Reviewing BP's court testimonyThe underlying essence of truth and reconciliation is the very spirit that is espoused by Koirala in his testimony.
The underlying essence of truth and reconciliation is the very spirit that is espoused by Koirala in his testimony.
The title 'court testimony' may sound like a hot topic today when the entire country is waiting for the sarvoccha adaalat, or Supreme Court, to speak. I imagine a painting, a work of fine art in which men and women drawn by the spirit of some creative energy are craning their necks to look at the centre of the painting, which is the court building located outside the Singh Durbar. It seems as though the entire trajectory of Nepali history is converging on this place.
Perhaps, as said by the famous German philosopher Walter Benjamin, the past history is resurrecting with its messianic power at this moment in Nepal. The big national party, Nepali Congress, that led the revolution against the Rana oligarchy that ruled Nepal for 104 years and the Communists who fought their big and minuscule battles against various establishments at different times are all waiting outside this architectural site of the Court today. The reason why they have converged on this minuscule space now is that, since they have torn away from the strands of common political spirit that bound them together, they want the court to do some healing for them. Like the existentialist characters in Jean-Paul Sartre's novels written under the general title ‘the road to freedom’, these parties are searching for principles or the mantras that would bring them to some common platform to accelerate the pace of Nepali history.
At this juncture of time, they are debating about the various dates and events within their parties that haunt them like spectres. They bandy about the words like 'metamorphosis', which is the title of Franz Kafka's story, realignments, reassessments and resurrection (that includes the restoration of the monarchy). It appears as though they have lost all clues to the meaningful exits in such a short span of time, in a couple of years practically, and are trying desperately to give legal validity and justifications to their moves. That it is not a very encouraging course of events. Such is the feeling of people like us.
The source of the somewhat incongruous combination of the lexicons in the title was the seminar of what is called the ‘PhD class’ run by the Central Department of English. These topics given to me for a couple of seminars were part of the overarching academic programme called ‘performance studies’. The gist of the topic is that politics evokes performativity; that involves the actions of the political leaders and their followers. I was asked to give a seminar on the common elements found in the dramatic or performative quality of BP Koirala's court testimony, published as adaalatko bayaan, and the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Tanya Goodman's article ‘Performing a new nation: the role of the TRC in South Africa’ presents the theatricality of its implementation with Desmond Tutu playing a central role and the whole hearing and listening process organised in a theatrical manner. As I don't have space to present the comparison here, I would like to focus only on the theatricality of BP Koirala's adaalatko bayaan in the rest of this article.
The court testimony that BP Koirala gave has performative quality. It comes from the dialogue between the court and BP. Each statement of the testimony given by BP Koirala has a dramatic quality about it. Judging from Koirala's testimony given at the court that was set up to try him, we can see that he was defending his cause, which was a fight for democracy and the people's fundamental rights. BP Koirala, whose voice was strong, was his own lawyer. But the contents of his testimony were not allowed to go outside the narrow periphery of the court.
By comparing how the stalwarts of the democratic movements and the political leaders are fighting at the Supreme Court today, we can say that BP Koirala's testimony shows inverse historicity. But the truth of the matter is that this court conundrum is an unnecessary wastage of Nepal's time; the actions of the prime minister and the president of the democratic republic of Nepal have created it.
For Koirala, it was a fight for the life of democracy and his own. BP was the first democratically elected prime minister of Nepal in the elections of 1958. He was deposed and jailed by king Mahendra in December 1960. For eight years, he spent his precious time in Sundarijal prison. Released in 1968, he spent eight years of exilic life in India; also travelling in Western countries to gather support for his programme of rebellion. When he returned to Nepal on December 30, 1976, he was arrested and tried at a special court from April 29 to May 17, 1977.
The following excerpts from the court statements that Koirala gave would reflect how far Nepali politics has moved away from that stage. And the current court performances made by all the major political parties at this stage show that Nepal has not yet clearly internalised the spirit of the constitution of the democratic republic. I present below a free translation of some crucial statements from BP Koirala's testimony to capture the spirit of the struggle for freedom and democracy—and to indicate how we are handling the achievements of the people's struggles.
BP says, 'My life is an open book. I'm sure the architect of the current system would accept the inevitability of the revolution of 1950. … I joined the great revolution of 1950 inspired by the great cause of putting an end to the atrocities of a despotic regime. … I need historical facts rather than the legal codes and system of justice to prove my innocence. … If the fundamental rights, people's freedom, and the rule of law were not tampered with, I would not have to raise the voice of revolution.’ Inspired by the dramatic power of Koirala, whom I have always admired as a writer and written articles about his literary works over the years, I used his adaalatko bayaan, among others, to write a play entitled Sandajuko Mahabharat (2016). The play was performed by the village theatre in 2015.
The underlying essence of Truth and Reconciliation is the very spirit that is espoused by BP Koirala in his testimony. The TRC of Nepal may not get very far if it fails to take the spirit of trust, respect, justice and freedom as its guiding principles.