An Icon Of Simplicity And Rectitude : Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
Former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s exit from Nepal’s political stage was as shocking to the rank and file of the Nepali Congress Party as it was fraught with deep political messages for all those who profess democratic ideals. The quiet and inconspicuous aura which he acquired by opting to die in a lonely room of his residence, instead of wishing to go abroad for necessary medical care, proved that he had attained the terminal high altitude of personal integrity during more than four decades of political schooling and cultivation of the values of simplicity of life.
Modesty and simplicity
Sushil Koirala lived in an epoch which was influenced by visionary leaders like B. P. Koirala, Jawaharlal Nehru, Pushpa Lal Shrestha and Man Mohan Adhikari who maintained democratic integrity, held a value-based world outlook and an enhanced political culture of modesty and simplicity. Because of that political upbringing, he often maintained an invisible profile. Till B.P. Koirala, Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai were living, he never sought public posts and profile though he also belonged to the first crop of the first generation leaders of the Nepali Congress.
Sushil Koirala shouldered many key responsibilities entrusted by the Nepali Congress leadership both during the anti-Panchayat struggle and post democratic transition to peace and stability. But he rarely came to public limelight before former prime minister and his cousin Girija Prasad Koirala vacated the political stage for him. His outstanding role in infusing collaborative dynamics among the major political actors involved in the constitution-making process during the Second Constituent Assembly helped him earn a distinct political altitude.
The Nepali Congress is not a party which runs with any recognisable philosophical principle as its guideline. Despite its shallow lip service to democratic socialism, it has never committed itself to the transformation of the Nepali society to socialism, freeing the productive forces from the trammels of exploitative production relation, ending inequality and establishing a society based on social justice.
Still, this party has had the fortune of having some visionary liberal social democratic leaders with sound philosophical orientation, good education and selflessness. It is these leaders who constitute the core of this party’s ideological plinth. Most of these leaders of this party belong to the first and second generation leadership.
In the first generation, we can take the name of B.P. Koirala, Ganesh Man Singh, Subarna Shumsher, Jagannath Acharya, Bal Bahadur Rai, Ram Hari Joshi and Sushil Koirala who were capable of providing spiritual leadership to their party as leaders of intellectual caliber and moral rectitude.
Similarly, among the second generation leaders, Bharat Babu Prasai, Bir Man Karmacharya, Maheshwor Pathak, Baldev Majgaiya, Ram Baran Yadav, Pradip Giri, Shailaja Acharya and Narahari Acharya are considered as the ideological pathfinders of this party. But ironically, most of them have been edged out of political relevance or have already died, leaving this party in a dreary landscape of ideological and philosophical poverty.
Sushil Koirala was perhaps the last of the remaining pillars holding up the ideological high ground of the party. As an old guard from the first generation leaders, he tenaciously clung to moral politics, not to be drowned in the sea of moral turpitude that threatened to overwhelm the entire structure of the party.
Sushil Koirala had the privilege of being exposed to high politics for being a scion of the Koirala dynasty. But he was a self-made man who inched his way to the higher echelon of power politics through perseverance and patience. The trajectory of his rise from ordinary party member to the rank of party’s central committee member, vice-president, acting-president and eventually the president was natural and progressive. He was well ahead of those leaders who were catapulted to high visibility from a state of virtual anonymity.
Late Koirala was a political luminary of our country who had a Platonic indifference towards material possession. He was from an affluent family background but did not possess anything as his personal property. It is unbelievable for most Nepalese to know that the outgoing president of the largest political party and a former prime minister of the country had only two sets of mobile phones which he could call his own. In a political environment where political hierarchy facilitates an amazing shift of fortunes, lifting people from utter penury to dizzying level of affluence, the life and death of Sushil Koirala presents a distinct high perch which many leaders of his status cannot lay their claim on.
Sushil Koirala was at the helm of the government during the most critical period of the Second Constituent Assembly which promulgated the Constitution of Nepal in 2015. The effective way with which Koirala dealt with the complex political polarisation inside and outside of the Constituent Assembly, maintaining close coordination with allies and opposition alliances alike, spoke volumes of his convening capacities.
Koirala was not a charismatic and articulate leader, but in the context of venal competition, he was able to carve an image which remained above impeachment. At a time when the 31-party coalition led by the UCPN-Maoist were against the early finalisation and promulgation of the constitution, it was only his steadfastness to preserve an unlikely alliance with the CPN (UML) and K.P. Oli’s unflinching commitment to promulgate the constitution helped keep the constitution-making process on course.
After the promulgation of the constitution, however, he surprisingly failed to evince the same kind of collaborative resilience, which he had maintained during the run up to the constitution promulgation on September 20, 2015. Under his leadership, the Nepali Congress broke its alliance with the CPN (UML) and went against the tacit agreement which it had made with the UML to pave the way for the formation of a national government with UML chairperson KP Oli as the prime minister.
This was perhaps the greatest miscalculation of Sushil Koirala’s life, which deprived the Nepali Congress to play a leading role in implementing the constitution and facing the greatest economic crisis in Nepal’s history brought about by the border-centric Madhes movement and the un-declared economic blockade of India against Nepal. This step also deprived Sushil Koirala of the unique opportunity of walking out of Baluwatar into Shital Niwas as the first president of Nepal to be elected after the promulgation of the constitution. This will certainly go down in history as the greatest blunder he committed in the sun set hours of his life. But judging from the illustrious innings he earned in his political career, this was only a speck on the shining armour of his strength, which will hardly find space in public memory.