In a country like Nepal, which was marked by several volatile political disruptions over decades, Girija Prasad Koirala played the role of a statesman, peacemaker and state-builder.
Koirala’s political career of over six decades included everything — organising Nepal’s first workers’ movement protests, spending nearly a decade in jail, becoming the country’s first elected prime minister, and striking a peace accord to end a civil war.
Writing his obituary in 2010, veteran Nepali journalist Kanak Mani Dixit wrote, “At 86, Koirala was the very last national-level politician of South Asia whose activism spanned the period from the Quit India Movement of the 1940s till present.”
On his ninth death anniversary, ThePrint takes a look the role Koirala played in the evolution of Nepal.
Birth in India
Koirala was born in Saharsa, Bihar, British India on 4 July 1924. He belonged to a Hindu Brahmin family of politicians. During the time of his birth, his father, Krishna Prasad Koirala was a Nepali living in exile in Bihar.
Koirala was popularly known as “Girija babu” or just “GP”. He hailed from the famous Nepali political family — the Koiralas.
The Koiralas were responsible for establishing the “Nepali Congress” — the oldest political party of the country. Created in 1946, the party would go on to fight for a “democratic-multiparty” Nepal for nearly the next six decades — GP was a prominent part of Nepali Congress’s fight for a democratic Nepal.
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His elder brother Bisweshwor Prasad Koirala (BP) schooled GP in politics. BP was a socialist of the Nehruvian era and it was from here that GP developed his democratic ideals of “separation of power, an independent judiciary, and civilian control over the military”.
While, Koirala’s political career was marked with several important landmarks and contributions, three of them deserve mention.
First, he came into the limelight when he helped organise the country’s first political workers’ movement at Biratnagar in 1947. Known as the “Biratnagar jute mill strike”, it started as a strike against mill owners, but soon morphed into a nationwide movement against the illegitimate monarchic rule of the Rana dynasty.
As a consequence of the movement, the King was forced to make an announcement allowing “non-dynasty commoners” to be brought into the government, though after a brief pause in the 1950s, the monarchy continued to rule. However, continuing his fight for democratic rights, GP spent eight years in jail during 1960s.
Second, GP was at the forefront of the First People’s Movement of 1990. It was a multiparty movement that ended Nepal’s absolute monarchy and started a gradual march towards a constitutional democracy.
GP became the first democratically elected prime minister of Nepal in 1991. During his term, he passed laws to liberalise education, media and the health sector. He also established colleges and hospitals.
Over the next decade, GP came back to power twice, in 1998 and in 2000.
Third, in 2001 after the massacre of the royal family, a statesman like GP ensured that the country didn’t descend into complete chaos. Following another four years of monarchic rule, GP became the interim head of the state in 2006.
And he made his greatest contribution to Nepal during his tenure as the head of the head of the state.
Nepal had experienced a brutal civil war for over a decade through 2006. GP almost single-handedly struck a peace accord with the Maoists, ending the civil war.
In his only published work, titled Simple Convictions: My Struggle for Peace and Democracy, GP wrote that at that point of time his simple convictions were that solutions to Nepal’s problems have to be the end of autocracy and an embrace of democracy. And the way to achieve that was by accommodating the rebel Maoists.
In his book, GP referred to how he believed in a “Corleone” kind of diplomacy, based on the advice Vito Corleone, the famous fictional character from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, had for his son Michael, “Keep your friends close, but your enemy closer”.
It’s important to note that what made GP’s role as a peacemaker all the more significant was its reflection on his political evolution.
Back in 1990, he had said, “All denominations of communist parties and a criminal gang of the royal family are the same.”
Arguably, the evolution of GP from a rigid ideologue to an accommodating peacemaker helped his country to achieve some form of lasting peace.
Because of his statesman-like character, political leaders from both ends of the spectrum united to express their condolences after GP’s death on 20 March 2010.
The leader of Maoists, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or Prachanda, described GP as “a towering figure of Nepal’s democratic movement, one of the architect’s of Nepal’s historic peace and Constitution-writing process”.
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