BP Koirala's challenging optionsThat BP Koirala should remain a misread and misunderstood statesman in Nepal puzzles literary writers who read his works.
A problem of choice shapes the hermeneutics of Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala's politics and literature. His karma of having to choose between two opposites may have given him an existentialist position, to use the philosophical jargon. Speaking on poet Bairagi Kanhila, recipient of this year's BP Koirala literary prize, at the awarding ceremony on September 10, 2019, I interpreted Koirala's famous binary between literature and politics. Koirala famously said: 'I am a socialist in politics and an anarchist in literature'. Narahari Acharya and I have disputed this binary. Discussing Koirala's statement, Acharya has written a chapter in his book Parishilan (1998), and I have written too many articles to mention here.
Koirala was a great literary writer who wrote mostly fiction, in which he creates characters whose goals are often obscure, as in propagandist novels. Instead, characters in his book live a life of their own, but also adhere to what society and culture expect of them. Ultimate freedom for man or woman is not achievable without first seeking liberation deep down in the antarman, and in the ways of living with society and family. Alluding to my writing on BP Koirala I said, as Erich Auerbach, a German literary critic and an exiled Jewish academic in Turkey, has written in his famous book Mimesis, that the world addressed by politics and literature shares collective energy. I want to recall one occasion here. I was thrilled by Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Rajmohan Gandhi's response at one SAARC literary conference in Delhi on February 2015 when I presented a paper entitled Auerbach and Koirala's modes of writing: Mimesis and Allegories of Exile and Peace. Rajmohan Gandhi knew Koirala; he said, literary imaginaire has consonance with the true spirit of politics.
Another binary that shaped BP's entire life, and has given a subject for his party and many Nepalis to bandy about, was the choice between democratic republicanism and constitutional monarchy in Nepal. This subject has triggered diverse responses and continues to dominate political discussions even today. Political analysts and his party stalwarts (sadly, he did not have suitable successors) have interpreted this position according to their interest and sense of advantage. Political analysts except for a small number of scholars and party people say BP was a monarchist because he had a clear agenda for that. Even the late eminent lawyer, Ganesh Raj Sharma whom I respected so much, carefully culled BP's writings and published a book to show that BP was after all a monarchist. I had the chance to ask some close colleagues of this great advocate if he had sincerely believed in that, and they said, 'no, he has only put those writings for open analyses, which is sadly not happening.' But the analysis went haywire in the hands of those who have a limited sense of historicism to do that.
That they had little experience and time gap between interpreting BP Koirala's politics, his return to Nepal in December 1976 with a message of reconciliation, their interpretation of Koirala's proposal of melmilap however elliptical that maybe, was understandable. But it is mindboggling to see that they should not learn the art of interpreting history. This is even after going through colossal events in Nepali history. A significant development was the comprehensive peace agreement signed between the Maoists and the seven parties on November 2006, coupled with the subsequent events that cobbled the parties holding different views about the government, politics and economic management in the country. BP Koirala's reconciliation theory that evoked the so-called monarchical role should have been understood only as a foresighted, time-sensitive and flexible periodic political move. Instead, a section of his party people and others have been using BP's strategically architected move as permanent philosophy of action. In one very timely intervention, senior advocate Tikaram Bhattarai sees a chilling possibility of the retrogressive force within the Nepali Congress taking over the party. He believes, 'Nepali Congress leaders more than the party cadres are actively playing this role. If this subject continues to dominate the thinking pattern in this manner, the Nepali Congress is sure to adopt the regressive path from the next party convention.' He warns, 'after some years the monarchists, rightist Hindu zealots and the Nepali Congress will form a declared or undeclared grand alliance.' (Kantipur, September 10, 2019. Translation mine).
I see the existential dilemma of BP Koirala ironically working here because his onetime historical strategy for which he proposed a reconciliatory action plan with the monarch appears to be turning into an absolutist political principle. In the hands of his party, that misinterpretation might turn into a spectre of history, the forebodings of which are indicated in Tikaraj Bhattarai's essay. One way of interpreting the ideas of BP Koirala and other freedom fighters of different parties would be to see the left-right binary of the second half of the 20th century when ideas about social democracy and leftism had shaped the global consciousness. But reviewing the principles of visionary statesmen like BP Koirala today, when partisan culture is struggling to take shape, one should cross the narrow boundaries of the binaries.
In this regard, the Maoists understood BP's spirit better; the Maoists saw BP's republican vision and called him a strategist. Prachanda even called him his Guru. I want to recall what I wrote earlier in this regard, 'I was struck when [Prachanda] elaborated that point and said, BP understood the meaning of arms very well, and he knew how they should be used to bring about a state of permanent peace in the country.' (The Kathmandu Post, September 19 2007).
That BP Koirala, despite his political experiments, his pioneering ideas of freedom from tyranny expressed in actions and language marked by boldness, clarity and honesty should remain a misread and misunderstood statesman in Nepal, puzzles literary writers and people like us who read his literary works and try to link his politics to the philosophy of resistance and freedom.