BP Biography

BPTA B.P. Thought Academy

  A Short Biography of BP KOIRALA Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala (1914-1982) was the first democratically elected prime minister of Nepal. He held the office just eighteen months (June, 1959—December, 1960) before being deposed and imprisoned by King Mahendra (1955-1972), an assertive monarch jealous of the powers he had delegated to Koirala’s government. For the rest of his life, which was spent largely in prison or exile and in steadily deteriorating health, “BP” (as he was everywhere known) never ceased to call for the restoration of democratic freedoms in Nepal.   BP was the son of Krishna Prasad Koirala, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, who died in a Nepalese prison. When asked how he became interested in politics, he said, “There was politics in the blood of my family. My father had to leave Nepal when I was three years old. Everyone in the family had a warrant of arrest; our entire property was confiscated. We were in exile in India for twelve years (1917-1929) so I had my schooling in India, and thereafter I joined my college there.” Koirala was educated first at Banaras Hindu University, then took a law degree at Calcutta University in 1937 and practiced law for a few years in Darjeeling.   While still a student Koirala became involved in the Indian nationalist movement, and in 1934 he joined the Indian Congress Party. During the World War II he was interned by the British in Dhanbad (Bihar) for two years (1942-1944). Following his release, with Indian independence imminent, he set about trying to bring change to Nepal. In 1947 he founded from India Nepali National Congress, which in 1950 became the Nepali Congress. He was imprisoned in Nepal in 1947-1948 after returning to his home city in Biratnagar to lead a labor demonstration.  A year later he was arrested again, but was soon released after a 27-day hunger strike, popular protests and the intervention of the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.   Koirala led the revolution of 1951 which overthrew Nepal’s 104-year old Rana rule, a narrow-family-based oligarchy permitted by successive acquiescent kings to exercise all real power. The last Rana Prime Minister Mohan Shamsher was dismissed in October 1951 when the Rana-Congress coalition cabinet (in which Koirala served for nine months as the Home Minister) broke apart. Koirala then concentrated on developing Nepali political structure: although not fully officially tolerated, political parties were increasing in importance and the King was pushed by events to offer some concession to growing democratic aspirations. King Mahendra responded with a new constitution enabling free parliamentary elections to take place in 1959. Only a fragmented parliament was expected, but Koirala’s Nepali Congress scored a landslide, taking more than two-thirds of the seats in the lower house. After several weeks of significant hesitation King Mahendra asked Koirala to form government, which took office in May 1959.    Viewed from abroad, Koirala's debut as prime minister was a great success. He led his country’s delegation to the United Nations and made carefully poised visits to China and India, but he was in trouble at home almost from the beginning. His land-reform measures, especially the revision of the tenancy laws so easily passed by parliament, deeply offended the landed aristocracy which had long dominated the army. His long-promised reform of the central bureaucracy outraged thousands of entrenched and powerful bureaucrats. And the King and court saw even their residual powers being eroded with amazing speed. The new government, the nation’s first democratic experiment, thus alienated all the traditional centers of power. King Mahendra acted quickly, brutally, and finally: on 15 December 1960; he suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament, dismissed the cabinet, imposed direct rule, and imprisoned Koirala and his closest government colleagues. Many of them were released after a few months, but Koirala, though he was suffering from throat cancer, was kept imprisoned without trial until 1968, when he was finally permitted to go and live in exile in Banaras.   King Birendra, educated in England and the United States, succeeded his father in 1972, and the political climate was believed to be gradually improving. Koirala, however, was arrested immediately upon his return from exile in 1976 and charged with the capital offense of attempting armed revolution. Considerable international pressure secured his release on parole and enabled him to travel to the United States for medical treatment. He was arrested again on his return from New York in late 1977, but in March 1978 was finally cleared of all treason and sedition charges.   After returning from a further medical visit to the United States, he had a series of audiences with King Birendra, as he tried for a “national reconcilia­tion.” During the student demonstrations in 1979, he was under house arrest. However, he welcomed King Birendra’s call for national referendum on the question of political system for Nepal. The referendum results were announced to be in favor of retaining the political system led by the king amid widespread charges of vote rigging whereupon Koirala called for a boycott of the 1981 elections. Despite obviously failing health and political strength, Koirala could still draw a great popular support. He addressed one of Nepal's largest public meetings in Katmandu’s Ratna Park in January 1982. He died on July 21, 1982 in Kathmandu. An estimated half a million people attended his funeral. Koirala was not only the most charismatic political leader of Nepal, he was also one of the most well-read and thoughtful writers of Nepali literature. He wrote short stories and novels and some poems. Koirala began writing short stories in Hindi. His first stories were published in Banaras in Hans, a Hindi literary magazine edited by Prem Chand (India’s Tolstoy). His first Nepali short story Chandrabadan was published in Sharada (a Nepali literary magazine) in 1935. Koirala was very good at depicting the character and mind of women. Four other stories of Koirala were included in Katha Kusum (an anthology of Nepali stories) published in l938 from Darjeeling. As a social realist, and a good psychoanalyst, Koirala had established himself as one of the most important Nepali short story writers by 1938. Doshi Chashma (Defective Glasses), Koirala’s anthology of sixteen short stones was published in 1949. Koirala was very busy in the decade of the 1950s as he was in the center of Nepal’s national politics. He was, however, able to write an incomplete novel of Hitler ra Yahudi (Hitler and the Jew) in the form of travelogue. The decade of the 1960's was very productive for Koirala in terms of his literary output. He wrote many novels and short stories in jail during 1960-68. They include: Tin Ghumti (Three Turns), 1968; Narendra Dai (Brother Narendra), 1969; Sumnima (A story of the first Kirata woman), 1969; Modiain (The Grocer’s Wife), 1980; Shweta Bhairavi (The White Goddess of Terror), 1983; Babu ama ra chora (Father, mother and sons) l989 and an incomplete autobiography Aphno Katha (My Story), 1983. His Jail Journal [in Nepali] was published in 1997, and his autobiography entitled Atmavrittanta (tape-recorded and transcribed by Ganesh Raj Sharma) was also published in 1997.   Koirala also has dozens of political essays including the following: Raj tantra ra Lokatantra (Monarchy and Democracy), 1960; Thichieka Janata Jagisake [The Oppressed People Have Risen Up], 1969; Rastiyata: Nepalko Sandarbhama [Nationalism in the Content of Nepal], 1970; Kranti: Ek Anivaryta [Revolu­tion: An Absolute Necessity], 1970; Panchayat Vyavastha Prajatantrik Chhaina [The Panchayat System is not Democratic), 1978; Prajatantra ra Samajvad (Democracy and Socialism), 1979; Rastriya Ekatako Nimti Ahwan (A Call for National Reconciliation), 1980. Some of his speeches and interviews in English were published in volume entitled Democracy Indispensable for Development (second edition, 1982). An anthology of his essays in Nepali entitled Nepali Congress ka Char Dashak (Four Decades of Nepali Congress) was edited and published by Narahari Acharya in 1995.