Rest in peacePresident of the Nepali Congress (NC) and former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala passed away on Tuesday at his Maharajgunj residence succumbing to pneumonia. He was 78.
President of the Nepali Congress (NC) and former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala passed away on Tuesday at his Maharajgunj residence succumbing to pneumonia. He was 78.
While it is too early to judge Koirala’s legacy, some analysis is rightly in order. Known affectionately as ‘Sushil Da’, Koirala will be remembered primarily for one achievement. It was under his leadership that the NC emerged as the largest party in the second Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in 2013. The victory helped the NC reestablish its footing in national politics.
Where his legacy, however, would be contested is that it was under his prime ministership that the constitution was promulgated. While some would view the promulgation as having unlocked a longstading political impasse and therefore an accomplishment, others would argue that Koirala could have handled the whole constitution process better and averted,
or at least minimised, the impact of the Madhesi agitation. To sections of the Nepali population, the constitution has been controversial, and so is Koirala’s role in its promulgation.
Where Koirala clearly failed was his lackluster handling of the aftermath of the Great Earthquake, which caused the country much pain. A crisis of such magnitude was in fact a golden opportunity for the prime minister to prove his mettle. However, the feckless and tardy manner in which relief works started and the reconstruction efforts continued to get delayed meant that he squandered the opportunity to a large extent. The Reconstruction Authority failed to gather momentum as the NC on the one hand, and CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist) on the other, fought over the potential reconstruction spoils. As a result, the quake survivors suffered immeasurably and continue to do so.
Koirala is also likely to be viewed critically for his complicity in his efforts to give continuity to dynastic politics and divisive leadership tussles in the NC. These problems are likely to dog the party for a while.
But it might be unfair to put all the blame on one individual alone. Few would question the fact that Koirala inherited a lot of systemic problems and age-old inertia in governance, both inside his own party and outside. Historians however will still reserve every right to look into what difference he made to overcome some of those problems.
With Koirala’s demise, the era of the so-called first generation leaders of the country has effectively come to an end. Their long struggle in the freedom movements gave them special standing in Nepal’s politics; they were also taken seriously in the neighborhood political circles. The fact that Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Nepal twice during Koirala’s tenure may have had a lot to do with Modi’s “neighbourhood-first” policy, but Koirala was admittedly a genial and generous host and both shared comfortable personal chemistry.
While all leaders have their flaws, and there is no need to defend those flaws, we can at least celebrate whetever positives they leave behind. Though he leaves behind a mixed legacy, few would grudge Koirala his personal austerity and simplicity.