It is, indeed, perplexing to describe a person who was at once loved and respected as an individual, honoured as a national and regional hero, and opposed as an uncompromising and self-centered political boss by members of his own party. G P Koirala- popularly known as Girija Babu lived a full life, most of which was spent in the crusade to establish and institutionalize a democratic polity. It is in the last twenty years, after the restoration of democracy in 1990, that he played a singular and vital role to shape the direction and the future of Nepalese politics.
The Nepali Congress (NC) secured a comfortable majority in the first general election, and Girija Babu became the first elected prime minister after KP Bhattarai (Kishunji), party president and sitting PM, failed to be elected. The
first three years of his premiership were relatively smooth in spite of the obstruction and strong armed opposition tactics pursued by the CPM-UML. The
nation saw a 5.5% growth in GDP and some signs of prosperity. Unfortunately, the NC found itself engaged in a bitter internal power-sharing conflict which
culminated in the failure of the government to secure
a passage of the vote of thanks to king Birendra for his address to the House. Instead of seeking a vote
of confidence, strong-headed PM Koirala chose to dissolve the House and seek
a fresh mandate even
without consulting his senior party colleagues .This turned to be a major set back for the NC, and the CPM-UML, the largest party in a hung parliament,
ushered in a communist-led government for the first time in history.
Under such circumstances, our leaders were more engrossed in political expediency than in working for the national interest, and this not only plunged the nation in a spiral of uncertainty, but also damaged the image of political parties and their leaders. As a shrewd political master-mind, Girija Babu decided to uplift the party’s image and unilaterally declared the more respected Kishunji as the prime ministerial candidate of the NC in the general elections of 2056 (1999). This ploy worked like magic and the NC again secured a comfortable majority in the 205 member House of Representatives. In spite of such grand strategic successes, Girija babu was unable to manage the internal power conflict. 14 months later Girija Babu re-emerged as the PM once again.
On the other hand, Girija Babu seemed more adept at handling nationally important issues. He took a firm and courageous stand against the regressive and unconstitutional steps of king Gyanendra who had dismissed the Deuba-led NC government allegedly for the failure to hold the general elections on time. Girija Babu demanded that the dissolved House be reinstated— then considered a forlorn cry. As the king showed no signs of making truce with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), he took the initiative of joining hands with the Maoists to the signing of the 12-point agreement to launch Jana andolan II, in New Delhi. After the reinstatement of the House, Girija Babu again led the national unity government and was instrumental in bringing the peace process closer to a logical conclusion with the signing of the 8-point agreement. At this time, the nation also witnessed the demands for the establishment of a Federal Republic with autonomous provinces. He wisely acceded to these demands with the condition that the country’s integrity and sovereignty would not be compromised. And, Girija Babu also decided to severe the party’s ties with constitutional monarchy and fully backed the establishment of a federal democratic republic.
As a person, Girija Babu was a gentleman par excellence- soft spoken, with an open ear and mind, he was loved by his party colleagues who felt extremely comfortable in his presence. After being appointed as MD of Nepal Electricity Authority, I made a courtesy call on him to seek his guidance. He was courteous, smiled and said, “Ajitji, let us work for the nation and I will back you completely”. I was elated and greatly encouraged and was able to perform my duties conscientiously without any interference. Although I did not have the privilege of a close relationship with him, I will take the liberty to state that his attitude to life may be summed up by a song which was very popular in the early 60s—Have faith, hope and charity, that is the way to live successfully.
As the nation grieves, Girija Babu’s most cherished dream of securing durable peace and a democratic constitution still remains unfulfilled. It would behoove on all parties, especially the NC, CPN-UML and the UCPN-Maoist, to reach a consensus on bringing the peace process to a logical conclusion and, thus, pay real tribute to a leader who fought tirelessly for empowering the people. In the final analysis, history may have its own judgment on his success/ failure to lead the nation and his party, but for now let us pay tribute to one of the country’s most illustrious sons and pray that his soul rests in eternal peace.
Thapa is NC Mahasamiti member
A version of this article appears in print on March 24, 2010 of The Himalayan Times.