B.P. Koirala’s Grand Vision: Democracy, Unity, Development

Very serious events last week – which the current government has taken very lightly – brings to mind Bishweswar Prasad Koirala’s landmark statement on his return from voluntary Indian exile on 30 December 1976. This was remarkable in various ways, not least because it made a fervent plea for national reconciliation. After 30 years, it has not lost its pristine quality, nor its relevance.

“B.P.” – as he was lovingly known by all who revered him – started by referring to the acute crisis of identity of the Nepalese nation (and this is also the case today unfortunately): “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… All including the King have from time to time referred to the danger posed to national identity.”

B.P. was also a politician able to share political power, unlike his younger brother Girija (aka “Giprako”), who is utterly unable to do so. B.P., Subarna Shumsher and Ganesh Man Singh comprised the formidable ‘Troika’ in the Nepali Congress. Compared to B.P., who could hold his own with such greats like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Premier Zhou En-lai of China, Giprako is an inconsequential dwarf and provincial wheeler-dealer. He was instrumental in splitting the grand old Nepali Congress, which had single-handedly brought down the Rana regime in the Revolution of 1950-51. Indian PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh made a fool of him by deigning to describe him as “the greatest Asian statesman of the day”! Some foolish, fawning Nepalese commentators even proposed him for the Nobel Peace Prize!

B.P. also underlined the fact 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 centre of international conspiracy.” This major statement is very much pertinent today and qualifies him to be termed a statesman and not merely a politician. He was convinced that national unity could only be achieved through a collective campaign and effort of all the Nepalese people.

Instead of the government combating divisive elements, it is in fact encouraging them. How can it make common cause with the Maoists when their agenda of state restructuring is the creation of ethnic and regional autonomous states? Then again, one of the constituent parties of the coalition, the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) called an unnecessary bandh (general strike) in the south-western part of the country. People who have now become fed-up with such bandhs resisted; there were frayed tempers and riots were the result. The main culprits were the members of the NSP. However, the leaders of the coalition took the easy way out and blamed the “reactionary forces” for instigating the sectarian violence! In this context, B.P’s words hit the very mark: ” 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.”

The true revolutionary and democrat that he was, B.P. stressed the point that the Nepalese people should take on the responsibility of restoring democracy and at the same time safeguarding the nation. At that time, he made a passionate appeal: “In this hour of national crisis, all of us should get united by forgetting and ending the past unhealthy debates, experiences and differences. Our programme should be directed by the feeling that we will no more exist in the absence of our nation.”

This is still a burning issue. Unfortunately, the current government is only intent on promoting its own version of lopsided democracy or loktantra, playing the ‘blame game’ to the full and demolishing intact democratic institutions. The vesting of the PM with absolute powers in the so-called ‘interim constitution’ is undemocratic in the extreme.

It is tragic-comedy or a political circus when Giprako complains that he should not be made a ‘dictator’! He reckons that he will also be the PM in the interim government. Now, if the whole exercise of the people’s movement of April ( Jan Andolan II ) was the achievement of genuine democracy, why now the immense concentration of powers in the PM? Why are civil society and human rights groups silent on this issue? After all: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton).

Whereas Giprako is regressive in every way, his elder brother was truly ahead of his time. He recognized that national unity could only be built on the foundation of genuine democracy alone. More so, the flowering democracy could only be cemented by economic development and a just economic system. He fully understood that nationalism, democracy and economic development were interdependent of each other-the three pillars of a vibrant state.

Does any one of us feel secure in the current environment? Has good governance made an entry after the vaunted introduction of loktantra? Can we say that the economy is faring well? In the tourism sector, for instance, we should be re-expanding by leaps and bounds; but this is not the case. The seven party alliance (SPA) and the Maoists are succeeding jointly in preventing this growth.

We can, therefore, only fervently eulogize: ‘B.P. you should be living at this hour, Nepal hath need of thee’!

The writer can be reached at: [email protected]

Shashi PBB Malla
Shashi P.B.B. Malla writes incisive political opinion about the politics and politicians of Nepal. He sometimes writes with fellow contributor, Chandra Bahadur Parbate.Educated in Darjeeling, India, with a certificate from Cambridge University, he went to College and university in Calcutta: I. Sc./St. Xavier's, B.A. (Hons.)/ Presidency, M.A. (International Relations)/Jadavpur, India. He was Assistant Editor: The Rising Nepal, Kathmandu.He is or was the Country Representative, DAV Summit Club, Munich (Germany's leading adventure tour operators in mountaineering and trekking)He is a Senior Lecturer, Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Tribhuwan University, Kathmandu