B.P. Koirala Biography
Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala (Nepali: बिश्वेश्वर प्रसाद कोइराला) (1914–1982) was the Prime Minister of Nepal from 1959 to 1960. He led the Nepali Congress, a social democratic political party.
Koirala was the first democratically elected Prime Minister in Nepal’s history. He held the office just 18 months before being deposed and imprisoned by order of King Mahendra. The rest of his life was spent largely in prison or exile and in steadily deteriorating health.
Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala was born in Varanasi to father Krishna Prasad Koirala, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. When asked how he became interested in politics, Koirala said, “There was politics in the blood of my family. My father had to leave Nepal when I was three years old. Everyone in the family had a warrant of arrest against him; our entire property was confiscated. We were in exile in India for twelve years [1917–1929] so I had my schooling in India, and thereafter I joined my college there.”
The British Raj charged him and his brother, Matrika Prasad Koirala, for having contacts with terrorists in 1930. They were arrested and set free after three months. Due to this, Bishweshwar began to study in Calcutta at Scottish Church College per his father’s wishes. Towards the end of 1930, he left the college and returned to Banaras. In 1932, he completed his intermediate level of studies. His father again insisted that his son join Scottish Church College in Calcutta. So for the second time, he joined the college, but left it soon after. In 1934, he completed his bachelor’s degree in economics and politics from Banaras Hindu University.
After earning his degree at the Banaras Hindu University, he later took a degree in law at the University of Calcutta in 1937 and practiced law for several years in Darjeeling. While still a student he became involved in the Indian nationalist movement, and in 1934 he joined the Indian National Congress. During World War II he was interned by the British in Dhanbad for two years (1942–1944).
Following his release, with Indian independence imminent, he set about trying to bring change to Nepal. In 1947 he founded from India the socialist Nepali National Congress, which in 1950 became the Nepali Congress Party. He was imprisoned in Nepal in 1947–1948 after returning to his home city in Biratnagar to lead a labor demonstration. A year later he was arrested again, but was soon released after a 27-day hunger strike, popular protests, and the intervention of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Koirala led the armed revolution of 1951 which overthrew Nepal’s 104-year old Rana regime. The last Rana prime minister was dismissed in October 1951 when the Rana-Congress coalition cabinet (in which Koirala served for nine months as the Home minister) broke apart. Koirala then concentrated on the developing Nepali political structure. King Mahendra responded with a new constitution enabling free parliamentary elections to take place in 1959. Only a fragmented parliament was expected, but Koirala’s Nepali Congress scored a landslide, taking more than two-thirds of the seats in the lower house. After several weeks of significant hesitation, Mahendra asked Koirala to form a government, which took office in May 1959.
Koirala led his country’s delegation to the United Nations and made carefully poised visits to China and India, then increasingly at odds over territorial disputes. Yet, he was in trouble at home almost from the beginning. His land reform measures, especially the revision of the tenancy laws so easily passed by parliament, deeply offended the landed aristocracy which had long dominated the army. King Mahendra, on 15 December 1960, suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament, dismissed the cabinet, imposed direct rule, and for good measure imprisoned Koirala and his closest government colleagues. Many of them were released after few months, but Koirala, though he was suffering from throat cancer, was kept imprisoned without trial until 1968. In 1968 then the Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, who led the liberal group in the Rastriya Panchayat, played a significant role in releasing B. P. Koirala from prison. Later in June, Mr. Thapa had to resign due to pressure from the hardliner in releasing Mr. Koirala from prison. Then he was finally left on a self-exile to live in Banaras.
King Birendra, educated in England and the United States, succeeded his father in 1972, and the political climate was believed to be gradually improving. Koirala, however, was arrested immediately upon his return from exile in 1976 and charged with the capital offense of attempting armed revolution. Finally, in March 1978, he was finally cleared of all treason and sedition charges. Then, in 1981, he was enabled to travel to the United States for medical treatment. Then the Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa convinced the king to allow Mr. B. P. Koirala to proceed to the U.S. for treatment as per recommendation from the royal physician Dr. M. R. Pandey. Then his majesty’s government of Nepal beared a portion of his medical treatment in the U.S., while the rest were arranged by his nephew Shail Updhaya, Dr. Shukdev Shah, family and friends.
After returning from a further medical visit to the United States, he had a series of audiences with King Birendra, as he tried for a “national reconciliation”. During the student demonstrations in 1979, he was under house arrest. However, he welcomed King Birendra’s call for national referendum on the question of political system for Nepal. The referendum results were announced to be in favor of retaining the political system led by the king. B. P. Koirala was the first leader to welcome the result of the national referendum and accepted the people verdict and claimed that the referendum was fair and free. However, owing to differences in the electoral process to seek membership of class organization as mandatory, Koirala demanded a boycott of the 1981 elections. Despite obviously failing health and political strength, Koirala could still draw a great popular support. He addressed one of Nepal’s largest public meetings in recent years in Kathmandu’s Ratna Park in January 1982. He died on July 21, 1982, in Kathmandu. An estimated half a million people attended his funeral.
While Koirala is considered one of the most charismatic political leader of Nepal, he was also one of the most well-read and thoughtful writers of Nepalese literature. He wrote short stories and novels, and some poems. Koirala began writing short stories in Hindi. His first stories were published in Banaras in Hansa, a Hindi literary magazine edited by Prem Chand (India’s Tolstoy). His first Nepali short story “Chandrabadan” was published in Sharada (a Nepali literary magazine) in 1935. Koirala was very good at depicting the character and mind of women. Four other stories of Koirala were included in Katha Kusum (an anthology of Nepali stories), published in 1938 in Darjeeling. As a social realist, with good psychological insight, Koirala had established himself as one of the most important Nepali short story writers by 1938. Doshi Chashma [Guilty Glasses], Koirala’s anthology of sixteen short stories, was published in 1949.
Koirala was very busy in the 1950s as he was in the center of Nepal’s national politics. He was, however, able to write an incomplete novel Hitlar ra Yahudi (Hitler and the Jews) in the form of travelogue. The 1960s were very productive for Koirala in terms of his literary output. He wrote many novels and short stories in jail during 1960–68. They include: Tin Ghumti (Three Turns), 1968; Narendra Dai (Brother Narendra), 1969; Sumnima (A story of the first Kirata woman), 1969; Modiain (The Grocer’s Wife), 1980; Shweta Bhairavi (The White Goddess of Terror), 1983; Babu Ama ra chora (Father, mother and sons), 1989; and an incomplete autobiography Mero Katha (My Story), 1983, and many more yet to be published.
Koirala also has dozens of political essays including the following: “Rajatantra ra Lokatantra” (“Monarchy and Democracy”), 1960; “Thichieka Janata Jagisake” (“The Oppressed People Rise”), 1969; “Rastriyata Nepalko Sandarbhama” (“Nationalism in the Context of Nepal”), 1970; “Kranti: Ek Anivaryata” (“Revolution: An Absolute Necessity”), 1970; “Panchayati Vyavastha Prajatantrik Chaina” (“The Panchayat System is not Democratic”), 1978; “Prajatantra ra Samajvad” (“Democracy and Socialism”), 1979; and “Rastriya Ekata ko Nimti Ahwan” (“A Call for National Reconciliation”), 1980.
Koirala’s writings (both political and literary) were banned until recently. Nepalese youths spent several years of imprisonment just on the charges of possessing Koirala’s writings. Another problem is that his rare and important writings have been scattered all over. Old newspapers and magazines (including the underground publications) have to be researched. Libraries, museums, and archives in Kathmandu, Banaras, Calcutta, New Delhi, London, Paris, Berkeley, Stanford, and many other places have to be visited to collect the materials on Koirala. As a result, one can hope to produce volumes of his political writings and literary works.
Koirala was the focus of Nepalese politics during the 1950s, 1960s, and the 1970s. Even today, long after his death, people of Nepal feel that the restoration of multi-party democracy is a tribute to him. Koirala was also one of the most important literary figures of Nepal. In politics Koirala was a social democrat; in literature he was an existentialist especially in his novel Tin Ghumti (Three Turns). He said that he wrote his literary works to satisfy his anarchist impulses, impulses which revolted against the traditional order of things. But as a social democrat he was in search of a political order that was agreeable to every citizen of Nepal.
As a politician, Koirala struggled throughout his life for the establishment of a multi-party democracy in his country. Traditional forces, still strong to resist such effort, made it very hard for “B. P.” to accomplish his political mission. As a social democrat, Koirala differed with communists; as he often said man cannot live by bread alone. He also differed with the capitalists as he thought that unbridled consumerism was immoral, and that the appalling exploitation of the world’s resources was short-sighted and unrealistic. He believed that only socialism could guarantee political freedom and equal economic opportunities to the people. He said, “socialism is the wave of the future.”
Koirala had studied economics, logic, literature, and law. He was a voracious reader of English, German, French, Russian, American, Hindi, Bengali and Nepali literature. His educational background and artistic genius combined in his own works to present a view of life in an artistic, logical and compelling manner. He would thus shake the conscience of Nepali readers by questioning their unreflective acceptance of the traditional value systems.
Koirala’s short stories were first published in the 1930s in Hindi and Nepali literary magazines. Koirala first came to notice in Nepali literature because often his characters seemed to have been treated with an understanding of Freudian psychoanalysis. Even when a short story or novel of Koirala was not Freudian in its approach, it was still noteworthy to Nepali readers because he presented an unconventional approach to life.
Modiain (The Grocer’s wife) is probably his shortest novel. In Modiain Koirala looks at the Mahabharata war from the point of view of a young woman who loses her husband to the war. This woman was not alone. There were hundreds of thousands of young women who were widowed by the war. Thus, Koirala presents a passionate plea against the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, which assumes that the world is but an illusion and thus makes life and death a meaningless phenomena and that the observance of one’s own duty is the ultimate priority. Koirala was against war, and by looking at the Vedanta philosophy and the issue of war from a war widow’s point of view, he once again shakes the conscience of the Nepali readers who generally tend to accept the philosophy of Vedanta especially its idea of karma (fate). Characteristically, Koirala presents one more instance in which he analyzes the mind of a woman, as he did in most of his short stories and novels.