Monday, June 07, 2010

A Rivalry Entrenched In Eternity

Their epic rivalry seems destined to go on forever. Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala refused the Republic Day honor her government bestowed on her late father because it ranked him below Ganesh Man Singh. It was reassuring to know that she didn’t take umbrage at Girija Prasad Koirala being equated posthumously with Man Mohan Adhikary.
But Sujata is being needlessly insecure. Juxtapose the records, even at the risk of dreariness. Girija Prasad was elected premier five times and appointed once. King Birendra – and presumably the Nepalese people – wanted Ganesh Man to take the top job once. But he declined.
When Singh was making his early sacrifices for democracy, Girija Prasad was learning the ropes from his brothers. Democracy gave Ganesh Man his moments in power, something that eluded Girija Prasad for quite long. But the youngest Koirala brother continued to sharpen his skills. B.P. and Matrika were busy bickering, and Tarini and Keshab were maneuvering around in other ways. So G.P. got the most of all worlds he was to put into great use later.
While Singh was mastering homeopathy in Sundarijal, with B.P. reading, writing and reflecting, Girija Prasad was trying to negotiate their release, but failed. During Singh’s exile and incarceration, Koirala was building the party by, among other things, masterminding a hijacking and weeding out undesirables.
During the relatively liberal post-referendum Panchayat years, Ganesh Man rode around on that rickety Mercedes. Koirala had his wobbly jeep. A top palace official revealed the other day how B.P. had asked King Birendra not to engage with other Nepali Congress leaders. Imagine the aggravation of each when Ganesh Man and Girija Prasad took turns trying to impress upon the monarch the urgency of post-B.P. reforms.
In the end, the king exasperated both. Singh failed to comprehend what he considered the palace’s almost desperate recalcitrance and Koirala was vexed by its refusal to dangle anything better than a Panchayati deputy premiership. And that impelled both to further action. Ganesh Man commanded People’s Movement I, which Girija Prasad initially opposed. Koirala reaped the largest reward, while Singh couldn’t keep his place in his party. The outcome of that anomaly had become apparent long before democracy crumbled.
Koirala commanded People’s Movement II, retroactively redefined its mandate and abolished the monarchy. He couldn’t get the presidency. (The Nobel Peace Prize seems equally elusive, now that the committee has begun to award expectations as well as achievement.)
Like Singh’s, Koirala earthly flaws billowed away in the funeral pyre. But that should not obscure the principal contrast. Ganesh Man refused to take on the responsibility of completing the movement he commanded. (Considering how Koirala ran the premiership during his appointed tenure – complete with oxygen masks – one wonders whether extended bathroom visits alone might have prevented Singh from doing an equally stellar job.) Girija Prasad bit off more than he could chew, leaving the country clenching its jaws perhaps in perpetuity.
In the posthumous honors, Ganesh Man may deserve a notch higher than Girija Prasad for the simple reason that he died first. Still, in what way exactly did Singh contribute to consigning the crown to history? At least Nepal’s only communist prime minister to serve under the monarchy was ideologically a republican. But, then, you can’t ignore the fact that Ganesh Man’s party mounted those two botched attempts at regicide.