ADIOS SUSHIL DA (1939-2016)Man of few words but many strengths
This may well be an apocryphal story, but many a time it had surfaced. That Sushil Koirala, when young, wanted to become an actor. A Hollywood actor. He was a movie buff and a good reader.
But it was not the silver screen where he was destined to play a role; his future was in politics where he did play a key role or two. When he entered Baluwatar on February 11, 2014, after leading his party to a victory in the second Constituent Assembly elections in 2013, he had to shoulder a huge responsibility of taking the constitution-drafting process forward.
When the constitution was promulgated in September 2015, he was leading the country as the 37th prime minister and the leader of the single largest party in the CA. He may not have made it to the Hollywood silver screens, but he did emerge as a true political hero for leading the country to give her the constitution for which the struggle had continued for long.
Born to one of the biggest political dynasties of Nepal in 1939, Koirala joined the Congress party at the age of 15. He immediately took a plunge and started participating in the party’s movement against the Panchayat system.
But in the party, which was dominated by his family members with heavyweights in the forms of BP Koirala and GP Koirala, it was not an easy sailing for him.
But his unwavering commitment to democracy and democratic values was his strength, which in time would catapult him to the post of party president in 2010.
When his family fled to India in 1960 after then king assumed absolute power, suspended democracy and jailed many leaders, he accompanied them.
In 1973, Koirala was part of the Congress party team that was involved in hijacking a plane—masterminded by his senior party leader GP Koirala—said to be carrying boxes of cash, which the Congress crusaders wanted to use to fund the party for the democratic movement. He spent three years in an Indian jail for the crime. During his exile in India, Koirala also edited the Tarun magazine, the party mouthpiece.
Starting as an active party member, Koirala gradually rose through the ranks. He became a member of the party’s Central Working Committee in 1979 and was appointed party general secretary in 1996, six years after the reinstatement of democracy following a popular democratic movement in which he actively participated.
The first democratic parliamentary elections were held in 1991 and Koirala, whose family had already moved to Banke long ago, won from Banke-2. In 1997 elections, he again won from the same constituency.
When the Maoist party joined mainstream politics in 2006, the wind was blowing in favour of the CPN (Maoist).
Two years later, when first Constituent Assembly elections were held in 2008, Koirala faced a major setback.
He lost the elections. He was out of the CA. But he utilised the opportunity to build support within his party and strengthen party organisation. By this time, he was already picked by the NC veteran leader GP Koirala who had entrusted him with the responsibility of acting party president.
Two years later, when the party held its 12th general convention in 2010, his patience and efforts paid off. He defeated party senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba to become the party president.
The first CA failed to draw up a new constitution and was dissolved in 2012. A year later, when the second CA elections were held, Koirala not only won from two constituencies—Banke and Chitwan—but also led his party to emerge as the second largest party.
In February 2014, he was elected the 37th prime minister of the country.
Despite the Congress party being in power many times since 1990, he never aspired to move to ministerial quarters in Pulchowk.
He was never married. All his life, he either lived with friends or relatives. For many years, he had a small room for him at one of his relatives’ house in Naya Baneshwor. He happily handed over the property he had inherited from his parents to his brothers. In his hometown Nepalgunj in Banke district, he did not have even a piece of land in his name.
When he became the prime minister, his declared assets were: three mobile phones. Koirala did maintain his clean image, which has become a rarity among politicians in modern times.
In his party, the Nepali Congress, Koirala, however, was often criticised for his performance. One charge that he faced on more than one occasion was: He liked to work with a small group of people—a coterie.
He was also portrayed as a leader who was “intolerant”. He was blamed for promoting factionalism “at the behest of GP Koirala”.
When he was general secretary, according to NC leaders, he interfered in party’s sister organisations and district chapters would appoint people who were close to him.
But his supporters dismiss the charges, saying they were levelled against him by “some detractors”. They insist that it was his unwavering stance on democracy, human rights and rule of law, which sometimes would ruffle a feather or two of these detractors.
Deuba emerged as his biggest critic after facing defeat from Koirala in 2010. The Deuba faction censured Koirala for failing to appoint CWC members and making party organisations obsolete.
But nonetheless, it was Koirala under whose leadership the party, which had faced a serious drubbing in the first CA elections, emerged as the single largest party five years later.
“An indefatigable fighter for democracy, he was almost like an institution,” NC leader Ram Sharan Mahat said in Tweeter on Tuesday.
After becoming the prime minister, Koirala, despite being charged with taking some rigid positions, always underlined the need for promulgation of the constitution at the earliest.
When there was pressure was mounting on him in January 2015 to promulgate the constitution on the basis of majority—‘bypassing’ the UCPN (Maoist) and Madhes-based parties—Koirala stuck to his guns and would often fire the “consensus mantra”. “Politics of consensus” and “give and take” would become his refrains, so much so that some even started saying “it’s ad nauseam”.
But Koirala held his ground. Just before the constitution promulgation, while addressing Parliament, Koirala assured that Madhes-based parties’ demands would be addressed through amendment. He kept his word. His government in October registered a constitution amendment bill, which was later endorsed by Parliament on January 23.
“It would not have been possible to promulgate the constitution without Koirala’s proactive role as head of government,” UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal said on Tuesday.
Sadly, the constitution amendment failed to assuage the concerns of the Madhes-based parties.
Koirala breathed his last amid political instability in the country.
The constitution was drawn up by people’s elected representatives with an aim to unify the country, but it has failed to achieve the goal.
Koirala until a few months ago was making attempts to resolve the Tarai issue by negotiating with the protesting Madhes-based parties. As the largest party, he would say, the NC must take the lead.
If political parties finish the unfinished business of taking all groups, including ethnic minorities and Madhesis, on board and take the country towards the path of prosperity by implementing the constitution, it will be a true tribute to the late leader Koirala.