Man with conviction and integrityForeign influence in Nepal increased after it embraced a democratic set-up in 1951 with many foreign missions entering the country in the name of supporting the democratisation of institutions that had functioned under an autocratic Rana regime for a century.
Foreign influence in Nepal increased after it embraced a democratic set-up in 1951 with many foreign missions entering the country in the name of supporting the democratisation of institutions that had functioned under an autocratic Rana regime for a century. The Indian government also sent a military mission in early 1951 to help reform the Nepal Army. The mission set up a camp in Patan; and in late 1952, it started erecting checkpoints along the country’s northern boundary. The establishment of camps by a foreign army was a blow to a sovereign country and there was criticism at both the political and public levels, but the government took no firm step against the move.
Successive governments led by living martyr Tanka Prasad Acharya and the first elected Prime Minister BP Koirala did not ‘dare’ ask India to withdraw its troops from the check posts, even though they did not agree with the southern neighbour’s move. On December 15, 1960, King Mahendra ousted the elected Koirala government and launched the autocratic Panchayat system in the country. This was what brought Kirti Nidhi Bista close to the monarch.
Bista’s mother was a daughter of the Badagurujyu (royal priest) which helped him to build relations with the monarch. Within a few months of the establishment of the Panchayat system, he resigned as general secretary of the Nepali Rastriya Congress and welcomed King Mahendra’s action. Having helped expand the base of the Panchayat system in different districts, Bista was appointed foreign minister in 1965. In 1969, Mahendra asked him to head the government. During his first stint as prime minister, Bista played an instrumental role, almost single-handedly, in removing Indian troops from the check posts on the Nepal-China border which had been established through New Delhi’s domineering foreign policy. This probably was a historical step which earned Bista great respect despite his strong bonds with the Palace which he maintained till his last breath.
After taking charge as prime minister, Bista assigned the then foreign secretary Yadunath Khanal to prepare a proposal to withdraw Indian troops from the border. He got the proposal approved directly by the king without taking it to the Cabinet for Panchayat Council for fear it could be rejected. The king’s green signal was all he needed to implement his plan. The move was received with strong reservations by New Delhi which even compelled King Mahendra to sack him on April 13, 1970. But a year later, Mahendra reinstated him as head of government in April 1971.
The then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi had taken serious exception to the move by Nepal. Bista, however, strongly reiterated that the posts had to be removed as it was against the sovereignty of an independent state. This also led to a souring of relations between the two countries.
“We had a tough talk where I clearly said the check posts were a shame on a sovereign country. She tried to link it with security which actually wasn’t the case. She was finally convinced after our long discussion,” Bista has written in his book Nepal-India Relations: Past, Present and Future which was published last year. Leo E Rose in his book Nepal, Strategy for Survival has quoted Bista as saying, “It is not possible for Nepal to compromise its sovereignty or accept what may be called limited sovereignty for India’s so-called security.” This shows the strong position Bista maintained when it came to issues of sovereignty and nationality.
Many know Bista as a staunch royalist which gave him the premiership thrice, something he never refuted. Yet, he is known for holding his ground when it came to issues he strongly believed in. Those who know him closely remember him as a man of conviction and someone who always maintained a strong position on sovereignty. “His dedication to the country and sovereignty is second to none in Nepal’s political history,” former foreign minister and ambassador Bhekh Bahadur Thapa told the Post. Referring to Bista’s decision to step down as prime minister on moral grounds after the 1973 Singha Durbar fire, Thapa added, “No politician has reached close to the moral standard Bista maintained throughout his life.” On July 9, a massive fire destroyed a large section of Singha Durbar; and a week later on July 16, Bista resigned.
Bista was also the first politician to say that the 1950 Nepal-India Treaty of Peace and Friendship was “irrelevant” and needed to be “reviewed”. However, he did not do anything substantial to review it despite being in power for a long time. He was the only head of government to have served under three kings—Mahendra, Birendra and Gyanendra.
Bista stayed away from active politics after the country adopted a constitutional monarchy following the end of the 30-year-long Panchayat regime and restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990. Unlike other royalists who changed their colour with changing circumstances, he always remained a well-wisher of the monarchy. He never criticised any move by the Palace even if it was against the people’s will.
This worked well for him, and he was named as one of the vice-chairmen of the Council of Ministers by the now deposed king Gyanendra after he assumed absolute power in 2005.
Bista’s support for every move of the Palace has earned him criticism. Throughout his life, he worked to support, directly and indirectly, the Palace whose actions have mostly been autocratic in nature. In his interviews to the media, he has claimed that he was very much influenced by the Palace, mostly Mahendra, due to its patriotism and nationalism which superseded everything else. Despite being in power for years, Bista never used his position for personal benefit, and he never took up state facilities which he would have received as a former head of government. His simplicity, humble personality and integrity earned him respect throughout his life. This is the reason his critics could never question his intentions, and the only flaw they can point out is his unconditional support for the king, regardless of whatever he did.