Under the circumstances

  • Sushil Koirala led the nation during difficult times and won hearts with his simplicity
- Dinesh Bhattarai
Koirala had the country’s long-term interests close at heart. He accomplished his political mission. Now it is up to his successors to carry the torch that he has passed to them

Feb 23, 2016-President of the Nepali Congress (NC), the late Sushil Koirala, had led his party to victory as the largest party in the second Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in November 2013. The NC had finished a poor second in the first ever election to the CA in 2008. The first CA was dissolved at midnight under mysterious circumstances by Maoist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai without delivering a constitution, throwing the democratic gains of seven decades of struggle to the wind.

Koirala’s election as the prime minister brought back politics on track after being derailed by the dissolution of the CA. Second, it rekindled hope that the second CA would deliver a constitution. The political parties gave themselves a time limit of one year. Third, voters brought down to size the parties that did not walk the talk. Fourth, the composition of the CA members promised to provide a semblance of stability. Fifth, the parties set aside their differences and came together to put the country on the path of peace, stability and democracy under Koirala’s leadership. 

Honesty and integrity

Sushil Koirala, affectionately called Sushil Da, was active in politics for over 60 years and played a leading role in Nepal’s democratic movements. He stood high among his contemporaries as a man of integrity and honesty, rare qualities among politicians these days. Koirala was well regarded for his frugality and simple life, honesty, commitment and dedication. His first foreign visit was to the fourth BIMSTEC summit in Myanmar, and he was hailed by the foreign media as a man of austerity and honesty. He even chose to return the unspent daily allowances given to him by the government of Nepal.

His commitment was to make Nepal a peaceful and prosperous country, and he sought to realise his vision by properly utilising the natural resources like water power, agriculture and tourism. He considered quality education, human resource development and public involvement in development to be the key to a democratic and prosperous Nepal. He was concerned by the exodus of youths for foreign employment, and wanted to use this precious resource at home for development and democracy. Koirala struggled all his life to institutionalise democratic pluralism in Nepal. He considered the growing gap between the haves and have-nots as the biggest threat to peace, stability, democracy and development. He created his own brand by telling people that he did not make false promises and did not have any magic wand to solve all their problems. 

Time in office

Koirala took the helm during a decisive period in Nepal’s history. The country had been in transition for eight years following the end of the decade-long Maoist conflict, which left 17,000 people dead. The peace process that started to mainstream the former rebels was only partially completed. The country was yet to produce a fundamental law of the land. Koirala assumed the leadership at a time when the fluidity and complexity of Nepali politics compounded confusion and uncertainty. 

He stayed focused on writing an inclusive democratic constitution. His topmost priority was to have a democratic constitution promulgated through the elected CA, conclude the peace process and end the protracted political transition. It was under his leadership that the rhetoric about democratic constitution, inclusiveness, fundamental rights and respect for minority rights was translated into reality. He demonstrated that peace, democracy and justice were indivisible, and that they thrive together, never apart. It had been his strong conviction that peace, justice, democracy and development are intertwined, and that poverty and injustice anywhere are threats to prosperity and justice everywhere. 

Koirala was acutely aware that Nepal lies in a region that is home to one-fifth of humanity. He considered that the country’s location between India and China, once considered to be an obstacle to development, could prove to be a boon in the changed context. He saw this more as an opportunity than a challenge. Nepal cannot remain a mere spectator and continue to curse itself for having neglected its development prospects in the past. It cannot let its potential go unused when the economic dynamism in the neighbourhood is spreading far and wide across the world. Koirala thought that we must seize the opportunities to benefit from both these rising economies. Nepal must have the best of relations with them, and our friendship remains of paramount importance in the conduct of our foreign policy. ‘Neighbours first’ was proclaimed as being part of Nepal’s foreign policy on May 9, 2014. 

The statesman 

Becoming the president of the NC and then the prime minister of the country at a time when confusion prevailed, Koirala kept a low profile and never believed in marketing his achievements. He acted as a unifying national figure and was respected by foreign leaders for clarity and consistency of thoughts. He was a credible leader in times of confusion.  He used to tell his visitors that he never aspired to power nor intended to cling to it once his mission was accomplished. It was his leadership that extricated the nation from a protracted political transition through the promulgation of the Constitution. Even after leaving government, Koirala took the leadership in making amendments to the Constitution to address the grievances of the agitating Madhesi political parties. 

As the leader of the opposition, he acted more responsibly than the government of the day. He did not oppose the administration for the sake of opposing it. He had the country’s long-term interests close at heart. He accomplished his political mission. Now it is up to his successors to carry the torch that he has passed to them. He made history by dealing with the circumstances that came his way from a violent and turbulent past. As Winston Churchill has said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please, they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” Homage to the late leader Sushil Koirala.

(Sunday February 21 marked the 13th day of the demise of Sushil Koirala)

 

Bhattarai is a former ambassador and foreign affairs adviser to Sushil Koirala

 

Published: 23-02-2016 08:29

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