Nepali Times Asian Paints
The other brother


A Role in a Revolution
by MP Koirala
Rs 700
Jagadamba Prakashan, 2008
There is only one feeling as you finish reading Matrika Prasad Koirala's recently released memoir: deja vu.

It suddenly strikes you how little Nepal has changed. The Ranas have just been overthrown, but the political forces are at each other throats. There is infighting within the Nepali Congress, and the backbiting is even more vicious within the Koirala clan. India is concerned that Nepal is not listening to its concerns, which has to mainly do with taming Himalayan rivers.

MP's memoirs are from a rewritten manuscript after the original was lost and half of the book is an appendix made up of a fascinating series of letters and official documents between Nehru, MP and Tribhuban.

Krishna Prasad Koirala (Pitaji), the father of MP, BP and GP was a freedom fighter who was exiled to India because he stood up against the Rana regime. The Koirala brothers followed their revolutionary father foot-steps and were also packed off to India.

At first, they participated in the Indian independence movement. MP and BP were even imprisoned in India by the British and there they came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohiya and other Indians who were on the frontline of the struggle against colonialism.

After 1947, the Koirala brothers with other young Nepali political activists turned their attention to liberating Nepal from the century-old Rana Oligarchy. It is obvious the democratic movement in Nepal gained its inspiration from the Indian freedom movement, but they soon realised the bitter truth that a newly-independent India was not at the outset supportive of the anti-Rana insurrection. The Koiralas at first took up arms against the Ranas, with Mahabir Shamsher helping to transport guns and dropping pamphlets in Nepal from a DC-3 of his airline.

Under MP's command, the insurrection spread in 1950 and border towns like Birganj, Nepalganj, Dhangadi and Biratnagar were captured. Thir Bam Malla was killed during the Birganj attack, and the bada hakim was killed during the battle for Dhangadi. Rana soldiers fired on protesters in Gaur, killing many people. Narad Muni Thulung took over Bhojpur and later advanced on Kathmandu via Sindhuligadi. The book takes us through the splits between the BP and Dilliraman Regmi factions and the patching up to set up the Nepali Congress.

MP acknowledges BP's role, and does not criticise his brother even thought their relations were strained. By shunning populism, MP showed statesmanship but it isolated him and ultimately cost him political support.

The book gives us insight into the 1950 Delhi Agreement between the Ranas, King Tribhuban and the Congress. The so-called tripartite agreement, it turns out, was actually bilateral: between the Jawaharlal Nehru and the Rana rulers. Indian ambassador CPN Sinha was holed up at Hyderabad House with Tribhuban, and he constantly bullied Matrika who had wanted the meeting to take place in Nepal.

Then there was the case of the 3.5 million in Indian currency that the guerrillas had captured during the insurrection. The money was taken to Patna from where MP, BP, Subarna Shamsher, Mahabir Shamsher and MP's sister Vijaya took it on a DC-3 to Delhi. But at Delhi airport, the plane was seized by Indian intelligence, the entire group was detained at the customs office overnight.

The next morning when MP Koirala went to see Nehru at Tinmurti Bhavan, he was rebuked. MP maintained that the money was brought to Delhi to be handed over to Tribhuban, so the king would give his blessings for the anti-Rana revolution. MP suspects that Subarna Shamsher had colluded with Delhi to discredit the movement.

We see a glimpse of the real Nehru in his outburst at the Nepali freedom fighter in which he threatened to put BP and other Congress leaders behind bars. 'Mr Nehru ranted for more than an hour, and I patiently listened,' MP recalls in his chaste English in the book. Nepal's democrats return dejected from Delhi. MP writes: 'Our reliance on the Indian leader and the Indian government was completely shaken and naturally we had to depend on our own resources of men and material, however meager that may be.'

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)