|Dr. Keshar Jung Rayamajhi|
|Parasu Narayan Chaudhari|
Although they came from opposite sides of the political spectrum, Dr. Keshar Jung Rayamajhi and Parasu Narayan Chaudhari encapsulated in their own ways Nepal’s struggle for survival in a turbulent world.
Both men capped their political life as chairman of the Raj Parisad, the royal advisory council during critical phases. Dr. Rayamajhi oversaw the ascension of two kings in the aftermath of a still-mysterious palace massacre on June 1, 2001. Chaudhari served at a time when the monarchy needed the broadest range of advice but faced dwindling sources not entirely because of its own assertiveness.
While detractors have long denigrated both men, one-time general secretaries of the Communist Party and the Nepali Congress, respectively, as opportunists, Maila Baje seeks to recount the broader geopolitical context of their support for the Panchayat system.
Although Dr. Rayamajhi was never formally a member of the Panchayat system, Chaudhari joined the partyless system after abandoning the Nepali Congress and its two-decade struggle to uproot palace-led regime.
When King Mahendra overthrew Prime Minister B.P. Koirala’s government on December 16, 1960, in the prelude to the rise of the partyless Panchayat system, both Dr. Rayamajhi and Chaudhari happened to be out of the country.
Rayamajhi, who was in Moscow, welcomed the royal takeover. Chaudhari, education minister in Nepal’s first elected government, was in Paris to attend a conference and stayed behind to assess the situation.
Rayamajhi was already known for palpable royalist sympathies. The fact that he so openly supported the royal takeover from Moscow clearly bore the imprimatur of his hosts. And there was good reason.
As the Cold War heated up and the superpowers were intent on expanding their own global spheres of influence, the Soviet Union had abandoned an exclusive policy of subverting non-communist governments of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Khrushchev-era method of winning friends was to demonstrate that Moscow was perfectly capable of coexisting with diverse countries espousing different political systems.
The Soviets had already offered to extend development assistance to Nepal, which King Mahendra accepted during his visit to Moscow in 1958. After the royal takeover, the Soviets encouraged their local protégés to cooperate with the palace all the while seeking to place sympathizers close to the center of power. The palace, for its part, while maintaining utmost caution, tolerated the pro-Soviet elements to offset pressure from other flanks.
While Rayamajhi’s royalist stance helped to split the united Communist Party, the Sino-Soviet rupture led to a further splintering of the Nepalese communist movement into pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing factions. Yet, as leader of the united party, Rayamajhi had already sensed the stance of the other communist colossus, Chairman Mao Zedong, vis-à-vis the monarchy. Rayamajhi himself on several public occasions explained how Mao had personally advised him to support the monarchy at that particular juncture in history. (For all the pro-Chinese label tagged onto King Mahendra, the monarch visited Moscow twice during his 17-year reign, but Beijing only once.)
While the East-West ideological struggle and the Sino-Soviet split drove Dr. Rayamajhi toward the palace-led system, Chaudhari remained firmly in his opposition. His commitment and fervor led B.P. Koirala to project him as a rising star in the Nepali Congress and even potential prime ministerial material.
During the national-referendum campaign in 1979-1980, Chaudhari relentlessly railed against the partyless system in his public speeches. While B.P. Koirala was stunned by the ‘inexplicability’ of the result in favor of the partyless system, he, as a committed democrat, accepted the outcome.
Implicit in this stance, which most in his own Nepali Congress found inexplicable, was recognition of the new geopolitical maneuverings under way in South Asia in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
When Chaudhari joined the Panchayat system shortly after the referendum, he stunned the political establishment and the opposition. Those close to B.P. Koirala at the time recognized that he had tacitly blessed Chaudhari’s move as part of building a wider Nepali Congress-palace understanding against the evolving Moscow-New Delhi nexus both considered deleterious.
King Birendra’s foreign-policy pronouncements and specific domestic developments, such as the ‘84-case diplomatic consignment’ controversy leading up to Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa’s ousting in a hastily stage-managed no-confidence vote, underscored B.P.’s apprehensions. The palace, of course, was alarmed by Moscow’s persistent indifference to the Zone of Peace proposal with almost the same iciness India had demonstrated.
As Chaudhari served in successive Panchayat-era cabinets, Dr. Rayamajhi the individual remained a central player in internal politics. But his pro-Soviet aura had receded amid the splits in the pro-Moscow movement and its general ideological dilution.
By the time the Soviet Union ceased to pose a challenge, the Panchayat system had lost its geopolitical relevance on account of additional realignments in the region and beyond, forcing both Dr. Rayamajhi and Chaudhari into new roles.