Professor Bimal Prasad recalls his days in Kathmandu as India’s ambassador to Nepal when GPK was the Prime Minister.
Bimal Prasad, in a way, is the first ‘official’ Indian to observe very closely the transformation of Girija Prasad Koirala from a leader on the street to the prime minister of a majority government. Professor Prasad was India’s ambassador in Kathmandu when Koirala became premier for the first time on 26 May 1991. “I had known Giirjababu long before that,” recalled 85-year-old Prasad a few days after Koirala’s demise. “We used to go to see BP Koirala while he was in Delhi (in the 70s). Girijababu wouldn’t talk much during those days.”
By the time he became the PM, Koirala was no more under the shadow of BP as ‘shy’ brother of ‘few words’. He had almost established himself as the most important leader in the Nepali Congress. “He was an able Prime Minister,” said Prasad. “There were problems within the party. His relationships with Kishunji and Ganeshmanji deteriorated.” Had Koirala solved the intraparty feud and mended his relationship with communists like he did during the last years of his life Nepal wouldn’t have suffered as much. “He was a strong leader but not without shortcomings,” Prasad said.
Every Nepali Prime Minister shares a ‘close’ relationship with the Indian ambassador which isn’t always limited to diplomacy. Not only because they were contemporaries but Prasad’s politically aware background also played important role to foster warm relationship with Koirala. “Our relation was at the family level,” he said. “Girijababu used to invite me at his cousin’s house where Shushila bhabi was also staying.”
Prasad had just retired from professorship of South Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University at the age of 65 when he received a call from Chandrashekar Singh who had recently become the Prime Minister of India. He was asked to go to Kathmandu as ambassador. “I was happy because I already knew Kishunji, Ganeshmanji, Girijababu and Manmohan Adhikari. They were good friends of India,” said Prasad. “They brought democracy in Nepal. I used to feel elevated every time I met Ganeshmanji.”
The Koiralas in particular are known to many Indians not only for their illustrious struggle for democracy or producing multiple prime ministers but also for their participation in the Indian freedom struggle. (Thanks to Manisha, from the same family who gained fame in Bollywood, Koirala is not a new surname even among many Indians who are not interested in Nepali politics.) That is why the Indian media, political and social circles reacted so overwhelmingly that the same level of reaction doesn’t always come for the death of every Nepali former prime minister.
“Girijababu wasn’t the leader of Nepal only,” said DP Tripathi, general secretary of the Nationalist Congress Party. “He was widely respected in India too.” Tripathi who chairs Nepal Democracy Solidarity Committee where major Indian parties are represented, had met Koirala in Delhi in July 1973. A student of JNU at the time, Tripathi had asked Koirala: “How long will your struggle for democracy go?”
“This is a long process,” Tripathi recalled Koirala’s reply last week. “Good thing is the Congress is all over the country. The king hasn’t been able to eradicate it.” In that meeting, Koirala had asked Tripathi to be in touch with Nepal Student Union and help Nepali democratic struggle. While struggling against Panchayat from India, Koirala also helped those who were fighting Indira Gandhi’s draconian rule in India. “Girijababu provided us shelter in Janakpur for 10 days during emergency,” Tripathi said. Koirala’s leadership was pivotal in ending monarchy and brinigng Maoists into the political mainstream, Tripathi said. He, however, agreed with what is believed in Nepal that the Indian attitude toward Koirala had changed in the past year or so. “Some developments happened in Nepali politics for which Nepali people are responsible,” he said. “Maoists emerged as the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly. They formed the government and resigned. Girijababu wanted to be the President which couldn’t happen. All these things must have influenced [India’s attitude towards Koirala].”
Koirala’s political life was in no way without glitches and Indians have noted that. “The fact that he couldn’t complete his term in any occasion says there were serious problems,” said Tripathi. “Not everything will be positive when history judges him.”
Their relationship with India lands many Nepali leaders in controversy. Koirala was not an exception. Prasad said the communists who preferred anti-India politics for immediate benefits targeted Koirala. Some, he said, criticized Koirala without knowing reality which, at times, made him laugh. “Some said BP in Nepali Congress no more meant Bishweshwar Prasad but Bimal Prasad!” recalled the man who now chairs Rajendra Bhawan Trust in Delhi. “Some said Girijababu reshuffled cabinet on Bimal Prasad’s directives and Krishna Prasad didn’t know anything about that! They were all utterly false assumptions. Such was the [political] height of Girijababu that I wouldn’t even ask him let alone tell him what to do. It was not my business to ask.”
Prasad got same level of intense attention and scrutiny from the Nepali press and public alike that every Indian ambassador in Nepal gets. That was very difficult to digest, he said. “I was a simple professor who had retired from a university in Delhi,” he said. “But the way they talked about me made me feel that I had become very important in my life.”
Prasad said Koirala’s premiership was able to take the Nepal-India friendship to a new level. In India, Chandrashekhar’s government that made him ambassador was replaced by another led by PV Narasimha Rao. Rao not only told Prasad to continue with the job but also extended his tenure. “Rao and Girijababu enjoyed warm relationship,” recalled Prasad. “Girijababu asked me to work towards increasing Indian assistance. Since I wasn’t a government employee and had direct access to the PM, I conveyed Girijababu’s message to Rao. He instantly agreed.” Creation of BP Koirala Nepal India Foundation was one of the achievements of that time, Prasad said.
“It’s certainly a loss for Nepal,” Prasad said. “In Girijababu’s death India has lost a good friend.”
A version of this article appeared in a special supplement of The Kathmandu Post published on the 13th day (today) of the leader’s death. Here’s the complete issue.