BP Koirala is a legend in Nepali politics and literature. Many scholarly papers have been written about his contribution to the Nepali literature and politics. I never met him in person but I have seen him from very near. I have known and worked with his close associates. My dad and dads of many friends of mine had known and worked with him in many capacities. Here I am writing about my memories associated with the events surrounding his life and how it impacted the people of my generation (born between 1945-55)
I was born in Keltole, Asan and we moved to Kopundole when I was three years old. Kopundole, at that time, was a small village where everybody knew everybody. We used to address neighbors as family members; parents of Basu Risal (Basudai) were everyone’s Ba and Aama. Kopundole was a stronghold of Nepali Congress and we participated in each and every activity organized by the Congress. Basudai, Akal dai (Sharad Amatya) and many other young people were local congress leaders and they were our mentors.
My first memory of BP was in 2008 when a large Nepali Congress rally was organized at what was then the Sano Tudikhel (now Dasrath Rangasala) in Tripureshwor. Basudai had managed to take his family and neighbors to the rally. I went with my mom, elder sister and the neighborhood friends in a lorry. I was then 5 years old and have vague memories. Everyone was very excited. We were given tiny “Char Tare flags” and were shouting “Bir Bisheshwar Jindabad”. There were many leaders on the dais, and they gave speeches followed by loud applause. All of a sudden, people in the crowd started to run away and there was panic. There were shouts of “Khukuri Dal Aayoo” and people were fleeing in every direction. I remember seeing flashes of some people rushing to the crowd with open khukuris in their hands. All of us were herded in the lorry and were driven to somewhere behind the Bir Hospital. They took the big “Char Tare “flags down and after everyone said it is safe, the lorry brought us home.
I remember participating in the Annual Sports Day of the Bal Sakha Dal where we participated in 100-meter race, three legged races high jump, long jump etc. It used to be an all-day event. All children from Kopundole, Kandewatathan, and the neighborhoods used to participate. It used to be organized on the grounds in front of the Army Headquarters. At the time, it was a community playground. We, the youngsters from Kopundole, used to practice football there even up to the 1960’s. At the end of the event, BP came and distributed prizes to the winners. I was very good in 100-meter race and long jump in my age group and had won many prizes at other events. But I don’t remember whether I won the prize that day or not.
I have much better memories of the 2015 General Election, as I was a teenager at the time. We used to join the rallies and our job was to paste posters on the wall and do errands as young volunteers of the Tarun Dal. I remember the big Victory celebrations after the elections results were out. We, the youngsters of Kopundole, took it as our own personal victories and used to boast of the strength and the popularity of the Congress party. We used to have cultural shows during the Dasain celebrations. I remember having the grand cultural show at Amatya Chowk and the chief guest was BP’s wife Sushila Koirala. I remember months of rehearsal of songs and dances for the event. Everyone from our group participated in one event or the other. We were proud of the fact that she came and stayed for the whole duration of the event.
I have excellent memory of the 2017 Push 1 gate as if it happened only yesterday. I was a first year student at Tri-Chandra College. I and Bishu (Bishwamber Risal, younger brother of Basu dai) were very close friends. We were both fourteen-year-old at the time, were in the same class and used to go to college together. It was the last week of the college before the winter vacation. There was the big Opening Ceremony of the Tarun Dal Convention in Thapathali. We went to the college as usual and were planning to attend the evening cultural show. There was a play directed by Gupta Sen who used to live in Kopundole. My friends were the main actors. My childhood friend Bhogendra Purush and Bishu had important roles in the play. The well-known comedian Keshav was going to do his act “Lata janchan tirai tir, batha khanchan khirai khir”.
We used to walk all the way from Kopundole to Tri-Chandra College. There was no bus service at the time and we used to cross Bagmati bridge, then Thapathali, then road through what is now the Army Headquarters and Bhadrakali. On our way to the college, we saw many armed police units gathered around the Emergency Police Station in Ranipokhari. We thought it was to guard the Tarun Dal Convention. As we reached the college, one of our friends (Baikuntha from Tripureshwor) came running to us and told us that BP and other leaders had been arrested and were taken in custody by the Army. There was hushed silence in the college.
After some time, we went to the site of the Tarun Dal convention. Many top leaders were already arrested. Those not arrested had already gone underground. Most of the people left were Tarun Dal cadres scattered in small groups on the grounds. They were discussing what to do next. We met our seniors (dais from neighborhood) and they told us to go home, as there might be more trouble at the site. They used to be very protective of us and we used to look towards them as our “big brother”. Singha Dhoj Khadka, then President of the Tarun Dal was from Kopundole area and many of his brothers and cousins were our friends. We met most of our friends there. People looked dazed and lost. They seemed to be in total shock and the site looked as a ghost town compared to the evening before.
We went to the New Road in the evening and there were demonstrations by the Tarun Dal leaders protesting the arrest of the Congress leadership. There were scuffles between the police (one unit of police used to be stationed in what was Jan Sewa Cinema Ghar compound at the time) and the Congress supporters. There were reinforcements of police from the Hanuman Dhoka Thana. Many student leaders from Tri-Chandra College were in the protest groups. They were roughed up, and arrested by the police right in front of everyone. We wondered what would happen to them once they were away from the gaze of the public.
Many congress leaders including our own Basudai had gone into hiding. Some of them were hiding in “chidi” and “bugel” of homes of our friends in Kopundole. At night they used to move from one place to another. We were involved in bringing food and letters from one house to another. But we didn’t know who was hiding where. All of them were gone from hiding in a month. There were rumors that most of them left Kathmandu valley through different hilly routes. There were arrests of family members of many of these leaders. Hari Risal, whom all of us used to affectionately call Thul Dai (Elder brother of Basu Risal and dad of my close friend Madan) was also arrested and jailed for months. I remember visiting him in the jail and his warning to us “Babu, don’t get mixed up in politicking, they will torture and destroy you”
I have very good memory of the Fagun 7 gate of that year. There used to be parades in front of the Khariko Bot in Tudikhel what is now the Army Parade Pavilion. King Mahendra was taking salute. Students from different colleges, and members from community organizations used to march in the parade. Some students from Tri-Chandra College showed black flags to the King as a mark of protest of his suspension of democracy and sacking of the elected government and parliament. They were immediately roughed up and arrested. Of those arrested, I knew Kundan Dijyou (sister of Anup, my class mate and close childhood friend who later on became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and our friend Kumud Sharma from Toronto) and Dibya Dhoj Khadka, cousin of Singha Dhoj Khadka. There was widespread rumors that they were given very rough treatment in the jail. There were no Human Rights organizations and no civic groups advocating for democracy and rule of law at the time. Police had a free hand. It was a police state. And they made sure that everyone knew it.
I remember the shock when I heard of the news of our classmate and close friend Omkar Shrestha (we used to fondly call him Bekha) was arrested. We were shocked, as we had watched the cricket match together at Tudikhekl only the day before. He was arrested on charges of bringing explosives from India and planning to bomb public places. I used to see him many times on the road being escorted by 6-8 police men as he was being taken from the prison to the courts and back. He went on to become one of the youth leaders and a minister when the Congress came to power. I had already left Nepal by that time.
I went to Beirut in 1964 to study Pharmacy and came back in 1969 after completing my studies. As a part of the contract, I worked for Department of Medicinal Plants and Royal Drugs Ltd for five years. I could see the corruption, nepotism and communalism in its full swing from inside and felt suffocated by the authoritarian nature of the government at the time and decided to immigrate to the US. I was granted the immigration visa by the US in 1975 and was informed that I was the first Nepali to be granted the “Green card” directly in Nepal. Before this, most of the immigrants had gone to the US as students or tourists and then obtained permanent status.
As I look back to my childhood, it becomes very clear to me that my sense of community involvement and strong regard for democracy came from my years of involvement with the Bal Sakha Dal, Tarun Dal and my association with our senior dais who were disciples and mentees of BP.
I remember many winters working with my friends, Bishu, Madan. Ram, Laxman, Dhana, Deepak, Nagu, Shailu, Santosh (Deepak and Nagu are currently well settled in the US and Canada respectively) establishing reading rooms, “ Kopundole Sporting Club” and so on. We used to organize poetry recitation sessions, debates and many innovative programs. These were the games we played mostly in our childhood. I was the President of the organization (remember it was only 10-20 childhood friends) and Captain of the Cricket and Football teams.
Going beyond one’s family, one’s group of friends and doing something for upliftment of the community were very important, I learned this early in childhood. Our seniors inculcated this in us in many ways, by lectures and examples.
As I matured, I did a lot of readings about political philosophies and histories of political movements. I feel that BP was more of a socialist and admired the Kibbutz and youth movement of Israeli Zionists and Young communists and Young Pioneers of the Russian Marxists. He was a socialist and a democrat who struggled for social justice. In this he was different from the leaders of the Indian National Congress.
He was closer to Jayaprakash Narayan and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya in his political philosophy and did not believe in the leadership of landlords and aristocrats who formed most of the leadership of the Indian National Congress at the time. This may also explain his often-chilly relationship with Indira Gandhi. He was more of a social democrat who believed in democracy and social justice and may have been nearer to the European Social Democrats like Willy Brandt of Germany and Francois Mitterrand of France.
It was very unjust and unfair to label him “a stooge of India” as some of his opposition and King Mahendra tried to portray. He was a true nationalist and patriot who wanted very much to change the feudalistic society of Nepal. He had to make many sacrifices to get it done. He devoted his whole life to the cause of the nation, democracy, social justice and its people. It was indeed misfortune of Nepal that he was kept in jail or forced out in exile most of his productive years of his life and could not do what he wanted to do very much and for what he sacrificed his life for’ Upliftment of all Nepalis and making Nepal a Prosperous, Proud, Vibrant and a Beacon of Democratic Values.
As I look back, most of what I believe in came from my childhood years when I was mentored by my seniors (neighborhood dais) who were active disciples and followers of BP. This explains my many years of work with the Association of Nepalis in America (ANA), Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), International Nepali Literary Society (INLS), Nepali American Public Affairs Council (NAPAC) and many other Nepali community organizations as well as my volunteering for any assignment associated with many other community organizations and community upliftment projects. It will also explain my strong advocacy of support for democracy with the NRNA, hosting Sushil Koirala, Deubaji and other political leaders during King Gyanendra’s coup and my lobbying for Democracy for Nepal at the US Congress.
I strongly believe in the sanctity of Universal Human Rights and the sacredness of Democracy. It has prompted me many times to go against the establishment and sometimes to be on the other side of my close friends and colleagues. It has cost me dearly also as it has blocked my upward movement to the top of some national and international organizations. I strongly feel that there is no room for compromise with your core beliefs and I find it puzzling that so many of our very educated scholars and professionals in the US don’t hesitate to make compromises for a few minutes of fame, few photo opportunities with rich and famous, and some praise engraved in plaques.
Then the vivid picture of BP comes into view. He could have become a prime minister many times, he could have amassed vast amount of wealth and so on if he had just agreed to make some compromise with his core beliefs. However, he chose to not to do so, and as a result, had to spend most of his life in the jail, in exile and in poverty. I remember my friends raising funds for his medical treatment during his visit to the US.
We Nepalis were very lucky to have had a leader of such integrity, such caliber but to our misfortune, we could not stand up to the feudal autocrats and thus we did not give him opportunity to lead the country out of darkness of medieval feudalism and bring an era of freedom, equality, social justice and economic prosperity.
Here in the US, I get disillusioned by the emergence of groupism, factionalism, casteism, ethnicity centered activism and utter disregard of the democratic principles for gaining short-term goals and few minutes of fame. We are letting all spheres of our life be politicized on partisan basis. Our focus should be to train our younger generation in leadership skills and prepare them to be involved in the US public life and someday have our own version of Obama. BP will be an ideal role model to follow.
My sense of public service, strong respect for democratic norms, social justice and philanthropy, I owe a lot to the teachings and guidance of my neighborhood dais who were mentored by BP and I take this opportunity to pay my respects to the teacher of my teachers, guide of my guides and the mentor of my mentors, BP Koirala.
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