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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 16, April 10, 2010

G.P. Koirala: A Life Dedicated to Making History

Saturday 10 April 2010, by Anand Kumar



The passing away of Girija Prasad Koirala, popularly known as ‘Girija Babu’, at one of the most critical junctures of democratic nation-building in Nepal and democratisation of South Asia is a great tragedy. His leaving us has left us without any ‘statesman’ in South Asia. But we can feel consoled by the fact that he has not departed without advance alert and enough pre-parations for his followers, friends and admirers.

Girija Babu was a multifaceted leader for my generation of democratic and socialist activists who got introduced to this tall, attractive, and soft speaking leader of Nepali democratic movement during his exile years in Varanasi in the late 1960s. The first and foremost impression about his personality was related to his total commitment towards the vision of a democratic and united Nepal, and peaceful progressive South Asia. It was immediately complemented by his image as the Lakshman of his elder brother, the legendry B.P. Koirala who was the face of the democratic revolution in Nepal from the difficult 1950s to the end of 1990s. We always found BP and GP together in the stressful and long years of exile in India like Ram-Lakshman in the 14 long years of exile from Ayodhya. BP gave ‘the line’ and GP looked after the organisational logistics to make it possible to follow the line. It was also making him look like not only Lakshman of his elder brother but also Hanuman of the Nepalese democratic struggle. But the political reputation of G.P. Koiralaji was different from that of the Troika of the Nepalese Congress—BP, Kishunji and Ganesh Manji. GP was considered as a militant democrat who was willing to take chances beyond petition, prayer, and prison journey.

For us, he was associated with the radical wing of the Nepali Congress from the 1960s to 1980s; he was among those who were not shy of showing their impatience with the slow pace of things in the quest for a democratic Nepal. It was not accidental that he always patronised and often initiated acts of courage beyond ‘the party line of ‘peaceful democratic means’ during the years of resistance to Ranashahi and monarchy including organising guerrilla groups, mass strikes, underground disruptions, and many more such activities involving the risk of life. In fact, he showed the courage to own all of such acts even if they ended up as tragic disasters. He made his followers and admirers critically reflect about the costs and consequences of all such acts of ‘militant intervention’ with the objectivity of a scientist and passion of a revolutionary. It helped a whole generation of Nepalese people to learn about the art and science of democracy building and social transformation in an extremely repressive and resourceless setting. Thus he was a great trainer and teacher also.

But as soon as two of the three seniormost leaders—BP and Ganesh Manji—passed away and the torch of the movement came to be shared by him with the ever charming elder mass leader, K. P. Bhattarai, there was a definite change in the mind and methods of Girija Babu. He became more circumspect, patient, and pragmatic. He was no more ‘the militant face’ of the Nepali Congress. Neither did he allow himself to be perceived as ‘man in hurry’. At the same time, he also got engaged in the ‘real- politik’ within the framework of the Nepali Congress to keep he instrument of poitics useful and effective. A leader has to make his choices clear and control deviations and dissent if he or she wants to take his team forward. How can you please all the people all the time in a battle- field of ideas and principles where hard choices were to be made between democracy and monarchy, mass politics and elite manipulation, moving towards democratic socialism or making space for Maoist strategy? It inevitably led to charges of factionalism, compromise, and failures. But we found him ready and well prepared to face the new situation in the post-B.P. Koirala politics in Nepal. He kept on moving forward towards the path of success with the same old charm of equanimity which is the most necessary precondition for anyone who chooses the path of changing the course of history and leading his society towards great dreams.


In comparative terms, G.P. Koirala turned out to be the most resilient and successful leader in the history of Nepal as he was found to be capable of taking successes and defeats with nearly equal dexterity. He was a successful campaigner and relatively unsuccessful ruler. But he did not allow his challengers to succeed in ‘de-centring’ him in the most difficult moments of his leadership. For example, he was nearly ‘finished’ as the Prime Minister due to his handling of the circumstances created by ‘the royal massacre’. He got overwhelmed by the contradictory pressures and lost grip over both – the power and the party! But soon we found him at the centre-stage due to his consistency of commit-ment to the cause of the ‘people of Nepal’. This consistency of commitment towards the dream of democratic, peaceful and progressive Nepal made him one of the most indispensable mass leaders despite a series of failures in the latter quarter of his public life. His reputation of being ‘a man of courage for the cause’ alone provided him the capacity to move in and out of power in quick succession as if he was ‘a man for all seasons and all reasons’.

Girija Babu has left us with a rare gift of triple unities—unity of purpose within the Nepali Congress, unity of goal within the Nepalese democratic movement, and unity of interest between Nepal and her neighbors, particularly India. To move forward towards democratic nation-building in Nepal and purposeful cooperation among the South Asian nation-states against poverty, pollution and powerful multi-national and trans-national corporations will be the best tribute to the hero of our times—the great G.P. Koirala.

The author is a Professor of Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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