Nepali Times
State Of The State
Biratnagar’s bookkeepers


Biratnagar, settled in a glade less than 75 years ago, still bears a potted-plant look. Unlike old tarai towns such as Janakpur, Birganj, or Nepalganj, which grew organically, the settlement here is predictable.

Neat little plots by roads running at right angles to each other, sedate bungalows, orderly shopfronts, no children playing football in the street, not even on a Saturday evening. There are no abrupt turns, no blind alleys, and no surprises for a visitor taking a leisurely stroll. The dullness of the cityscape, however, is made up for by the rumour-mongering around Traffic Chok.

Local journalists eagerly await every homecoming of Girija Prasad Koirala. These are their chances to scoop national headlines, and Koirala often obliges with pithy soundbites on issues of national importance.

Early this week, speculation was that Koirala would deliver the final blow to the monarchy and effectively steal the Maoists' thunder.

Instead, he delivered a damp squib, saying that it was not as easy to establish a republic as many of the lesser politicians believe in the coalition that he heads.

Nobody understands the staying power of the monarchy better than the man who has been fighting it for over six decades. He knows that for a declaration of a republic to be significant, the objective conditions that support the king have to change.

The April Uprising has severely weakened the five M's that have always supported the monarchy-the military, the mandarins, the merchants, the mendicants, and the mediators. Some of these traditional forces now support some form of democracy for tactical reasons, but it will take a lot more for them to turn republican.

The merchants continue to be the most committed supporters of monarchy in whatever form. Nepal's mercantilists have been cosy with the rulers since Jung Bahadur. Chandra Sumshere refined that the relationship further, and Juddha, who benefited from the boost in trade during World War II, invested some of the loot in industry. Biratnagar was home to some of his entrepreneurial ventures.

King Mahendra courted Mananges and Marwaris in his efforts to build a parasitic economy based on the vulnerabilities of state protection in neighbouring India. King Birendra gave continuity to the tradition, and screwdriver manufacturing, repackaging of exports, re-routing of imports boomed in Morang. During the 1970s, almost all the country's big business houses thought it essential to have a presence in Biratnagar.

In these glory days, Matrika Prasad Koirala schmoozed with Marwaris. The Golchhas had a close relationship with Surya Bahadur Thapa. The Madan Lal-Chiranjivi Lal duo patronised Bhupal Man Singh Karki, and Tolaram Dugar brought Kirtinidhi Bista to Biratnagar.

The town also came to be known as the home of various prime ministers. It has been the stomping ground of all three Koirala brothers, Man Mohan Adhikari, Nagendra Prasad Rijal, Surya Bahadur Thapa, Mahesh Acharya, and Bharat Mohan Adhikari. Not too many are proud of Badri Prasad Mandal, but he too has an independent support base here.

That pahadi domination of this town is being questioned after January. For an emerging group of madhesis, Upendra Yadav is Biratnagar's new icon. He is now a sworn republican, but his distaste of the mainstream parties and Maoists is even stronger than his anti-monarchy sentiments. His connection with Morang's influential Marwari community isn't yet clear. The monarchy has powerful backers in this mercantilist town and Koirala seems to have reluctantly accepted this for now. But he has to balance this with his republican constituency.

CK lal in

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)