Saturday, September 18, 2010

Koirala's Legacy

With Nepali Congress, Nepal's Grand Old Party, engaged in the search of the leader who would fill the late GPK's shoes, below I've published an obit of the late leader, written just after his death:

With the death in March 20 of Girija Prasad Koirala, the five-time Prime Minister of Nepal who helped bring the underground Maoist rebels to mainstream politics and oversaw the end of Nepal’s 240-year-old monarchy, the Himalayan nation’s fragile peace process has suffered a severe blow. Koirala was at the helm until his death at 85.

As an architect of the peace process, the octogenarian leader had died in the thick of the things, leaving behind several unfinished tasks, the key among them the drafting of constitution through 601–member Constituent Assembly (CA) elected in April 10, 2008.

Though Koirala’s absence will be felt throughout the nation, it is nowhere more acute than within his party. When the three senior most leaders of Nepali Congress (NC), former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Acting Chairman Sushil Koirala and NC’s parliamentary leader, Ram Chandra Paudel, were seen waving to the crowd from the cortege in the funeral procession, it reminded many of the NC troika: Ganesh Man Singh, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Girija Prasad Koirala. The three leaders had led the grand old party till mid 1990s. But even before the late leader’s ashes are buried throughout the country, fissures among the top three have begun to surface. 

Many believe this is Koirala’s own making, for he never nurtured the second generation leaders. Instead, in recent years, he was keen to promote his daughter, Sujata Koirala, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in current cabinet, as his successor. Criticized for promoting nepotism and forming a coterie around him, Koirala was Nepali Congress president for nearly 15 years.

A man of action and conviction, Koirala is largely credited for bringing the war-ravaged country back from the brink. Born in Bihar, India in 1925 in a politically active family of Krishna Prasad Koirala who was in exile for defying the autocratic, hereditary Rana regime, he started his political career with a worker's strike in eastern town of Biratnagar in March 1947.

He honed his political skills fighting autocratic regimes. First it was Rana regime that collapsed in 1951 after the joint struggle by King Tribhuvan and NC which was led by his elder brother BP Koirala. Till then, Nepal was a medieval kingdom, closed to the outside world. Parliamentary democracy was established and BP Koirala became Nepal’s first elected Prime Minister in 1958. However, Tribhuvan’s son Mahendra usurped the executive power and imposed partyless Panchyat system that ruled Nepal for three decades. Koirala remained in his elder brother’s shadow till the latter’s death in 1983.

Eventhough Koirala’s political career paralleled that of Nepal’s tryst with modernity, it was only after 1990 that he was at the forefront of the country’s politics.  A stubborn person by nature, he was schooled in his brother’s socialist ideology, but he drifted away from it and became conservative. However, as a politician at the helm in democratic Nepal, he was instrumental in ushering the country into an era of liberalization in post 1990s.

A tireless organizer, he was a man of few words but had a strong determination. He lacked his brother’s erudition; nevertheless he was a pragmatic person. After the restoration of democracy in 1990, he was entrusted with leading Nepal to prosperity. But he could not institutionalize the democracy. In the decade that followed, he faced several corruption charges. His opponents have accused him of political deception.

Koirala was prime minister when the palace massacre occurred on June 1, 2001. According to the findings of the two-member investigation committee, Crown Prince Dipendra, upset by his mother’s refusal to let him marry his girlfriend, killed King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, his brother, a sister, an aunt, two uncles and two cousins; he later shot himself dead. Koirala was kept in dark for many hours about the massacre. With Gyanendra’s ascent to the throne, he grew disillusioned with the palace.

Over a year into his reign, Gyanedra, a former businessman who was never meant to be a king, started a gradual weakening of democracy. In October 2002, he sacked Prime Minister Deuba, who had succeeded Koirala, on the grounds of incompetence and failure to conduct mid-term polls.

Koirala had resigned from Prime Minister following his difference in July 2001 with Nepal Army, long a bastion of monarchy. Once out of power, Koirala started the secret negotiations with the Maoists whose ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai had proposed a joint struggle against the king.

Former king Gyanendra Shah’s bloodless coup in early 2005 brought the best in Koirala. He unwaveringly stuck to his demand of reinstatement of the parliament, which was dissolved by the former king. In the meantime, the negotiations spearheaded by Koirala with the Maoists culminated in the 12-point agreement in New Delhi in November 2005 at the behest of India. This paved the way for the peaceful pro-democracy protests in spring of 2006. He even midwifed the Maoist rebels’ transition from a guerilla force to the government office bearers in Singhadarbar, the seat of power in capital Kathmandu.

Koirala died at a time when the peace process was at a crossroads. The Maoists are now in opposition and a disparate coalition of 22 parties is in the government. Issues like integration of former combatants and the restructuring of the state remain unresolved while the May 28 deadline to draft the constitution inches closer.  

After Koirala’s death, every politician across the political spectrum, vowed to work for the realization of his dream of peaceful, democratic, federal and republican Nepal. Indeed, the successful completion of peace process that he led would be a fitting tribute to him. But not many believe that politicians in Nepal will rise above their petty partisan interests. The prominence of the hardliners in the Maoist party who have renewed their threat to stage revolt and the rise of extreme right force that wants to undo the changes, have made things more precarious.

With his death, Nepal has lost a leader who was deft in forming consensus and reaching out to leaders across the party lines. Nepal’s much of the future course hinges on the political leaders’ ability to handle his legacy.

Related links:
My blog about his political career at UWB.



Anonymous said...

GOP of Nepal. Nice analogy. In my opinion, the Congress is a wasted party- lets hope it gets better and stronger. I wish the same for two other big parties of the country too.

Having said that, I think it is important to laud the small parties and their leaders too. We forget that a few strong big parties can totally hijack the national politics and paralyze democracy, while a string of small, influential and good parties can do a lot good, as seen in some of the EU nations. Parties like CPN(Samyukta), Chitrabahadur KC'a Rajamo Nepal, Bijhukche's NWPP etc are also doing good in whatever they're doing. We need those parties to be better and stronger too, instead of just relying on the old farts.

Deepak Adhikari said...

Very well said Bibek. While talking about GOP, i didn't mean that the smaller parties have insignificant roles. in fact much of the current impasse stems from the stubbornness of the bog three.

My point was to remind the NC stalwarts about their late leaders vision of reconciliation and politics of consensus which a section of NC (particularly the establishment) seems to forget.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree with your comments- I only wanted to add a few of my own observations.

I have had the opportunity to observe some of the leaders from smaller Nepalese parties. One of a very worthy mention is the former Science and Technology minister Ganesh Shah. His is a party of just a few lawmakers, and they are so strongly committed to their values of freedom and equality that one of their MPs is from the LGBT society, not based on political ideology. Minister Shah was very honest, committed, energetic and always ready to listen, unlike other ministers I've come across. I think NWPP has done a good job in Bhaktapur. Mr. Chitrabahadur KC of the Rajamo still walks on foot, on sandles and takes his meal in his quarter the way he used to do 20 years back.

Compare that with the people from the bigger parties. I have seen good people in there too, but they cant just make it in the race to decay.

Lets hope things start getting better. And lets wish the big and responsible ones start leading by examples.

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