Difficult Road to Democracy : Interview with B.P. Koirala

– India Today, March 16-31, 1979
Nepal’s feeble cry for democratization was virtually silenced recently in the wake of execution of two Nepali Congress activists, Captain Yagya Bahadur Thapa and Bhim Narain Shrestha. It is significant that the executions were carried out at a time when King Birendra was ostensibly moving towards a rapprochement with the ailing leader of the banned Nepali Congress party, B. P. Koiala. Equally significant was the fact that Thapa and shrestha had been sentenced to capital punishment four years ago, but were executed just when a clemency petition was pending in the courts.
The executions have added to the undercurrent of discontent that is spreading throughout Nepal. Incidents of violence have risen, specially in the rural areas; thousands of students and peasants are arrested every year-according to a recent estimate y amnesty International about 3,000 political activists are languishing in Nepali jails. The executions have proved to be a major setback to the process of “national reconciliation” which Koirala has been pursuing in the face of strong opposition from some of his own party members.
Koirala, 65, former Prime Minister of Nepal and a co-accused with Thapa was recently in Delhi on his way to Kathmandu from the US, where he had gone for medical treatment. In an exclusive interview with INDIA TODAY, he discussed the recent executions and its effects on his efforts to usher in democracy in Nepal.
Q: What effect will the execution of two of your party-men, Capt. Yagya Bahadur Thapa and Bheem Narain Shreshta, have on your efforts at ‘national reconciliation’?
BP: The executions came as a great surprise to me. They were more shocking because recently the atmosphere in the kingdom had started to ease and the general feeling was that the process of democratization would begin soon. The sudden executions have befouled the atmosphere for national reconciliation. They have created psychological difficulties for me because the killings would always be at the back of my mind when I talk to the King next. But I must say the reconciliation process will not be abandoned.
Q: You being co-accused with Capt. Thapa what behavior do you expect from the authorities on your return to Kathmandu?
BP: I am not quite sure of that. My case in slightly different from that of Capt. Thapa in that I have not been held guilty and sentenced. But the executions have certainly added grim dimensions to my personal situation.
Q: Since your talks with the King before you left for the USA, everyone had expected him to soften his stand vis-a-vis your party. What do you think made the King carry out the executions so suddenly?
BP: I believe the hard-liners in the Palace prevailed upon the King. It is quite possible the King may not even be aware of the orders that might have been passed on his behalf. These things are quite common in Nepal. A few years ago, four of our party activists under detention were shot by the police without the knowledge of the King, In the present case, I must say the hard-liners have had their way. The King, being a well-meaning person, could not do this.
Q: Who are these hard-liners?
BP: These are the people in the palace who wield power and influence because of the present political set-up in Nepal. They want to retain the monarchy in its present form because they are afraid that if the democratic forces come power, they may lose their privileges.
Q: Before leaving for the USA, you are reported to have said in Patna that you expect some changes in Nepal within one year. What changes had you expected?
BP: I had expected the process of democratization to be initiated this year. But unfortunately the Palace hard-liners are out to frustrate it. They have certainly been able to create difficulties for us. The road to democracy is not easy, but travel we must.
Q: You have been quite secretive about the details of your reconciliation talks with the King Why?
BP: I do not want to spill the beans before making much headway in the talks. The process of national reconciliation being a long drawn-out one, I do not want to give false hopes to people. However, I had discussed the talks with some of the top party leaders like Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai.
Q: Your own party is a divided house with many people accusing you of having sold yourself to the King. Some have called your latest stance a death-blow to the prestige of the party. Don’t you think the executions have given them a handle to denigrate you?
BP: I concede there are differences in the Nepali Congress, but which political party doesn’t have them? Leave aside the democratic parties, even communist party members differ on policy matters. There cannot be an absolute unanimity in a party but most of my party men are with me. I have given them a new approach and they are fully satisfied with it. As for criticism about me I am quite used to it. My conscience is clear; my aim is clear. Those who criticize me today will realize later how wrong they were. After my talks with the King, the prestige of the party has gone up. The people have realized that the authorities have started taking cognizance of the Nepali Congress. This is the first time the King has given credence to the party.
Q: Some of your party members charge you with making Bhattarai acting president of the party without holding any election for the post. How do you explain this alleged anti-democratic act?
BP: Two years ago, when I was going back to Kathmandu after my exile in India, thousands of my party men had come to meet me in Patna because they were sure that I would be arrested on landing at Kathmandu airport. They asked me to name some one who could take my place while I was in jail. They wanted someone they could look forward to for advice and guidance. There being no time for proper elections and Ganesh Man Singh being in jail, I had no choice but to name Bhattarai for the post. He is the one person with an impeccable record of service to the cause of democracy.
Q: You have had talks with the Janata Party President Chandra Shekhar, in Delhi. What was the nature of the talks?
BP: I did not talk to him on the political situation in Nepal. I did not feel the necessity to discuss it with him because I know his sympathies are with us. In fact most of the members of Indian Parliament, be they from any political party, sympathize with our cause. We are happy to have the support of our neighboring country
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