A revival of BP studiesA new book highlights Koirala’s role in creating a political culture of democracy, freedom and humanism.
A revival of interest in the study of Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala alias BP (1914-82) is taking place in recent times. Besides the regular discussions about BP within his party, the Nepali Congress, focusing mainly on measuring how far the party has drifted from his teaching, other people have taken up the subject for free mimamsa. One such discussion was organised by the Nepal Academy and the Nepal Vaikalpik Adhyayan Samaj on August 20. The title, "BP Koirala and his literature in the context of Nepali politics", was notable for two reasons. One, it brings the familiar theme about the relationship between BP's literary writings and his political philosophy and modus operandi. Two, it evokes discussions about the somewhat chaotic contemporary ideological situation of Nepali politics.
But what struck me was Hari Roka's choice of speakers: Shiva Rijal, a young, non-partisan academic at the Central Department of English who was the main speaker; Kumari Lama, English teacher at Padmakanya Campus and a well-known essayist; Bhuwan Dhungana, a well-known Nepali writer and former university teacher of English; and Shankar Tiwari, a Nepali Congress persona and writer. Moderated by the well-known Nepali fiction writer Narayan Dhakal, this session struck me as an important experiment because the main speaker and the panellists discussed BP from an entirely academic perspective.
The publication of the book Bishweshwarprasad Koirala: Chetana, chintan ra rajniti by Krishna Khanal is an important landmark in the study of BP's "awareness, thinking and politics". The 600-page tome is woven around the dynamic persona of BP and covers a period from the last century up until the Maoist insurgency and declaration of Nepal as a federal republic.
Krishna Khanal is an emeritus professor of political science at Tribhuvan University, thinker and an acclaimed writer on political and social issues. He is an erstwhile member of the Nepali Congress Party who worked with the upper echelon of the party elite and leaders. Well-known for his independent spirit, Khanal resigned from all his responsibilities and pursued an independent life as an academic and writer. For mavericks like us who are literary academics and teachers of literary theories and cultural studies, this book opens up new domains of study. The most prominent one is that it brings the history of modern Nepal, especially of the revolutionary times up until the present, with clarity and vision. I mention just a few below.
Khanal introduces some novel perspectives to study the work and vision of BP Koirala. Among them is the reference to the influences of some Western writers on BP's thinking. As a literary writer, it was natural for BP to get exposed to the ideas and philosophy of them. Khanal alludes to the influence of the French novelist and writer Albert Camus on BP, which becomes important especially when you are trying to write about the influence of an existentialist literary thinker and writer on a literary writer like Koirala.
Khanal raises some questions at the very beginning of the book. The need for discussions about the influence of socialism is easy to understand. But he makes it clear at the very outset that discussions about poverty in this part of the world, and in Nepal to be precise, should be addressed from the perspective of political philosophies that include socialism most prominently. BP's party, the Nepali Congress, made several important experiments. To support and work towards making Nepal a federal republic and to work in tandem with the communists were not contrary to BP's chetana ra chintan, argues Khanal.
Khanal makes an important observation about the postality of BP Koirala's thinking and politics. The reason why, in Khanal's words, Nepali politics has not entered the post-BP stage even after his death is the validity of his political thinking and philosophy that are working cogently in the political developments of Nepal. We can see that in the guarantee of the fundamental rights of the people, the flexibility and successful practice of political organisations, an elected form of government that is responsible to the people, a Parliament of the representatives chosen by the people, a free judiciary, the rule of law and free media. These are the components of a democratic loktantric system that was the main goal of BP's political karma. I want to allude to the question of postality that I have discussed in my earlier article in The Kathmandu Post under the title "Post politics in Nepal". In this article that Khanal had read and discussed with me, I have said that the communists and the Nepali Congress are "working in the post-ideological conditions" (May 22, 2022).
Khanal's book shows that modern history works with some dominant patterns that can be seen in the events of historical importance like the campaigns against Rana rule, the general election, the jail life of BP and other leaders, Mahendra's autocratic Panchayat regime, BP's second exilic condition, and return for melmilap that analysts and his historical court defence misrepresent. The impact of BP in his lifetime and after is the main subject of the book. This book thus is not just about BP but about the modern history that can be seen with the persona and ideals of BP. The book also shows how the imago effect is important to understand BP and other individuals whom BP has described in his diaries. Khanal says the BP-Mahendra binary is still an essential feature of the Nepali political psyche.
The relationship with Indian leaders did have an effect on BP's actions. His close association with leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and JP Narayan, on the one hand, and with Nehru, on the other, did create situations that BP had to tackle carefully. Khanal's book answers some of our questions regarding BP's role in creating a political culture of democracy, freedom and humanism. The pattern we see after reading the book is the image of BP that is either shaped by his admirers or his opponents, including royalists or others. That pattern continues even after his death, in fact, until today.
Krishna Khanal's sphere of BP study is broad-based. There is no space here even to mention the nature of the range. But Khanal has created a new genre of study that combines history, politics, literature and philosophy. He does so by means of simple writing and clarity of thought in the realm of politics and extensive study and analyses. Khanal invites people to discuss history with clarity and evidence. He claims that BP's writings are critical historiographical documents with a human spirit, political vision and reverberations of freedom.