It is a crying shame that B.P. Koirala’s sage, visionary insights into matters political are being ignored if not brusquely cast aside, paradoxically even by his own party and brother Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala. Let me emphasise that this is happening when there is a dire need to listen to the posthumous voice of sanity, sobriety and statesmanship at this most turbulent, uncertain time in our country’s history
Sad to say, BP’s timeless precepts on the essence of statecraft as it pertains to Nepal are being totally ignored although the relevance of his injunctions on national unity and reconciliation, on nationalism, and the monarchy, even as this proud, never-colonised nation is being rapidly transformed into a cockpit for competing foreign forces and a laboratory for diverse political experiments.
Raja, Rashtriyata Ra Rajniti
The sentiments penned above have been stirred by “Raja, Rashtriyata Ra Rajniti” (King, Nationalism and Politics) a just-published book that is essentially the transcription of a series of audio-taped interviews with BP conducted for a set time span every morning during a two-month period prior to his untimely demise in March 1982. The interviews were conducted by well-known advocate and unabashed admirer, Ganesh Raj Sharma.
BP’s observations and utterances have not been edited in order, as has been explained, to retain the flavour of the unstructured series of conversations on which the book is based. It does not, therefore, read very smoothly. But what it lacks in flow or editing, is more than compensated by its sheer authenticity. It is without any doubt BP expressing himself freely and frankly.
Published by Jagadamba Prakashan Raja, Rashtriyata Ra Rajniti has created a stir in political and media circles, although there seems to be a conscious effort on their part to pretend not to have noticed it. Indeed, and perhaps not surprisingly, it is being talked about and lauded by non-Nepali Congress circles, even as others choose to main a Mummy-like silence over it.
Why is that so?
To this commentator, at least, the explanation to that conundrum is very simple: those folks simply don’t appreciate the overarching message that comes across the two and half decades’ time divide between BP’s passing and today’s transitory, fluid and free-for-all political times. Boiled down to their very essentials, BP’s message, virtually from his death-bed, to the people of this land is this: in Nepal, democracy and the monarchy need to go together; also, without the institution of the monarchy the very existence of Nepal as an independent sovereign state would be imperiled.
Incidentally this observer, who has nothing whatsoever to do with the Nepali Congress, has firmly held a similar view over his four decade-long career in political journalism.
To fully appreciate BP’s thoughts and penetrating insights it should perhaps be explained that the period over which the series of taped interviews were conducted followed the national referendum of May 1980 in which the reformed panchayat option emerged victorious over the multi-party one. The outcome, however distasteful to BP, was endorsed by that quintessential democrat.
What is also important to bear in mind is that a few years earlier – or following India’s annexation of Sikkim, 1973-75 – BP returned to Nepal from self-exile in India unfurling the banner of national unity and reconciliation. Essentially, he recommended a policy of national unity and reconciliation between the political parties and the King in the overall interest of safeguarding Nepal’s sovereignty and political independence.
Without further ado, here is now a sampling of some of BP’s views and thoughts on the triple theme of Raja, Rashtriyata Ra Rajniti.
Interestingly, as Sharma highlights in his introduction, BP offers an out-of-the-box interpretation of the strategic impact of King Mahendra’s ‘Poush Ek, 2017 (16 December 1960) Takeover, in which BP himself was the principal victim.
Thus, BP argues: “After that episode, not only did democracy cease to exist. The King, too, was weakened. Foreign forces were thereby provided the opportunity to become active in our politics.” In Sharma’s view, if one does not fully appreciate the reality behind the Poush Ek step of 1960, such incidents would recur from time to time. Consequently, the King, the people, and the entire nation as such would be weakened. And if behind-the-scenes forces are active the country will remain in a state of turmoil.
BP’s observations on assassinations orchestrated by foreign forces make for chilling reading, particularly in a contemporary context. Responding to a query, BP at one point warns: “No matter how many assassinations such foreigners may perpetrate again, again and again, our nation will remain, remain, and remain. That indeed has a basis in this land. Amongst us, whether we are Terai dwellers or Newars or people from the hills, a national sentiment is latent. That is why we are still surviving.”
Among the many references to the King or the institution of the monarchy, the following has been specifically drawn attention to by Jagadamba Prakashan’s Kamal Dixit. “Our struggle is against the King. Let us limit that. Let us finesse that. Let us create a framework. Let us confine that struggle, debate, and differences within such a framework. Let us pay attention to external danger. Initially, I did not experience such dangers from without. However, now I have considerable experience of that. Earlier, the question of nationalism was secondary. Now, however, it has become our first priority.”
Another sagacious observation vis-a-vis the monarchy is this: “No monarchy or democracy can survive unless the King has the requisite conscience and the democratic leadership has the necessary patience. Moreover, in the situation of Nepal, the state of Nepal will not exist without the monarchy.”
Here is another gem of political wisdom that the shakers and movers today’s ‘loktantric’ Nepal might find difficult to swallow: “The King is essential for the survival of this nation. The King is necessary as a central focal point. I am not arguing for a repressive polity, else my demand for democracy would be rendered quite meaningless. National development is needed right now, so is democracy, as is also economic development. In order to tackle such tasks simultaneously all national forces must come together. My call for national unity and reconciliation is essentially just that.”
Another BP nugget that sparkles in today’s atmosphere, thick with foreign intrigue and behind the curtain power play, is represented in the following BP quote: “What I feel is that if there is a good King it makes things easy for an elected government. If there is an elected president and if there is an elected prime minister there would be a question of who is superior in terms of power. Both might argue ‘I also have been elected by the people.’ To some extent that is reflected in Hindustan today.”
A timely piece of political advice from BP is contained in the following observation: “The majority of Nepalis are infused with nationalism, it is a very strong bond. That is why no one can extinguish us. If one understands as much the King is such an element, one such element of our national life…When I say the King is a necessity, I say so because it can be a central focus for resisting foreign intervention.”
Similarly germane to the national discourse today are BP’s thoughts on the role of the King. “The King should apply his conscience, especially the King of Nepal. Today considerable power is in his hands while democratic institutions are still in the making. All state powers have not been utilized by such institutions as yet. They have not been able to do so, they have not all been built. Hence a King must be very careful to utilise his conscience in the exercise of such powers. After such institutions are in place, all state powers must be exercised through them. At such a period, even if the King undertakes some missteps there will not be an upheaval. Right now, however, he must be extremely careful in the exercise of his powers.”
Back to The Present
Coming back to the present, what is there to be said in recalling BP’s voice from a distant past? Today, considering the rhetoric of the political parties, not least the Nepali Congress under Prime Minister Koirala, and the blatant acts of interference in Nepali politics and national life by external powers and their agents on the ground, BP’s voice sounds like a forlorn voice from the wilderness.
Yet, who amongst the present day players on the Nepalese stage can rival BP’s contributions to democratic thought – or his sacrifices or political insights and maturity?
As I have already said, I’m no Nepali Congress fan. Yet, everything considered in today’s context, even this commentator cannot resist urging the divided Nepali Congress, and other non-Left nationalist forces, to urgently band together, recognising where external forces and power centres wish to take this country, and step back from the brink before it is too late.
Failure to take heed of the essential wisdom expounded by BP, when he was close to death, would not merely be the height of foolhardiness. It could very well make the difference whether we are destined to live as free men and women, in an independent and fully sovereign Nepal, or whether we are doomed to suffer the fate of so many unfortunate states, some in our very region, which lost their freedom and distinctiveness on one or another guise.
Finally, a suggestion for expatriates, particularly the more vocal of the residential envoys and, now, the growing number of UN types as well: they can do worse than have their staffs translate what Raja, Rashtriyata Ra Rajniti is all about.
Who knows, at the very least, it will make their subsequent conversations with the political players on the Nepalese stage so much the more engaging and constructive? I would be remiss if I did not put in a word of appreciation for Sharma’s contribution and courage in making it possible for us to hear directly from BP on matters having such a vital bearing on the burning issues of today. He is, I suspect, unlikely to be popular in many political quarters, including Baluwatar!