Were BP Koirala alive, he would have been two years younger on his 87th birthday than Dr Dilli Raman Regmi who died last week. Regmi never forgot to mention his biological seniority whenever BP's name cropped up in conversation. And BP's name came up quite often because the two had worked together to establish the Nepali National Congress in 1947 in India. When it merged with the Nepal Democratic Congress to form the Nepali Congress, Regmi chose to remain alone and named his outfit Nepali National Congress Party-an organisation that he headed until his death on 30 August.
BP and Regmi were a study in contrasts. Regmi craved the limelight, while BP seemed to hog it without ever making a conscious effort. Regmi was imperious-his throne-like chair and the sterling silver cup-holder from which he sipped tea amused visitors no end. BP took tea from ordinary glasses like everyone else. Regmi made his peace with monarchy and lived to see the reign of five kings. BP fought to keep kingship all his life, but was rewarded with prosecution by three generations of Shah kings. When BP passed away in 1982, the tone of King Birendra's message was almost taunting: "It is natural for us to feel aggrieved at the death of any Nepali." The condolence message issued in the name of King Gyanendra at the death of Regmi was much more dignified, though equally impersonal.
BP had a tumultuous relationship with all the kings he knew and had to work with. King Tribhuvan respected BP, but never trusted him. When the time to appoint a Prime Minister arose, Tribhuvan chose BP's elder brother. King Mahendra envied BP because he thought BP had more popularity at home and higher visibility abroad. This realisation rankled the king so much, he cultivated BP in private, but worked to undermine him politically. It was BP's resistance that prompted the king to put him behind bars by suspending the constitution and dissolving parliament in December 1960. BP was mystified by this dualism in King Mahendra's behaviour. But there was no personal malice behind Mahendra's moves. To quote Mario Puzo: "It was just business."
Those who wish to rule have to follow the dictates of their ambitions. Mahendra chose his henchmen for loyalty to royalty rather than competence. King Birendra's vision was inspired by Harvard's management gurus. He was hugely impressed by the "development before democracy" model fashioned for the countries of Third World by think-tankers on the Eastern Seaboard. He needed men of competence to establish a royal technocracy. This technocratic school of thought contends that economic growth takes precedence over personal liberty, that economic planning must be performed by experts, that mass mobilisation without the messy process of public participation is possible, and that such policies can best be pursued by an authoritarian but progressive government free from public pressure. In short, it advocates a benevolent dictatorship supported by technocracy a la Lee Kuan Yew. A galaxy of ambitious young men-predictably enough, there was no woman-gathered around the king. The state apparatus came to be guided directly by the re-structured royal palace secretariat. All the king's men were the likes of Dr Mohammed Mohsin, Dr Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, Dr Harka Gurung, Dr Ratna Shamsher, Dr Dambar Narayan Yadav, Dr Mohan Man Sainju. They pursued with vigour the Panchayat-era ideology of "let's break open the fountainheads of development."
For these pillars of King Birendra's technocracy, BP was history. The future belonged to the past-the concept of philosopher king guided by the best and brightest of the land selected for their ability. Elections were thought to be an avoidable nuisance in a largely illiterate and extremely poor country. The wretched needed to be pulled out of their misery by the people in the know. Or so thought the ones who thought that they knew how.
King Birendra may have been sincere when he called for the referendum of 1980, but his establishment had become too strong by then to allow him to have his way. BP believed that the king had to play a positive role in the development of democracy in Nepal, which is where he thought the monarchy fit in and where he derived his faith in kingship. But he opposed the paraphernalia of monarchy, and detested the rule of men without ART (accountability, responsibility and transparency) in the palace.
He wanted \'king in parliament' while the courtiers proffered \'king in the palace'. The more BP tried to join hands with the king, the wider became the chasm between him and courtiers who felt threatened. BP proclaimed that the king's neck and his were tied together (perhaps alluding to the dangers of Indira Gandhi's designs in the region). But the palace mandarins denied him entry into the palace-once even on the grounds that his jacket was not the right colour.
King Gyanedra may be tempted to have a go at greatness by restoring the primacy of monarchy. But this may have the unintended effect of undermining the monarchy's longevity. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is aspiring to be great by making all compromises in order to establish peace. It is rather early to pass judgement, but history is replete with examples of unpalatable compromises themselves threatening peace.
Matrika Prasad Koirala and Tulsi Giri too tried to make history, but they ended up being forgotten parts of it. It is Comrade Prachanda's dreams of leaping on to the republican rainbow that we need to be most wary of. A young nation's evolution through the processes of history cannot be artificially compressed. It isn't as easy as a young boy jumping classes from three to seven, and then on to nine, as Comrade Prachanda is reported to have done in school. It can make him either a Kaji Lendup Dorje, or just another Dr Keshar Jung Raymajhi. In either case, the nation stands to lose. BP scrupulously avoided moralising or being judgmental. The lead character in his novel Modiain, the grocer's wife, says: "Don't be great." Illusions of greatness prompt people play God, and invite holocausts. Being good exacts a price not everyone is willing to pay, but those who do become truly great. t