(Source: August 8, 1982 Amrit Bazar Patrika, Calcutta (Kolkata))
Devastatingly handsome. Tall and lean, he has an easy grace in his movements, and even more graceful is his courtesy, for he proffers his hand and says, “I’m Koirala!’ Yes, of course, I mumble and follow him into a large room where few cane chairs are strewn about, and there is a big bedstead with a sheet on it for many people to sit on.
?�ea comes in small cheap glasses, and I remember that every other politician in town had served tea in expensive crockery. Koirala was a sickman, with a permament hoarseness in the voice, and it was clear, long conversation tired him, the vocal chords in particular. But for the four hours or so that I talked to him, on two days on the second, he wore Nepalese dress he never sought rest, thought our conversation was interrupted quite a few times by people visiting him. Not all, it seemed to me, were political workers, but he had time for everybody, and even when impatient, was never angry or imperious like some people we have seen nearer home.
When Tirthankar Mukherjee met Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala (BP to his friends) they close to talk of things not immediately political. What were this elder statesman’s life’s lessons? Why are dreams never fulfilled? What still impels a man never to give up? How can one not be frustrated when every single belief of one’s crumbles? Extracts from their long conversation follow.
TM : How early in life did you decide that you would not be a doctor, an engineer or whatever and instead devote yourself to?
BP: You see it was not be conscious decision. Politics was in our blood. My father had to leave Nepal when I was three years old. Everyone in the family had a warrant of arrest against him, our entire property was confiscated. We were in exile in India for 12 years so I had my schooling in India and thereafter I joined college there. In school I had joined the terrorist movement. In those days the terrorist movement was not centrally organized, in Calcutta there were two or three groups, there was the Hajipur group in Bihar. There were two or three groups in Punjab. The groups had tenuous links but every group was independent. I was with the Bihar group and I was first arrested when I was at school in Beneres. I was released because I was too young and the magistrate could not believe that I had perpetrated that robbery and dacoity. Then I joined the communist movement and In Benares I started the nucleus of its students’ organization along with Devkant Barooah and Rajeshwara Rao. I was secretary of that organization and we were on the periphery, on probation, sort of, to the Communist Party. My disenchantment started when there was a conflict between Trotsky and Stalin I was for Trotsky and also I was drawn towards Gandhiji during the nationalist movements.
TM : If you remember your feelings of those times, did you think of India as home?
BP: Almost, in our home we used to discuss Nepalese politics because people in exile would come and meet there. We knew we would ultimately have to go back to Nepal, that was always in the background, but we participated in the Indian nationalist struggle. My father was a member of the District Congress Committee. He used to say that without India’s independence, no democratic movement could succeed in Nepal, because, that was his expression, they were two sides of the same coin. So it was the task of Nepal’s democrats to fight for India’s freedom. That’s how I got interested in politics, and then I came in contact with the Socialists in 1935 and I was a very active member of the Congress Socialist Party.
TM : Well, that was 1935; forty years later, do you regret having joined politics? What I am asking is do you think political movements can give people anything?ª½No, I mean can anything be done through all these processes?
BP: You see I have not resolved that problem yet, because by the time I was in active politics, I had begun dabbling in literature also. Writing stories and all that. I used to write in Hindi and all my stories used to appear in many important Hindi periodicals when I was a school student. Then I started writing in Nepali. So If I had not joined politics, I might have done some creative literary work. But ultimately my feeling is that even if you want to escape politics, politics will grip you, like you pay taxes. In the kind of society we live in now, the State has invaded even the private sphere.
TM : That is the point; the State has invaded, so what is the fruit of the democratic process that you have fought for all your life? Don’t you think that democracy, in our countries, not in the advanced nations, has only been worked to show that it can’t be worked?
BP: But still?ªÆ Take the case of India’s last two parliamentary elections. Everybody there said the elections were a farce, booths were captured and yet crores of rupees were spent. That is a problem we are facing and one of our tasks is to make genuine democracy work in our country. I think it is possible, with the sort of cadre that we have, with the virgin soil that we have at without India’s deep-rooted traditional conservatism. We are not as conservative as Indians are.
Even in India, the people have not “failed, it is the leadership that has failed.” It is not that they have done nothing, as compared to some totalitarian countires like Pakistan, Bangladesh or the S.E. Asian countires that have established the same infrastructure. India has done better that any of them, but still feel that the priority the leadership set for development in India was wrong. They opted for development on the American or the European model, which is the only model they know of. I have been telling my people that the model India adopted came from America and under that model India will develop immensely but this would mean keeping 40 to 45 per cent of the people under the poverty line for ever and ever.
TM : I have a quotation from you here: “We did not have an economic base for a socialist program.” Do you still think so?
TM : And what will be the temptation for you when you become Prime Minister and have a free democratic hand, to turn Nepal into another Honk Kong or Singapore?
BP: No, I am opposed to such big scale models.
TM : Is Gandhi still your model in these things?
BP: I don’t know what of Gandhi you have in mind.
TM : Say his basic concept that you cannot make a country prosperous with foreign aid?
BP: Yes, I agree.
TM: What about the effect of imperialism or colonialism over man’s mind? You must have watched the change in a section of Indian youth?
BP: Well, you adopted the American or European model for development. When there is an affluent class which indulges in conspicuous consumption that becomes the ideal for the rest of the country to aspire to.
TM: Yes, but how will you stop the Nepalese from following such models?
BP: Because, I will not introduce such type of affluence; I will not build big hotels. I am opposed to big hotels. They corrupt the minds of the youth. The cost in terms of national character has to be reckoned.
TM: Gandhi did not leave any impact on the Indian leadership what makes you certain you will succeed here?
BP: Gandhi was used by the Indian leadership. The moment India became independent, the leaders parted company with Gandhi. Now Gandhi, was a very hardworking man, his daily workload was unbelievable, yet he maintained a small establishment and did not need a palace. The moment you live in a palace and give palaces to your bureaucrats, you set a style. As soon as a boy does well in studies, gets a first class, he wants to step into their shoes. How can you give them character when the leadership?ªÆ Even Jawaharlal Nehru chose to live in the Commander-in-Chief’s house. I have faith in the Nepalese man, otherwise I wouldn’t be in politics. I couldn’t survive ten years in prison, or being so close to the gallows if I did not have this faith in people, this faith in my country’s destiny. Of course, there are moments of frustration, but then I console myself by thinking that even if I cannot cure my mother of cancer. I would not give up, and would try to give her the best.
TM: Hasn’t your life been one frustration after another. Say, the failure of the socialist movement, then you being out of power here for so long?
BP: When Lenin had the opportunity to develop Marxism on a large scale his model was America. I am fascinated with his infatuation with America, he always said we will catch up with America in 25 years; America was the model and what was America’s model? It was Henry Ford who had introduced mass production on a conveyor belt system. So that was the model Russia adopted, and therein lay the roots of the failure of Marxism. Now if you are an executive in a Russian factory you might well run a factory in America also, because the model and the means are the same. The means of exploitation are different but the technique of production is the same. If, to satisfy the basic material needs of the people, you adopt the same models, it will produce the same type of evils whatever be the political system in your country or your ideology.
TM: Mao never went for the American model in his 30 years of control in China.
BP: Again, Mao did adopt the same model, but since he did not have the technology he chose to do without it. “With our bare hands we will?ª¼
TM: ?«ove the mountain?
BP: Yes, but that was not possible. That is where Mao’s fault lay. China, too, calculated development in terms of the quantum of material benefits produced, if you adopt the American model, you have got to adopt their technology. If you are to have mass production, if you want quantitative progress, if you want to achieve an objective, you must apply the right technology. When I was in China I went around the country and I was millions of people engaged in the construction of big dams to produce electricity. Why all this big things? Because they wanted to compete with America. Even though they did not have the essential things like bulldozers.
TM: Do you think that such big countries like China can do without massive industrialization?
BP: I have not applied my mind to China’s problems, but in Nepal we do not need, we cannot afford big things.
TM: But, this again demands new men. Can you keep your people from succumbing to temptations?
BP: This is a difficult task, but this is very vital to my thinking. I am even against construction of roads and I have invited a lot of criticism because everywhere I say that we do not need big roads. Roads are what? They are for communication. You see America started with a vast country, with vast resources all just waiting to be tapped. There were comparatively fewer men so they had conscription of labor and had to develop laborsaving technology fast. That is not the case with us at all. Then, they had different colonies at different centers of production and these had to be connected so that goods could be moved. But that is not the case here. Crores of rupees have been spent on building roads connecting cities between which there is little traffic. Only a few buses may ply, and we do not even have the money to maintain the roads. Our task should be to build villages, eradicate poverty there, eradicate ignorance there, provide medical care, education etc.
TM: You think you can do this?
BP: If we can’t, then it’s not worthwhile being in politics.
TM: Of all these leaders you have met, all people of different persuasions, as a person who struck you as the most sincere man?
TM: Leave him out of this; I was asking about people who held power.
BP: Power? I think Jawaharlal Nehru was a very sensitive man. I met Subhasbabu fleetingly and he impressed me very much, but I didn’t know him too well.
TM: What about people outside the subcontinent?
BP: Chou-En-Lai; I hold in very high regard. Mao I met only once, for about two hours, at dead of night. He was an old man, a fatherly figure, a soft and cultured figure?ª½I think Nehru got his success without much effort, so you did get the impression that he was a pampered man. I don’t know how Gandhi chose him as successor, but he was an antithesis of Gandhi. Chou-En-Lai had a better grasp of international affairs. He was very cultured and sophisticated, and he impressed both my wife and me immensely.
TM: The basic things you have been fighting for decades Parliamentary rights for everybody, basic human rights or civil liberties?
BP: And economic amelioration of the common man?ª½Well, there is an interesting story. When I became Prime Minister, I used to have occasional intimate talks with Mohan Shumsher Rana. He told me “Well, now that you are Prime Minister, what is your ambition? What do you want to do?” I said I had only one ambition. I belonged to a lower middle class family but I got two square meals a day, I had a small farm which gave me my basic requirements, and I had a few cows. I had my children studying in schools here?ªÆ So my ambition was and I said I needed 15 years for this, and I would retire after that to put the poorest family economically at par with my family. Not big roads, palatial buildings and all that, but the poorest family must get the same economic status as mine had.
TM: Don’t you feel frustrated that nothing of this has come about?
BP: Well one has got to go on making efforts. Of course, sometimes I do get frustrated; sometimes I do feel that I am breaking my head against a stone wall, but that does not last for more than a few hours. I have got to make efforts.
TM: How long do you think before democracy is achieved in Nepal?ª½two years, three years?©©
BP: No, democracy is a process, it evolves. I will be happy if that process begins, if the strategy for economic development is properly formulated, and implementation of those policies is initiated. I don’t have long to live now, and I would be happy to see a beginning. History does not come to an end with establishment of democracy. Mankind will be chasing problems perpetually; all I want to see is that we are trying to solve those problems in a spirit of freedom, with no restrictions on our spirit or choice of decisions. I am possibly getting a bit philosophical. You see the tragedy of man is that he can never be perfect. Take peasant, he makes all efforts; tills the land, puts in fertilizers, then something happens over which he has no control and all his efforts are laid waste. That is the fate of man. You don’t know what the future holds and man doesn’t know everything. You can’t have the full data before you begin working but you have got to act today. Man is not God; his assessment cannot always be based on full understanding. Still, we have to take decisions about our country, our society, shall this right to take these decisions be given to one individual or will the decision be made collectively by the people?
TM: You have often been in jail or in exile, so your party has developed a second rank leadership. How good is this second rank? When you are not on the scene, would they be able to carry on the agitation and would they be able to carry on, what is more important, the administration of the country? Have you been able to develop a second rank leadership to your satisfaction?
BP: I will not be fair to you and honest to myself if I say that I have been able to develop a second rank leadership which can guide the country. Our people are very honest and they have suffered, but I will not say that they will be able to run the show, at this stage, on their own. This is our weakness. For foreign affairs, for finance, for planning, may not be having very competent people in our cadre. We may have to import them from outside, which we do not want to do?ªÆ
This was not the case with India’s independence. You had enough men of ability, and the country has not suffered because they were incompetent but because you did not dismantle a single institution that the British had built for imperial purposes the police manual, the ethos for recruitment to the army, promotion there these all remains the same.
TM: Will You be able to change the system ? Bribery, corruption?
BP: That can be changed. Our people have undergone greater suffering proportionately than Indians and the involvement in terms of sheer number has been greater also. They are loyal and disciplined, and they can be depended upon to break this kind of feudal trappings of the mind. But when they try to build the new society they may be wanting in ability?ªÆ Look, when Lenin gained power it was touch and go for the first few months. The overall question was how to recognize the army. The problem before Trotsky, as the man in charge of the Red Army, was that the officers, those who could take command or run the army headquarters, were all from the feudal class. He was in a quandary; then he started differentiating between those who were sympathetic to the Bolshevik cause and those who were not.
TM: How dose it feel to be known as a man with charisma for 30 years?
BP: No, I think I have received more love and affection, personal things, than respect as a leader. You see, people call me Sandazu, which means little elder brother; that is the youngest among the elder brothers (this combines respect as an elder brother with affection for being nearest one in age); so I lead a family group, a very big family no doubt. But I have received brickbats also, by virtue of my position in the party. If I had been pampered all along, perhaps I might have lost my head. I don’t know?«Éhen my colleagues are at a loss to decide on what to do, I find a solution not very bright, perhaps, but something to go by.
TM: What is the primary source of your decision making processintellectually, intuition?©©
BP: I don’t know. I can’t analyze myself.
TM: How would you like to describe yourself as a man with his feet firmly on the ground a bit of a romantic, possibly more of an idealistic?©©
BP: The first Press Conference, I held was in Calcutta in 1947, at the Grand Hotel. I was very nervous, and the Calcutta journalists are not a kindly lot. But I answered them as best as I could. When we had finished, one journalist came up to me and said, “Mr. Koirala, you give the appearance of being a romantic person rather than a realistic politician.” I think I am one, too, you cannot bear the agony of life without a touch of romanticism to sustain you, this is what I feel. I am a bit of a dreamer, too. In person, I was kept for six months in total isolation. My hands and legs were loosely fettered, and I saw no men only heard distant voices. I used to dream about how to escape and this or that. After a few hours, I used to realize that I was dreaming not merely personal strains, I think you need a certain amount of romanticism in your psychology to bear the strain of all the suffering round you. The suffering women, the emaciated children?«Ìbr />
TM: What controls the destinies of nations Marxian dialectics, God?©©
BP: I am a Marxist in the sense that I have accepted the Marxist methodology in enunciating how a society evolves. But that is only part of the thing. According to me, man has infinite facets. It is not only his economic aspects that define man. As a matter of fact, I feel that history’s revolutions have not been inspired by the urges of the belly. People don’t make sacrifices unless they are enthused by some higher objective. Consider the Great Bengal Famine during the war. Millions of people died in Calcutta’s streets, but there was no revolution because their hunger was not linked with any higher objective. Secondly, I think there are two basic contradictions in man, between his anarchic elements and his social element. The leadership is always anarchic, not accepting any restraints on its freedom. The best socialist of a communist society is supposed to be that of the bee; or ants; but they do not evolve because there is no rebellion there. In human society, anybody who wants to strike new roots is violently rejected: Christ, Socrates, Gandhi. The only comparable man who died peacefully was Buddha, and I cannot explain his case. But what is rejected today becomes the charter tomorrow. I have tried to fulfill my anarchic, my rebellious instincts, through writing novels etc. and my social instincts, I have tried to fulfill through my work in politics by trying to improve the lot of the people around me. As a socialist I am searching for better laws to bind the people, as a writer I am breaking all the laws. People find it difficult to reconcile these two. They say, my writings do not mirror my political struggles. That is because I am not a politician when I write.
TM: Dose God come into your scheme of things?
BP: No, There is God, but not the God in usual sense, as a creator of our destiny. Once I was talking to Jayaprakash Narayan. He would sometimes bring up such topics and I said?«·ome time ago, I told you man must be a dreamer. Now if you love a girl and if you are not deluded enough to say that she is a rose, or that her face is like the moon, then you have not loved her enough. This is delusion but it is reality, too. Poetry is also reality. If you are not overwhelmed by the sight of the rise of the sun over Tiger Hill; if you are not excited enough by it to be happy for the whole day, if you do not sleep well after watching the sun set from Chowpatty, you have missed something fundamental. If you are not moved by serene grandeur of the sea at Puri, then you have missed something in life. God resides in poetry. God resides in dreaming. You can’t explain Him through science, through materialism. God is a spiritual experience.
TM: How else could you have spent the last thirty years? What regrets do you have?
BP: No other way, if I had my life to lead again, in some details perhaps, I would opt for a change but basically I would do the same things. I am not an embittered man in any way, not a frustrated man; I am not a contented man either. I certainly would wish for better understanding, more wisdom but no basic changes. No, I am not complacent. I have no compliments. I have got a family whom I don’t deserve. I have got comrades who love me, even my enemies have high regard for me.
TM: What is your happiest memory?
BP: Happiest memory was not when I became Prime Minister. My wife was dead set against my becoming Prime Minister so much so that she refused to join in the festivities for some time. Actually, my happiest memories are of when I was with?«¬ will tell you of a recent incident I was on tour in the villages when a young girl came up to me, beautiful and handsome, 19/20 years old. She came to me after offering worship at a Shiva temple, and bad put on that Tika. I was very busy but she insisted on meeting me. When my friends brought her to me she said she would like to talk to me alone. When we were alone she said she had gone to the temple to offer her life for me. She knew I was not keeping well and would soon be going to Delhi for an operation, so this girl, not yet married and with her whole life before her was offering her life for me. I told her “that is too big a gift for me. What return can I give you?” She said, “But I’ll not be there to receive your gift, for I will be dead.” That day, I wept for sheer joy. That was my happiest memory. The other day some old men were coming to the house. So I asked who these people were. They said they wanted to see me. They had come from a Terai village for a pilgrimage to Pashupatinath and were returning home. I told them they had a full three days’ trek ahead of them and they should not be wasting time coming to see me. Their leader said when they returned home, the villagers would abuse them otherwise. “You went to Kathmandu and did not see BP Koirala!” Then they wanted a picture of me to take back to the village with them. How can you not be happy when people love you so much?
TM: How would you like to be remembered?
BP: I don’t know?ª¥y?ª¥y?«¬ don’t know.
TM: Particularly by young people?
BP: You see I don’t have long to live, three or four years at the most. If I can do something about restoring the process of democracy. May be that would be something to remember me by. Then, when I am gone, well, I am gone. The Hindu practice is to throw the ashes into the water, no monuments, no tombstones. I think that is a very good idea. Remember all of Hindu art the, massive temples?ª°o one knows who designed them, who built them or who painted the Ajanta frescoes?ªÈhis anonymity has always held great fascination for me. Even after all these years of politics, I am very embarrassed by big receptions. People know I do not pretend when I say I do not like big shows. I never tell people by which flight I would be travelling for I feel very embarrassed, if they come to receive me at the airport. Anonymity suits me in public. I am shy of crowds. You see, no man is as great as he appears to be, neither is he as small as he is made out to be.
TM: What about Gandhi ?
BP: He was a class apart. One of the greatest of all times, not that I subscribe to all that Gandhi prescribed, but he has been my life’s genius. The person who next to Gandhi has my highest personal regard was Jayaprakash. Not as great as Gandhi certainly he did not have Gandhi’s keen mind but a genuinely good man. Others have been all ordinary men, some of them, but I could not be Gandhi.
TM: When I asked you what you would like to be remembered as, what I meant was, would you like so be known as a good leader a compassionate man or?
BP: A good man. I would like to be known as a good man. I have written a novel called The Wife of a Modi (grocer). The episode is taken from the Mahabharata, from the Gita. I read the Gita when was in prison for eight year. I read all the commentaries but the Gita did not satisfy me. Then I wrote the novel. The hero is a boy nineteen years old. He tells the grocer’s wife all that he has done, all that he wants to do. The last sentence is, this woman tells him, ‘Don’t be great. Like the heroes of the Mahabharata.’ Their greatness brought about the holocaust. Be just good. A good man. I wrote another novel, Hitler and the Jew, even before I became Prime Minister but I have not yet published it, there also I enunciated the thesis: if you aspire to be great, to be God, you only bring ruin.
(Source: August 8, 1982 Amrit Bazar Patrika, Calcutta (Kolkata))