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S.B. Ranjitkar: Koirala Family & Kingship in Nepal

Koirala Family And Kingship in Nepal


By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

The second people’s movement in April 2006 [1] has amply demonstrated that Nepalis in general do not want the kingship as they have already suffered from the rule of the Shah dynasty and the Rana oligarchy – the offshoot of the Shah dynasty for 237 years. However, the wrongly selected Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has been attempting to save the half-dead Shah dynasty as he thinks that the Koirala family would be out of the political supremacy after the demise of the kingship. So, he has been keeping the Defense portfolio and the Home portfolio in the current coalition government of the seven-party alliance (SPA).

Prime Minister Koirala and his Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said that the government had stopped providing the army with the fund for additional recruitment. However, the media report proves that both the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister are liars. For example, the Nepali Army (NA) is going ahead with pre-scheduled tests for 100 officer level vacancies that are taking place at Chhaunni barracks in Kathmandu on Tuesday, June 13, 2006. The tests are taking place against the background of the peace talks code of conduct signed between the government and the rebels that bars both sides from further recruitment. Clause 3 of the code says, "...both sides will stop taking new recruits..." [2].

The current Koirala government wants to save the kingship. So, the Prime Minister Koirala holding the Defense portfolio does not want to take actions against the army personnel responsible for brutally suppressing the protests against the king’s direct rule, and the army personnel responsible for making people in the army custody disappeared.

Refusing to see the family members of the people who remained disappeared, and ordering the police to remove them from the peaceful gathering at the gate to the official residence of the Prime Minister in early June 2006, the Prime Minister Koirala was determined to punish the family members of the victims of the army and the Maoists’ activities rather than punishing the army personnel or the Maoists responsible for arresting or kidnapping the people and later making them disappeared.

In an attempt to put pressure on the government to make public the whereabouts of their kin allegedly disappeared by the security forces, a delegation of Society of the Family of the Disappeared Citizens by the State (SFDCS) visited the Kantipur Complex on Monday, June 12, 2006 seeking the help of the media in this regard. They urged the editors and the senior journalists to highlight their issues in order to put pressure on the government for making public the whereabouts of their kin. Speaking with the editors and the senior journalists about the whereabouts of their relatives, mother of rebel cadre Nischal Nakarmi, Manorama Nakarmi said, "We plead the government to send my son to prison for 20 years if found guilty, but not to disappear him." Nischal Nakarmi has gone missing since November 2003. Another member of the delegation of SFDCS, Sonu Pokharel said that they would also visit diplomatic missions in Kathmandu to put pressure on the government for finding the missing people [3]

The Koirala government has not separated the unified command of the army, the armed police force and the police under the command of the army yet. The king’s government had formed the unified command under the army to fight against the Maoists. The unified command had inhumanly acted against the protestors and the suspects in being Maoists. They did not spare even women, children and old people. They killed them on the spot and then put the label of Maoists on them, and took the credit of killing Maoists. The Koirala government wants to keep the unified command and the kingship because the Koirala government did not feel it safe without these two entities.

The Koirala government is reluctant to take actions against the army. For example, The Office of High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) has brought out a shocking report about the much-trumpeted case of missing people. The report published on May 26, 2006 stated that the 49-Maoist detainees imprisoned by the three battalions of the Tenth Brigade of the then Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) were illegally arrested and tortured and 'possibly killed' [4]. The Koirala government has remained silent on this issue.

A press statement issued by three former members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Sushil Pyakurel, Kapil Shrestha, Dr. Gauri Shankar Lal Das says the recently published report by the OHCHR is also an example of how the security bodies had acted inhumanely after the king Gyanendra seized absolute power after sacking an elected government on October 04, 2002. “It is however surprising to see how the current government formed in the spirit of bringing “democracy (Loktantra)” under the leadership of the SPA and other political parties in and outside the House of Representatives have remained quiet on the issue of the disappearance of those 49 people from the same place when the CPN-Maoist and the SPA have committed to human rights in their 12-point understanding,” the statement said [5]

The Koirala government has been gradually bringing back the remnants of the kingship. For example, on June 11, 2006, the Koirala government appointed the staff member of the state-run Gorkhapatra Corporation, Mr. Kulchandra Wagle as the advisor to the Ministry of Information and Communications [6]. The two daily publications called “Gorkhapatra” in Nepali and “The Rising Nepal” in English had published tons of political opinion articles and news against democracy and the people’s movement in an attempt to save the disgraced king and his son during the second people’s movement in April 2006. The two publications even today continue to publish the news about the king giving the respect for the king he does not deserve. Not only keeping the supporters of the king on board of the staffs members of the Gorkhapatra Corporation but also promoting them, the current government has done nothing but saved the remnants of the kingship in the country.

Prime Minster Koirala has been rewarding his party men who are for the kingship and neglecting those who are against the kingship. For example, he had been distancing away from the three prominent figures of his party such as Nahari Acharya, Ram Chandra Poudel and Arjun Narshing K.C. who had actively participated in the second people’s movement, and had advocated strongly against the king and for the republic in the recent past. The Prime Minister also has been pushing away the lower level cadres of his party responsible for advocating the republic. For example, he has put the former Students’ Leader Gagan Thapa miles away from the party because he has been saying the republic is the only solution to the political ills in the country.

The SPA leaders including Girija Prasad Koirala had promised the people that they would take actions against the officials and the heads of the Constitutional Bodies who had supported the king and acted against democracy. The current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nepal, Mr. Dilip Kumar Poudel, and the current Chief Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr. Nayan Bahadur Khatri had welcomed the most undemocratic actions taken by the king on February 01, 2006. However, the current Koirala government and the House of Representatives had done nothing to punish such people.

The current justice of the Supreme Court of Nepal, and Former Attorney General of Nepal, Mr. Pawan Kumar Nepal as an Attorney General referring the dead constitution of Nepal of 1962, and stating the Hindu king is always above the law had defended the Royal Commission on Corruption Control in the hearing of the writ petition against its constitutionality. The king had rewarded him appointing him to the current position of justice of the Supreme Court of Nepal for such his actions. However, the House of Representatives has failed to do anything against such a former attorney general.

Similarly, the current Chief Commissioner of the Election Commission, Mr. Keshav Raj Rajbhandari held the controversial municipal elections on February 08, 2006. He had even went to give political talks supporting the king’s roadmap, and spent millions of the taxpayers’ money on the municipal elections the SPA and other political parties such as Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) led by Pashupati Shumsher JBR, and Rastriya Janashakti Party (RJP) had boycotted. The international community had not recognized the elections as valid and democratic. However, the current government and the House of Representatives restored by the people’s power have forgotten what they had committed to punish such people at the time of the protest against the dictatorial regime of the king.

The House of Representatives dissolved the Privy Council called Rajparishad but had done nothing to take actions against the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Rajparishad, Mr. Parsu Narayan Chaudhary, and the member of the Privy Council, Mr. Sachit Shumsher Rana who had advocated against democracy and supported the dictatorial king. They spent millions of taxpayers’ money on the convention held in support of the autocratic king and against democracy. However, the current government set up by the people’s power has done nothing against such enemies of democracy.

The Finance Minister of the current Koirala government had published a white paper disclosing the amount of the taxpayers’ money misused by the king’s previous government. However, the government had not taken any actions against the ministers or officials responsible for such irregularities. If the government has proofs that the officials and the ministers have misused the money and had abused their authority they could take administrative actions against such people or ask the Commission on Investigation into Abuse of Authority (CIAA) for taking legal actions against them. The government does not need to wait for the report of the high-level commission on investigation into the misuse of power and resources for suppressing democracy and protests against the king’s undemocratic regime, for punishing the unscrupulous ministers and officials.

The State-run newspaper published the list of the media agencies and the people who had received money from the king’s government. For example, the National Journalists’ Federation received one million rupees from the government. [7] The question is why the current Koirala government does not attempt to recover the money from the concerned persons if it has the evidences of giving and taking the money illegally, and put the culprits behind bars. The inability of the current government to take administrative actions against the former ministers, officials and the media people is the good sign of either the power of the king’s men remained intact or the sympathy of the current government for them.

The Koirala government arrested five former ministers pursuant to the Public Security Act (PSA). The national and the UN human rights organizations have repeatedly told the previous government to annul the PSA. It was shame on the Koirala government to use the same Act that the king’s government arbitrarily used for holding the politicians in custody without charging them for months. Later, the government released Former Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey, Former State Minister for Information and Communications Shris Shumsher Rana and Former Assistant Minister for Health Nikshay Shumsher Rana within hours of the court order on releasing them on June 04, 2006.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has the phobia about loosing the kingship, and about creating the vacuum in absence of the king. He could not dare to run the country without the king. He once had said in public that if the king would go who would fill up the vacuum. By this statement, he was certainly not in a position to filling out the vacuum. So, the Koirala family and the kingship are the two heads sprouted out from a single neck.

While in power in the past, the Koirala family behaved like the dictatorial king and his family members. Even today, the coalition government is nothing more than the puppet of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. For example, the current two Deputy Prime Ministers of the left parties have the most honorable positions of Deputies of the Prime Minister but they have the politically insignificant portfolios such as Health and Population for one and Foreign for another. The Deputy Prime Minister having the portfolio of Foreign is the senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal–United Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML), and the Deputy Prime Minister having the portfolio of Health and Population is the Chairman of the People’s Front Nepal.

In his famous speech delivered at the victory mass meeting after the restoration of the House of Representatives, the Chairman of the People’s Front Nepal and the current Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Amik Sherchan said we (means the SPA) did in 19 days what the Maoists could not do in 10 years of the fighting. He just ignored that only the people could tear down the king’s power in 19 days not the SPA or the Maoists because the political parties having five-party alliance, and then four-party alliance and ultimately seven-party alliance (SPA) have spent more than three years on protesting against the king’s direct rule but could not move the king even a single inch from his firm position of being the autocratic until the people supported the SPA. Only when the people in general openly and Maoists in disguise participated in the movement against the king’s authoritarian rule, the king bowed to the people’s demand for democracy, peace and human rights on April 24, 2006 restoring the House of Representatives dissolved on May 22, 2002.

In 1976, while returning from the self-imposed exile in India, Former Prime Minister late Bisheswor Prasad Koirala [8] said that the king of Nepal and he had a common neck staking out the sovereignty of the country as their concern for saving it. In other words, the king and he had to preserve the sovereignty. Nepalis did not know how suddenly he saw the sovereignty at risk at that time. All political leaders belonging to his party and he came back to Nepal, and surrendered all political activities to the then-king Birendra, and accepted his rule until his death. Only after his death, his party called Nepali Congress started organizing against the dictatorial rule of the late King Birendra.

In the late 1950s, the then-President of the Nepali Congress Party, Bisheswor Prasad Koirala and his party accepted the constitution given by King Mahendra, in place of the Constitution to be crafted by an elected Constituent Assembly. Accordingly, he accepted the supremacy of the king in place of the people. Consequently, late Bisheswor Prasad Koirala faced the dismissal of his Prime Ministerial position from the king, and landed in jail for seven years. He could never recover the power from the late king Mahendra and his son late King Birendra.

In 1951, Nepalis removed the Rana oligarchy. It was an offshoot of the Shah Dynasty. In 1847, an army officer called Jung Bahadur Rana captured the state power taking the opportunity of the weak Shah king at that time, and set the Rana Prime Ministerial family rule passing the hereditary Prime Ministerial position to brothers in appreciation of the assistance he received from them in grabbing the power. The period of the Rana rule was one of the darkest periods in the history of Nepal because they not only preserve the status quo but also retarded the social, cultural and economic development of Nepalis. In 1951 when the Rana family went out of the power, Nepalis found themselves poorest among the poor people.

After the fall of the Rana oligarchy, Nepalis thought that they were sovereign people, and the representatives elected by them would craft a Constitution of Nepal. It was agreed at the tripartite meeting of the representatives of the Nepali Congress, King Tribhuvan, and the representatives of the Rana oligarchy held in New Delhi, India in 1951 that an elected body called a Constituent Assembly would write a Constitution of Nepal, the former hereditary Rana Prime Minister would head the first coalition government of the Ranas and the representatives of the Nepali Congress party, and the king would enjoy the power until the government was elected pursuant to the Constitution to be formulated by an elected Constituent Assembly.

After about eight months of the coalition government of the Ranas and the Nepali Congress party, the coalition broke up, and the government fell and the power went to King Tribhuvan.

The Koirala brothers Bisheswor Prasad Koirala and Girija Prasad Koirala on one hand and their half-brother Matrika Prasad Koirala on the other hand started squabbling with each other over the power. King Tribhuvan played one Koirala brother off against another and weakened them. Matrika Prasad Koirala broke up from the parent Nepali Congress party and set up his own political party. The king nominated Matrika Prasad Koirala to the position of the Prime Minister. He could not hold on to it for long. So, he returned the power back to the king. The first Koirala Prime Minister Matrika Prasad Koirala played a crucial role in strengthening the king in 1950s.

Thus, the king consolidated the power thinking that the Koirala brothers in other words political leaders would not be able to rule the country properly. Holding this wrong notion of the political leaders, King Tribhuvan did not bother to keep his commitment to hold elections for a Constituent Assembly. This was a first step toward the demise of the Shah dynasty.

Not holding elections for a Constituent Assembly and not institutionalizing democracy, King Tribhuvan staked his crown. At that time, King Tribhuvan was revered as the divine reincarnation because he did not have a chance to make mistakes in running the state business as the Ranas held him almost in custody in the palace. He needed a permission from the Rana Prime Minister to go out of the palace. The Ranas wined and dined him very well and kept him out of the state business. So, King Tribhuvan lacked political vision, and did not make efforts on institutionalizing the monarchy and democracy as partners for making the monarchy long-lasting but strengthened the monarchy at the cost of democracy.

After his death then came his son King Mahendra to power. He was an ambitious man. He knew that the Rana oligarchy had denied the state power to his ancestors. So, he was not going to tolerate such things any more. He also strengthened the palace power at the cost of democracy and democratic institutions. His mind-set was of the medieval period, not of the late 20th century. Hence, he had no vision of the political future of the Shah dynasty. He also staked the crown taking the state power in his hand by dismissing the elected government of the second Koirala Prime Minister Bisheswor Prasad Koirala on December 15, 1960.

After killing democracy, King Mahendra borrowed the non-party system called a Panchayat system in which the king could dictate the politicians and the government. He even made the people vote for the grassroots level political bodies called Town Panchayats and Village Panchayats. The elected officials at the grassroots level elected the district level officials, and then they went on electing the officials to the apex body called National Panchayat. Thus, the king imposed the political system made up of various tiers on Nepalis to sustain the dictatorial monarchy. The non-party Panchayat system had lasted for 30 years until 1990.

In 1990, the then-supreme leader Ganesh Man Singh led the coalition of the several left parties and his own Nepali Congress Party to protesting against the non-party Panchayat system and demanding a multi-party democratic system. After 49 days, and the massive people’s participation in the movement, the then-King Birendra bowed to the demand of the people for a multi-party system. He dissolved his father’s Panchayat system, restored the multi-party system, and set up an interim government for formulating a Constitution and for holding elections for a House of Representatives. Thus, the Constitution of Nepal of 1990 was born out of the people’s movement in 1990.

In 1991, the elections held by the interim coalition government of the left parties and the Nepali Congress Party gave 110 seats out of the 205-seat House of Representatives to the Congress Party. It was a comfortable majority in the House for the Nepali Congress party to run the administration. The third and last Koirala brother Girija Prasad Koirala became the Prime Minister. He did not know how to give orders because he used to take only orders from his brothers or seniors. So, his circle of men often dubbed as a kitchen cabinet made decisions for him, and made him dictatorial.

Prime Ministerial Girija Prasad Koirala became dictatorial as he refused to listen to anybody but the members of his kitchen cabinet. His daughter Sujata Koirala became more than the queen of the despotic king. She became one of the power centers of the Nepali Congress party in power at that time. Most of the sincere party cadres and even leaders were sidelined in favor of the sycophants.

Over the period of 10 years from 1991 to 2001, Girija Prasad Koirala became Prime Minister four times each time promising not to make the same pervious mistakes. However, he became instrumental in giving the people’s power back to the king in 2002 because instead of supporting the then-Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to hold elections for House of Representatives, Party President Girija Prasad Koirala sacked Prime Minister Deuba from his Nepali Congress party for not informing him about dissolving the House of Representatives, and then even advised the king to dismiss Prime Minister Deuba at an audience he had with the king. So, the king used this opportunity of sacking Prime Minister Deuba and grabbing the power on October 04, 2002. None of his party people came out on the streets against the king’s takeover at that time.

King Gyanendra being even less visionary than his predecessors even in the beginning of the 21st century, and using his medieval mindset grabbed the state power from the elected government on October 04, 2002, and imposed the direct dictatorial rule on February 01, 2005 totally disregarding the Constitution of Nepal of 1990. This was intolerable not only to the Nepalis but also to the international community except for the northern neighbor, China. So, dictatorial King Gyanendra did not find any friend who would support him for his dictatorial regime. His ministers became simply puppets who took orders and attempted to implement them.

Refusing to talk to the leaders of the SPA as advised by the members of the international community, the repressive king pushed the SPA toward the Maoists. Contrary to the wishes and the advices of some members of the international community, the leaders of the SPA went to New Delhi, India several times to have a one-on-one talks with the Maoists’ leaders, and came to the common understanding called 12-point understanding on November 22, 2005. This understanding gave the SPA much needed strength to topple the dictatorial king.

The Maoists declared the truce while the SPA intensified its protests against the despotic king. Civil society leaders, professional organizations’ leaders, university teachers, doctors and nurses of the State-run hospitals, employees of the State-run corporations except for the employees of the State-run media such as Nepal TV, Nepal Radio, and newspapers such as ‘Gorkhapatra’ and ‘The Rising Nepal’, and Nepalis in general came out on the streets in support of the SPA’s movement against the king. It took 19 days to bend the king at the cost of 21 beautiful young people’s lives, and of the 5,000 people injured by the security forces.

Both the king and Girija Prasad Koirala were equally responsible for the 21 persons killed and 5,000 people injured during the protest against the king’s dictatorial regime because Nepalis would not need to shed so much of blood if the four-term former Prime Minster Girija Prasad Koirala had put the state interest above the family interest.

After the successful second people’s movement in 2006, Girija Prasad Koirala became the Prime Minister again. Rather the SPA made him the Prime Minister using the people’s power. His current activities have been showing that he is relapsing into the bad habits of forgetting what he had committed to do. His daughter Sujata Koirala has taken the position of the backyard decision maker. This might be an auspicious start for the king who has not lost the hope of gaining back the power he lost to the SPA.

Given his current activities and the past history of his brothers surrendering the power to the then-kings, and he himself being instrumental in surrendering the power to the king as recently as in 2002, Nepalis cannot firmly say that current Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala would not surrender the power back to the king. It is a possibility as long as the king remains in the country, and the Koirala family gets the power.

In assisting the king in coming back to power, some people in India, and the Government of the Peoples’ Republic China have started playing their role. For example, an online article posted on the website called “India eNews.com India” on June 12, 2006 stated that current Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is a very favorable person to merge Nepal into the Indian federation [9]. Although the website issued a disclaimer, such opinions would certainly help the king in staging comeback in Nepal on the pretext of saving the nation. The king’s men had made such attempts in 1990s too. The Peoples’ Republic of China had started squeezing the current Government of Nepal. For example, during the visit of State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan to Nepal in March 2006, the Chinese government had signed a formal letter of intent pledging zero tariff benefit on non-reciprocal basis to most of the products of Nepal's export interest on bilateral basis. Now, China has said it would provide duty-free market access benefits to Nepal through a grouping of seven least developed countries (LDCs) and not on a bilateral basis as agreed earlier on. “Moreover, the items it has short listed for the benefits do not represent items of Nepal's export interest,” a government source said. Also, China has set criteria for higher value addition for the benefits, which again erodes Nepal's capacity from enjoying any benefits. [10]

China does not want to see Nepal as a democratic republic because the Chinese rulers think that democracy is contagious and would spread to Tibet and then to the whole of China. Therefore, the Chinese rulers had helped the king in 1960s and in 2000s in keeping his dictatorial power.

Thus, at least three forces are acting against the democratic setup in Nepal. They are: the Koirala family, the elements attempting to incite the king’s men against the democratic government in Nepal, and the rulers of the People’s Republic of China.

Footnotes

[1] It has been popular among the Nepalese media people to say the People’s Movement in April 2006 is the second considering the people’s movement in 1990 was the first one. However, the first Nepalese people’s movement was in 1950.

[2] Ekantipu.com Army’s recruitment tests to go ahead By Bikash Sangraula, Kathmandu, June 13 posted on: 2006-06-12 20:45:55 (Server Time)

[3] Ekantipur.com Families of the disappeared seek media help Kantipur Report Kathmandu, June 13 posted on: 2006-06-12 20:49:42 (Server Time)

[4] The Rising Nepal, June 01, 2006

[5] Nepalnews.com pb June 01, 2006

[6] The Rising Nepal, June 13, 2006

[7] The Rising Nepal, June 13, 2006 ‘Royal regime’s propaganda campaign exposed’

[8] Brother of the current Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala

[9] India eNews.com India, Monday, June 12, 2006, Time To Consider Nepal’s Merger With India, Contributed by Dipankar Biswas

[10] Ekantipur.com China alters conditions for duty-free access By Milan Mani Sharma Kathmandu, June 13, posted on: 2006-06-12 21:28:25 (Server Time)

*************

Siddhi B. Ranjitkar is a political analyst based in Kathmandu. His email address is srilaxmi @ wlink.com.np

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