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Sushil Koirala (1939-2016)

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016
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Photo: Gopen Rai

Nepalis woke up to sad news Tuesday morning – former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala had passed away just a few hours earlier.

Koirala, who was also President of the main opposition Nepali Congress, died at 12:50 am, according to his personal physician Dr Karbir Nath Yogi.

Koirala, 76, was down with pneumonia and fever over the last few days. But his health condition was not considered ‘worrisome’, and he also was in good spirits as he ate a bowl of rice gruel before going to bed Monday night. He suddenly began coughing and then lost consciousness at midnight. Dr Yogi called for an ambulance, but the septuagenarian leader had died before the ambulance arrived.

An emergency cabinet meeting Tuesday decided to honour Koirala with a state funeral and declared a public holiday on Wednesday.

Koirala’s body has been kept on the premises of the NC headquarters in Sanepa, Lalitpur. President Bidya Bhandari, Prime Minister KP Oli, political leaders, diplomats, and common citizens alike have been paying their final tributes to him.

India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has arrived in Kathmandu to pay her respects to Koirala. India’s President Pranab Mukherjee also expressed his condolences, sharing a tweet that read: “The people of India share the sorrow and grief of the people of Nepal over the loss of Shri Sushil Koirala.”

Koirala’s political career spanning over six decades began in 1957, when he was just a 16-year-old boy. The 104-year-long Rana oligarchy had ended just seven years before, and Nepal had been newly minted a democracy.

Five years later, King Mahendra Shah staged a coup d’etat and dismissed Nepal’s first elected government led by BP Koirala. After giving up his plan to try his luck at becoming a Hollywood movie star, Koirala became even more involved in a struggle for democracy that would last for the next 30 years.

During this system of partyless politics, he took part in a plane hijacking engineered by the NC to fund the anti-Panchayat movement. He was later arrested and jailed for six years on charges of conspiracy against the state and monarchy. He spent over 19 years in exile in India.

After the restoration of democracy in 1990, the NC won the opportunity to lead the government several times, but Koirala never became a minister. He did not have a family to look after. His simple life, free of greed and corruption, was a source of inspiration.

But Koirala will probably be remembered the most for his contribution to the constitution making process.

After his cousin Girija Prasad Koirala’s demise in 2008, he became the party President. Under his leadership, the NC was reduced to a second party in the first Constituent Assembly. But it later bounced back to become the largest party in the second assembly – although not due to Koirala’s charismatic leadership but because of peoples’ disenchantment with the Maoists.

Koirala, visibly frail and poor at oration, became Nepal’s 37th Prime Minister in 2014 following a power-sharing deal with the UML. The deal required him to vacate the post for UML boss KP Oli after the promulgation of the new constitution in one year’s time. However, the deadline expired without a constitution due to political bickering, and the UML pressured him to step down.

But Koirala refused to resign, saying he would do so only when there was a new constitution. The UML and other parties had no other option but to complete the statute drafting process. Had Koirala not stood his ground, the inauguration of the new constitution would not have been possible last year.

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