Koirala’s concernsSpeeches made to mark the birthday of Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, alias BP, have turned into mere rituals over the years.
BP Koirala, the founder-leader of the Nepali Congress (NC), a freedom fighter and the first elected prime minister of Nepal, was unlawfully jailed by king Mahendra in 1960 by dissolving the first-ever elected Parliament. BP was also a great literary writer and a persona who pulled the nation out of medieval times into the world of freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, he had to fight against obstructions all his life. Some historians and constitutional experts say BP’s major weakness was that despite being an outstanding politician from South Asia, a leading member of Socialist International, and a left-oriented politician, he was a little gullible. He believed in what the tight-lipped king Mahendra—who hid his perhaps torturing shyness behind a serious visage—said to him about how true he would stay true to the terms of sharing power with an elected prime minister. That turned out to be a mistake. Whatever history wrought lays bare before us.
Ironically, we would not have known much about the ways and psyche of king Mahendra or his son, king Birendra, if BP Koirala had not told us all that in his memoirs. BP turned his memoirs into the subconscious of Nepali history, which pose challenges of interpretations today. BP Koirala’s self-defence, the testimony given at the makeshift court set up for his trial in 1977—which was largely a mock affair,and a dangerous trap because some people had wanted to remove BP Koirala from the scene altogether— reveal the political intentions and psychological confusions of the kings and their cronies.
Curiously, the major document, his court defence that he himself had prepared, his vision of law and democracy, was not given a place of importance for many years, neither by his party publication wings nor by any legal publishers. That document, today published neatly by the Sundarijal museum, has become available to a wider audience. BP came out of a long prison sentence carrying manuscripts of his fictional and real stories. He got his own story recorded when he came out of prison, which came out as books. Many people read them and knew who BP was, and what futurity holds for us. The silence between his own narratives and our ignorance or indifference is the most eloquent irony of both BP’s politics and his literary oeuvre.
Socialist and anarchist
When people are celebrating BP Koirala’s centenary, I see some confusion in terms of interpretation. We have to carefully see who narrates and who listens to BP Koirala’s narratives. Over the last half year or more, I have been trying to find the answer to this question through my study in this area. In fact, the search began as early as 1996, when I first published a long essay titled ‘Literary Response to Panchayat Utopia’ in a social science journal published by Martin Chautari and Mandala Books. This year, I produced a long analysis of BP Koirala’s court testimony from a philosophical, performative and literary point of view for a book in Nepali about Koirala as a fiction writer, published by Nepal Academy. In that study, I have interpreted Koirala’s political views and his statements about his identities as a politician and especially a writer. By unambiguously saying that he was a socialist in politics and anarchist in literature, he created a yardstick to judge his two different personas, which I have not found to be helpful in understanding him properly.
I found that, perhaps, he was saying this to keep his two different sides very clear for his party cadres and literary readers. But that distinction does not answer the bigger question of his vision about people and their predicaments and conditions of their freedom that are not only linked to political agenda but also to the psyche that shapes their existence. I have disagreed with that binary because his political vision does not keep the human dimension, the inner struggles of the characters who suffer under different conditions outside its sphere. In fact, the poetics of BP Koirala’s politics is shaped by his creative literary and philosophical persona.
To come back to the original question of the distinction between narrator and addressee in Koirala’s oeuvre, we have to be honest about the source of our knowledge about his visions and his politics. My belief is that BP Koirala is the greatest teller of his own stories, alongside those of his characters in fiction. We know him more from his autobiographical stories than by our own research into his life and works. I have not come across any outstanding study of BP Koirala made by very good writers. All the books are either compilations of his writings and interviews or his literary works. Though Koirala sought to keep his political life separate from his literary life, his short story ‘That Night’, written about young martyr Durgananda Jha, who was executed by the Panchayat regime in 1963, showed that hardly anybody had written as movingly and accurately as BP had done. There are many such instances where we can see the fuzzy lines between his political and literary writings.
BP spoke for all of us and for himself at that makeshift court. In that court document, he has laid down the principles of revolution, value of human freedom and lashed out at the unlawful moves of autocratic kings and their cronies. But hardly anybody, politicians or historians, seems to have any will or courage to correctly spell out BP Koirala’s concerns about the nation and freedom. Keeping BP’s real concerns in mystery is a form of hubris that will continue to haunt Nepali politics and politicians.