Back to BPBP Koirala’s political and literary visions are not mutually exclusive
Meeting Nepali and British academics, old friends and students at the annual lecture of the Britain-Nepal Academic Council (BNAC) on November 12 was an exciting as well as a bit challenging experience for me. The lecture was entitled ‘The unique blend of literature, politics and history in Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala’s writings’ was attended by a mixed group of people who were deeply interested in Nepal’s affairs.
The BNAC was established on May 23, 2000 “at a large meeting at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London of British academics and researchers interested in various aspects of Nepal”. Its founding chairman Prof Surya Subedi, Prof Michael Hutt (2009) and the current Chairman Prof David Gellner (since 2014) and other academics have diversified the interests of this organisation. This organisation is run and led by well-known British and Nepali scholars.
Pursuit of utopia
As part of the organisation’s policy of getting somebody either from Nepal or Europe associated with Nepali writing and creativity, I had received an invitation to this event nearly eight months ago. At that time, I was working on a play on BP Koirala alias Sandaju. And for that I was reading, sifting through his writings and interviewing his party people, the erstwhile political elites and the Maoists alike. The writing of a play ‘The Mahabharata of Sandaju’ in Nepali—which is currently being translated into English—was thus an artistic culmination of a quest of meaning in the writings and works of a man who occupied my thoughts for decades. I naturally chose this very theme for the lecture, and it was accepted. I began by giving a background of my interest in this subject.
After I published an essay on BP Koirala’s court defence in 1977 in the first issue of a journal titled Studies in Nepali History and Society started by Pratyoush Onta and friends in 1996, my interest in his political aesthetics blossomed in earnest. As someone who was neither a political analyst nor a social scientist, I turned to the question of utopia as that has always remained an elusive condition for the Nepali
people. In that article, I juxtaposed the utopia that king Mahendra had created to perpetuate a rule that banned all political parties and the freedom of expression. Conversely, the utopia that BP Koirala had nourished was part of a loktantric politics that placed the common people of Nepal above everything else. Today, we have begun to see how the elements of ‘utopia’ that Nepali politics and those who experimented their ideas in this country are being tested in real life. Each year, the notion of utopia takes an ironic turn when the Nepali political system and those responsible for churning out those dreams fail to live up to the promises warranted by them.
Two sides of BP
I was naturally expecting that the audience to evoke the political side of BP Koirala during the discussion. First, he was a pioneering statesman in a number of ways. Second, Nepal currently finds itself on the cusp of a unique transition that none of this country’s politicians had foreseen and this includes BP Koirala. But in my presentation, I pointed out that BP had advocated for two different things through his political philosophy and writings. He has written in a number
of places that he was a socialist, a democrat and even a communist and Trotskyite. But he was a very well-known statesman in the circle of the leaders of the socialist international whose later decline had worried Koirala.
The other thing is that he was a literary writer whose works are getting more and more popular today. So to the question what he would have done or perceived the current situation of Nepal, I said that we should evoke the two modes of his political perception and aesthetics. In totality, political poetics was his forte and philosophy of life. Only by a combination of these two factors could one think of a liberated condition. In a number of places, I came across the statement that
though BP did not recognise the Delhi agreement of 1950, he agreed to be the Home Minister of the ‘compromise’ Cabinet. He accepted a constitution that gave power to the king who put him in jail. Koirala produced some of the best literary works during his detention. BP Koirala’s apprehensions, predictions and the moment of his pain have become tangible in today’s Nepal.
It was very natural for me to expect inquisition from the Nepali and British scholars associated with the BNAC. For, just the other day, 14 academics from the universities of Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool John Moores, London, Oxford, and West of Scotland and from the Centre for Nepal Studies UK had published a statement condemning the violent methods used by both the Nepali state as well as theMadhesi movement supporters. The statement condemned “the unofficial blockade made by the Indian state” causing hardship to the already suffering population. I realised that the above situation had governed the mood of the participants at the programme.
It could be productive to imagine what Koirala would have said or done in this situation. But I put BP Koirala in the historical and the poetic political contexts that I strongly believe should be properly understood in the present situation because Koirala’s two visions—political and literary—are not mutually exclusive. The resonance of the above ‘sandhi’ should be captured not by limiting the interpretations only to a few forms of his works. Instead his entire body of work—political, literary and aesthetic—should form the matrix that can alone give us ideas about his philosophy of system, action, creation and humanism. I chose the last option to look at the contradictions, creative paradoxes and anxieties that rose above the limitations of the particular times, and wrote a play entitled ‘Sandajuko Mahabharata’. I also closed my discourse by reading the finale of the drama that was recently performed in Kathmandu.