Nepali Times
Martyrdom in time of democrativ decay


In the weeks after the ban on political parties was lifted in 1990, Ganesh Man Singh firmly positioned himself as the pre-eminent speaker on the national lecture circuit. In his captivating albeit sometimes convoluted way, the newly christened "supreme leader" of Nepal charted out his vision for the newly emancipated nation.

As the months wore on, however, the audience's impatience over the use of the by then watered-down "sarbamanya neta" appellation started becoming apparent. Singh's familiarity with the fickleness of the public mood must have played a big part in nudging the state media to start qualifying his leadership attributes within the confines of the Nepali Congress.

This sequence of events came to mind as the ruling party leadership converged on the cradle of Nepali democracy last week to induct "Pitaji" Krishna Prasad Koirala (see picture above) into the Hall of Martyrdom. To be sure, many Nepalis feel orphaned amid today's relentless tumult. If you really think about it, the country probably has never been at such a great risk of going astray. But Nepalis certainly weren't expecting a long gone Daddy to appear from out of nowhere.

A former Indian prime minister paid moving tributes to KP Koirala's contributions to the Indian independence movement and Nepal's pro-democracy struggle. (In fact, a surprisingly large number of Nepali freedom fighters came of age during the swaraj movement). However, the fact that Chandrashekhar is a close Koirala family friend and the man who inspired Nepalis to shed their partyless character from the hallowed premises of Ganesh Man Singh's Chaksibari abode somewhat spoiled the show. In retrospect, HD Deve Gowda would have been a more impartial choice to deliver the eulogy without breaching either protocol or ideological affinity.

Legend has it that KP sent Chandra Sumsher a box full of scruffy clothes and tattered footwear, ostensibly to show the Rana prime minister the sordid plight of his people. That act must have demanded great courage on the part of a commoner, unless he was preparing for permanent exile across the border. Not to belittle KP's bravery, but, in all fairness, you have to talk to the descendants on the other side of the dispute to grasp the full picture. And they'll tell you that they think the real source of friction between the Ranas and KP was their failure to reconcile the Morang bajar adda accounts. In any case, you couldn't expect the commoner to prevail over the assemblage of aristocrats in full regalia.

That KP fathered three sons who went on to become prime minister-and don't forget that granddaughter who served as deputy prime minister-is no mean achievement. By producing a daughter who served, in her own graceful way, the cause of Pakistan's foreign policy and a great granddaughter who held the Indian film industry in rapture for a decade, KP proved to be a pioneer of regional cooperation. But I would have thought recognition of these multiple feats belonged to the record books, not on the family tree of every Nepali.

In a political organisation where family connection is a near guarantee of winning public office, terms of endearment do matter. But let Pitaji and the array of aamas and dajus stay within the party's organisational chart. We don't want a Bangladesh-like predicament where the official status of dead leaders depends on which Begum is in power. The nice part, though, is that Kangresis, who are furious every time someone mentions Matrika Prasad in a political context, still consider him part of the clan.

A radio interviewer asked the daughter of Dharma Bhakta, one of the first four martyrs, how she felt about herself. She didn't like how easy it had become to qualify as a martyr these days. Her concern was that a cheapening of martyrdom would have a corrosive effect on the national consciousness.

In a recent newspaper interview, the man reputed to have pulled the trigger on Ganga Lal and Dasarath Chand when his subordinate was too scared and inebriated to carry out his orders was asked to recount the event. After providing a graphic account of the day, he said his only regret was that the four men might have turned out to be better leaders than the ones Nepalis got. I didn't think that was just dark humour coming from a man enjoying his ninth decade on the planet. (Personally, I looked forward to learning more about Nayab Subba Purna Narayan Pradhan of Nhaykantala, who ranked fifth on Juddha Sumsher's Magh 7, 1997 execution list, unless he went on some kind of witness protection programme.)

Janakpur recalled the 38th Day of Sacrifice of a native son. From the fifth paragraph of the newspaper story the following morning, it emerged that this man's act of selflessness consisted of hurling an incendiary device at the monarch's jeep. Pardon my ignorance, but wasn't this man executed for a capital crime? What message are we trying to send across a country torn by a bloody insurgency by sensing democratic aspirations in every dastardly act?

What was missing from the Kangresi side of the week of remembrance, though, was any illuminating recollection of the parts played by people like Tej Bahadur Amatya, Yogendra Man Serchan, Diwan Singh Rai and Saroj Prasad Koirala. The deaths of these men-the real second-generation Kangresis-have slipped into the realm of mystery.

As for the Morang conclave, it was interesting to see representatives of all influential lobbies of the fractious ruling party in attendance. I couldn't help wondering, though, whether Ganesh Man Singh would have consented to preside over the ceremony had Pitaji been beatified right after the restoration of multiparty democracy.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)