OBITUARY: Girija Prasad Koirala (1925-2010)

Baburam Bhattarai


An era in Nepali politics has come to an end with the sad demise of Girija Prasad Koirala on March 20. It is a great loss to the anti-monarchy democratic movement in the country. Starting as a militant trade union leader in the late 1940s during the Rana autocracy GPK devoted his whole life to the liberal democratic cause through the subsequent Shah autocracy to the final republican democratic era inaugurated in 2008. Perceived as a staunch anti-communist during most of his political life, he played a leading role in forging an anti-monarchy united front with the Maoist revolutionaries to usher in a republican set-up and died as a patron deity in the fragmented political firmament of Nepal. Hence, this heartfelt tribute from a Maoist communist.


When Chairman Prachanda and I visited GPK at his daughter Sujata´s residence one hour before his death on March 20 he was unconscious and gasping for breath. We whispered ´Girijababu´ to draw his attention but to no effect. We left with a heavy heart, sensing it would be our last visit to him.



Earlier on March 15, when I had visited him at Gangalal Heart Centre, he had whispered to me, ´You must take the peace process to a successful conclusion´. I had replied, ´Girijababu, we need your continued patronage.´ He had uttered another sentence with great difficulty, ´You have a great responsibility to shoulder.´


GPK is no more with us. But his memory will remain with us for a long time to come. When I recollect my earliest meeting with him it takes me back to the year 1977 or early 1978. Perhaps of all the Maoist leaders I have had the longest acquaintance with him. B.P. Koirala was just released from jail then to go for medical treatment abroad. I was president of the All India Nepalese Students´ Association and had gone to meet the Koirala family in New Delhi. As I was seen as a promising youth leader then, I immediately earned the affection of the Koirala brothers. I was then just a radical democrat with no particular ideological affiliation. Only some time later did I join the communist movement and the underground party.


After the partial democratic change of 1990, GPK became the first elected prime minister. I was Chairman of United People´s Front, the open arm of the underground CPN (Unity Centre), which transformed into the CPN (Maoist) in 1995. GPK was then seen as a staunch anti-communist crusader. He was lampooned by communist cadres for his infamous ´Male, Masale, Mandale are the same´ utterances. I only had some occasional, formal meetings with him. Even that used to be frowned upon by my more dogmatic and puritanical comrades.


After the armed People´s War (PW) was initiated in February 1996 and I had gone underground, I could see GPK only on TV. That too, very rarely. After the royal massacre in June 2001, our Party changed its tactical line to align itself with the parliamentary political parties to fight against the monarchy. It was in this context that Comrade Prachanda and I met GPK in an underground shelter in Motibag, New Delhi, in April 2002. It was the first meeting between GPK and Prachanda. GPK was accompanied by Shekhar Koirala and Chakra Banstola. That meeting set the stage for the ultimate alliance between the Maoists and the parliamentary parties to fight against the monarchy.


The next meeting with GPK materialized only in June 2005, again in ´foreign land´. This time GPK was accompanied by Shekhar Koirala and Krishna Sitaula, and our delegation included Prachanda, Mahara and myself. This was the real harbinger of the historic 12-point Understanding reached in November 2005. We had a series of meetings with GPK in November before clinching the Understanding. I clearly remember that in one of those meetings that took place in a Nepali worker´s residence in R.K. Puram, New Delhi, we had asked about GPK´s final commitment to a republican setup in Nepal. Though GPK refused to make a categorical commitment to that effect he gave enough hints that he would ultimately go for a republic. That had finally clinched the 12-point Understanding.


After the historic jana andolan of April 2006, GPK again became the PM. We reciprocated with a ceasefire. Then followed the dramatic peace negotiations, when Comrade Prachanda and I flew straight into Baluwatar from Sikles, along with Krishna Sitaula, then home minister. Rest is history, which need not be recounted here.


During the long and tortuous process of peace negotiations, I, as the convenor of the Maoist negotiating team, had ample opportunity to interact with GPK. When things used to get stuck and the rival negotiators were unable to untie the knot, we used to say, ´Let´s leave it to Girijababu.´ What struck me most about GPK was his forthrightness. He was a man of no nonsense. When he did not like something, he used to say so straight to your face. But when he made some commitment he used to stick to it at all cost. And he was bold enough to take harsh and unpleasant decisions. This made the negotiations process easy and comfortable.


Without GPK, I must admit frankly, we may not have been able to conclude the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the Interim Constitution, the Interim Government, the election to the Constituent Assembly and the declaration of the Republic in the given span of time and in such a comparatively smooth manner. Alas, he is not there to complete the implementation of the CPA and the writing of the new constitution. We will all miss him. He was the father figure that we, cutting across our ideological and political persuasions, could look upon in times of crisis.


One episode I would like to recount to show how GPK had transcended his narrow party interests for the sake of peace and democracy. There was just one week left for the historic Constituent Assembly elections to take place in April 2008. Comrade Prachanda and I had gone to Baluwatar to hear GPK´s assessment of the impending elections. GPK told us in a calm and cool manner, ´I know my Party is going to lose the elections and you people will win. But I will be happy if the elections are held in a peaceful and democratic manner.´ Even our Party had made a similar internal assessment by then. We bowed our heads in reverence to GPK.


Despite his many human weaknesses, especially his known Dhritarastra syndrome, GPK had risen to the status of a patron father-figure in Nepali politics. His commitments to peace and democracy were unquestionable. It is sad that he has left us when we need his counseling and guidance the most in the coming months.


Our respectful homage to GPK and heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family and Party members.


(The author, Baburam Bhattarai, is a leader of the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist) 

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