The StatesmanGirija Prasad Koirala (GPK) was a towering personality who made Nepali politics revolve around him from 1991 until 2010.
Girija Prasad Koirala (GPK) was a towering personality who made Nepali politics revolve around him from 1991 until 2010. What puts him above any contemporary Nepali leader is his strong belief in democracy, resolute stand against the royal adventurism of 2002-05 and his successful effort in bringing the Maoists above ground, ending a 10-year-long civil war. Nepal would not have gone republican or the Maoists come into peaceful politics without Koirala’s efforts.
The parliamentary election in 1991 through which he became prime minister for the first time was a defining moment in his political career which elevated him to the centre-stage of Nepal’s political landscape where he remained a towering political leader until his death in 2010.
After Gyanendra began sidelining parliamentary forces, dissolved Parliament and the civil war spread across the country, GPK was firm in his conviction about the need to reinstate the Parliament. While the UML and even the Nepali Congress (Democratic), led by Deuba, joined the royal government after 2002, Koirala stood firm against compromising with the king.
Initially a vocal critic of communists, Koirala showed remarkable political pragmatism when he reached out to the Maoist rebels against King Gyanendra’s autocracy. This also pushed him to lead the political movement in which he made the Maoists a major partner by signing an historic 12-point agreement with them in New Delhi. It was Koirala who led the initiative for the 12-point accord in which the rebels for the first time expressed their commitment to competitive multiparty politics, civil liberties and the rule of law. This also brought the two forces together for the April 2006 uprising against Gyanendra’s absolute rule.
But Koirala was also an autocrat within his party. He ran the Nepali Congress (NC) with an iron fist and sidelined all his rivals in the party, including the two heavyweight leaders—Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai—to emerge as the sole power centre. His biggest drawback was that he couldn’t rise above petty partisan politics and the promotion of his family.
The intra-party conflict within the NC under his tenure saw Koirala sacking six of his cabinet ministers that eventually led to the downfall of his government in 1994. With this, an era of political instability began in Nepal with a series of minority and coalition governments. This also undid the economic reforms that his government had initiated in the 1990s which slowed down considerably in the second half of the 1990s.
For all his faults, Koirala must be credited for his commitment to pluralism, uncompromising stand on issues like supremacy of the Parliament and civilian control of the military.
One of Girija’s close aides, Puranjan Acharya, said his legacy should be seen in two parts. “The first part is full of paradoxes. Post 1990, he led the first democratically elected government which brought sweeping reforms in the economy and governance, and pushed the country towards stability and development. But, his decision to dissolve the Parliament in 1994 proved a disaster for both him and country,” Acharya said.
Koirala, according to Acharya, should be remembered for what he did post 2005 when he played a central role in bringing political change and institutionalizing the achievements it brought. “What we have achieved today could not have materialized if he had not acted beyond party’s ideology,” added Acharya.
— By Anil Giri