collapse of the pro-western Iranian kingship, the annexation of Sikkim ruled by a king with an
American wife , the Soviet-engineered overthrow of monarchy in Afghanistan.
Many including the ruling absolute monarch feared Nepal was in danger too. It was the question of a nation, not of an individual leader or institution.
Three decades later, much has changed. The Cold War does no longer exist. The bi-polar world has become a thing of the past. It is beginning to take a multi-polar shape after a brief uni-polar innings.
Nepal today is not Nepal of yesterday either. Much water has flowed
down Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali. There has been a regime change. The
monarchy is no more. A republican set-up is in place. A federal
structure is due to replace the long-running unitary state. A
constituent assembly is in place with the newly empowered people
exercising their ‘sovereign’ rights.
The change has not ushered in the desired results. Rather, the
situation has gone from bad to the worse. Ironically, the agents of
the change have been competing with each other to paint a dark picture
and uncertain future of Nepal. The crisis B.P. saw thirty fours ago
has assumed even more serious proportion. Nepal is in an
unprecedented tatters today.
That the global attention has shifted to South Asia has not helped the matter. With two rising economic giants, China and India, on its
borders Nepal should have found itself in an unenviable position to cash in on their growth.
What it finds today, instead, is in a Catch-22 situation. The
powerful neighbours had never been as suspicious of each other as they
are today. India sees China as a number 1 threat to its national
security. Though not as outspoken as defence minister George
Fernandes after the “China-targeted” Pokharan nuclear test twelve
years ago, India has not hidden its Dragon fear.
Eyeing to replace the declining US as the number one world power China is, in the opinion of many, adventurous in its neighbourhood. If not,
it is overly cautious. “We live in times of peace but we cannot
forget war” said its defence minister in a recent interview.
According to him, a full scale war is unlikely but “the accidental
outbreak” of regional military conflicts cannot be discounted.”
Not surprisingly, the military build-up on the borders of both India and China have been intense. Nepal happens to border both! It faces a
challenge of its soil being converted into their playground and avoid
becoming another Afghanistan or Lebanon. A tall order given the state the national institutions are in.
As global attention expectedly shifts to the strategically located
South Asia of which Nepal is a part, the challenge becomes even more awesome.
With traditional institutions destroyed and whatever institutions are there in a very weak state Nepal the situation is anything but comfortable.
The only way is look up to the time-tested formula BP propounded years ago at a grave personal risk.
The politics of reconciliation at home despite mutual disagreements is the answer, not the consensus imposed from the outside. Such a consensus has almost done Nepal in.
Will the present-day national actors – politicians and the
intelligentsia – rise to the occasion? And make, at least, a semblance of the momentous decision BP dared.
BP And Reconciliation: Right Leader Wrong Policy
By Bharat Mohan Adhikari
At a time when Nepali Congress is celebrating the National Reconciliation Day, hailing the role played by late B.P. Koirala, CPN-UML leader Bharat Mohan Adhikari, an admirer of late Koirala as a great leader, however, sees his national reconciliation policy was a surrender before the King. Adhikari spoke to New Spotlight on the issue. Excerpts:
How do you view the role played by Nepali Congress leader late B.P. Koirala after his return from eight years’ exile in India?
There is no doubt that Congress leader B.P. Koirala was a great leader of this country. So far as Koirala’s national reconciliation policy is concerned, I have many observations. First of all, the policy was surrender to monarchy. B.P. Koirala came from India after facing humiliation there and he proposed national reconciliation to get concessions from the king.
Do you mean it was B.P. Koirala’s compulsion to propose national reconciliation to return to the country?
B.P returned after facing humiliation in India due to the State of Emergency. Yes, it was B.P. Koirala’s compulsion to come back to Nepal. For his sudden and prolonged arrest, B.P. urged compromise with the king and discarded progressive forces of the country. All of us saw that Koirala, who launched armed insurrection against king, came to Nepal seeking peaceful solution with monarchy and regressive forces.
Nepali Congress leaders have been saying that B.P wanted reconciliation among various political forces to restore democracy in Nepal. How do you look at this?
I don’t agree with this. Had Nepali Congress leader B.P. Koirala been alive, Nepal would not have got the democracy in 1990. Because B.P. declined to form a joint front with the Communist Party, we had lost a great chance to restore democracy in 1979. Our leader late Man Mohan Adhikari proposed for a joint movement, but B.P. rejected it.
Do you say B.P.’s national reconciliation policy was against democracy?
I don’t want to comment on it. After the death of B.P. Koirala, Nepali Congress joined hands with communists and formed a joint front against Panchayat. Because of this stand taken by Ganeshman Singh, we were able to overthrow the Panchayat system. Similarly, the alliance of seven parties and Maoists brought a historical change turning Nepal into a federal democratic republic. B.P.’s national reconciliation opposed such kinds of alliance.
How do you evaluate B.P.’s national reconciliation as a policy?
B.P. Koirala’s national reconciliation is anti-progressive. Although B.P. claimed that the aim of his national reconciliation was to defend the democracy and nationalism, both the components were much weaker during the period. In terms of politics, I appreciate G.P. Koirala’s role as he championed the cause of democracy and nationalism.
If B.P.’s main ideology of national reconciliation is irrelevant, why do you think has Nepali Congress been celebrating the day?
I told you that B.P. Koirala is a great political leader of Nepal and suffered a lot in the cause of democracy. If Nepali Congress celebrates it to take democracy to grassroots, there is nothing wrong with it. I think the national reconciliation was reinterpreted by G.P. Koirala, who joined hands with progressive forces to abolish monarchy.
Nationalism and Democracy
The statement B.P. Koirala gave on return from foreign exile on December 30,1976:
After a pretty long period of exile, we are returning to our country. On this occasion, I would like to say a few words to the countrymen.
Today, our country is in a national crisis. All have realized that this crisis is getting heightened since the last few years. As a result, the very national identity has been endangered. Others have also admitted this. All including the King have from time to time referred to the danger posed to national identity. We are returning to home after realizing this grave reality. We think that the lack of national unity is a major factor for such a national crisis as a result of which foreign elements have started to become successful in playing their dirty games and making Nepal a center of international conspiracy. National unity can be achieved only through a collective campaign and efforts of all Nepali people. Such a collective campaign does also lay the grounds for the institutional base for the emotional unity of the Nepali people. If the sloganeering alone could do this, the national unity would not have suffered so much nor our country would have landed in such a miserable condition in the last sixteen years. Today, there is selfishness, communalism, individualistic practices and the tendency to have external-tilt is rampant in the country. In such circumstances nationalism becomes the first casualty.
Till yesterday, our struggle was confined to the attainment of the people’s democratic rights. That’s why, we emphasized more on the democratic side. Today, there is a new dimension added to it. A dual responsibility has befallen the Nepali Congress. This second responsibility is, safeguarding the national identity. We have visualized two fold faces of today’s Nepal: Nationalism and Democracy.
It means the Nepali people should take the responsibility of restoring democracy as well as safeguarding the nation. If we talk of only one responsibility we will be following the wrong track by being one-sided. And, if we emphasized only on the restoration of democracy, we will not be contributing to addressing this national crisis. Moreover, we may even fall into the trap of the foreigners by such one-sided action. Similarly, if we talk of the nationalism only, we will be repeating the same 16-years-old hollow slogans of nationalism, and will be siding with the authoritarianism. Such a hollow slogan of nationalism cannot generate an internal willpower in the countrymen to safeguard the nation. Therefore, we need now to understand that the national unity can be built on the foundation of democracy only. And the foundation of the democracy can be cemented by the economic development and the just economic system. Therefore we feel that nationalism, democracy and economic development are interdependent on each other.
It is well known that the Nepali Congress has taken historical and serious decisions from time to time in the national interest. The decision to wage the 1951 revolution and its executions are some examples. After finding that there was conspiracy to put off the elections forever, it took the leadership of national campaign for the holding of the elections. We received the cooperation from various parties in that campaign. Nepali Congress launched the resistance movement for democracy after the cruel and the fatal blow dealt to democracy in 1960. And today, we have taken this historical decision seeing the crisis the nation is facing. This is in accordance with the tradition of the Nepali Congress.
In the history of every nation there comes such moment when its people have to risk their lives to safeguard the national identity. We think, such a moment has come in Nepal today. Our well-wishers had advised us not to return Nepal seeing the dangers involved in it. We would like to tell them that we have taken this historical decision because the likely danger to our lives is nothing as compared to the danger to the nation. The workers of Nepali Congress have also shown the example of unprecedented courage and love towards nation by returning to the motherland following the party directives.
In this hour of national crisis, all of us should get united by forgetting and ending the past unhealthy debates, experiences and differences. Our program should be directed by the feeling that we will no more exist in the absence of our nation. I do not know what fate awaits me after I return to the country. Through this statement, as the Chairman of Nepali Congress, I would like to appeal to the entire countrymen that let us all unanimously unite in the pious task of defending the nation, its progress, happiness and prosperity of the people. If I get an opportunity, I will put forth my feelings before His Majesty also. The responsibility to save the nation is the common responsibility of all.
Bishweswor Prasad Koirala
(This excerpt has been reproduced in order to re-emphasize the importance of national reconciliation)