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Tribute To Ganeshman Singh At His Centenary Celebration

November Issue 2014


Siddhi B Ranjitkar


On November 10, 2014, Minister for Local Development Prakashman Singh opened the yearlong celebration of the birth centenary of Ganeshman Singh: one of the founding fathers of democracy in Nepal. He would have been a one hundred year old had he not left this world for an eternal abode in 1997. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He could really enjoy an extraordinarily lavish and luxurious life had he not chosen the challenging path of liberating the Nepalese that had been under the boots of the Shah-Rana rulers. The time was when speaking a single word against the Ranas meant a harsh punishment (dying in a jail) or even a death penalty. He risked his life going against such a regime fighting for democracy and development. Even after the termination of the Rana regime, his struggle did not end there rather he had to spend precious seven years of his life at the Sundarijal jail, and then another seven years in exile in India, and then he came back to Nepal to face the various charges leveled at him and his colleagues. By then Shah King and his sycophants had looted everything possible from the people for their enjoyment. He never had time to live in peace and enjoy the regular life even until he left this mundane world for the eternal abode.


On December 15, 1960, King Mahendra dissolved the elected government and the parliament, and became the absolute king only after ten years of the absolute Rana regime was toppled, and set up the democratic system of governance in Nepal. All the political heroes of 1950s went either to jail or to exile in India. Nepal relapsed back into the despotic rule of king Mahendra. Ganeshman and his colleague BP Koirala landed in the Sundarijal army camp jail. That became a home for both these half-matured political leaders for seven years. The overwhelmingly elected government of the Nepali Congress party managed to be so corrupt and discredited within its eighteen-month rule that it became easy prey for the ambitious king to kill democracy at a single strike. Nepalese in general did not mind to lose democracy anticipating the king would run the administration sincerely and favorably to the common folks.


Unfortunately, that did not happen. The king and his sycophants were not far behind in corrupting the administration for their lavish lifestyle keeping the people in poverty and destitute. In 1979, students rose up against the corrupt administration of the king. By that time, both Ganeshman and BP Koirala had not only completed the seven-year-jail term but also another seven-year in exile in India, and were in Nepal to run the political activities under cover, as the multi-party political activities were unlawful. Mahendra had died and his son Birendra took up the rein.


The students’ movement turned into a national movement. Nepalese had been ready to finish off the monarchy. The political movement was moving to that direction. King Birendra shrewdly offered a referendum on choosing an improved no-party system called panchayat or a multi-party system. Ganeshman and BP Koirala could not properly and correctly read the political situation at that time. They accepted the king’s offer in a hurry bringing the spontaneous people’s movement against the corrupt monarchy to a halt.


After the referendum held in 1980, king Birendra declared that the people voted for the improved no-party panchayat system despite the widely believed fact that Nepalese overwhelmingly voted for a multi-party system. The panchayat went on for several years at the great cost to the democracy and to the welfare of the common folks. The king and his fans thought that they had defeated the protagonists of the multi-party, and they had strengthened the disgraceful panchayat, so they could run the administration forever. They also believed that they could manipulate the people at any time they needed; so, they needed not to be accountable to the people. Politicians and the king at the top, civil servants, police and the army looted the people to the extent possible. Again the arbitrary rule of the king became unbearable to the people. The common folks became ready to topple the absolute king. Thus, the people’s movement of 1990 became another historic movement to reinstate democracy, and the rule of law.


I still remembered vividly the TV images of how Ganeshman controlled the mass at the rally held at Tundikhel in Kathmandu in 1990 after the demise of the no-party system. Ganeshman was the commander-in-chief of the people’s movement at that time. The united front that launched the people’s movement and ended up the no-party system on the forty-ninth day of the movement held a victory rally at the Tundikhel. I could see numerous four-star flags of the Nepali Congress party and sickle and hammer flags of the communists flattering among the enthusiastic mass of the people assembled at the Tundikhel to listen to the political leaders. One leader after another spoke to the mass. When Girija Prasad Koirala’s turn came, he took the podium and spoke on the microphone and at the very beginning, he said, “It was the victory of not only of the Nepalese but of the panchayat, too.” People rose up against ‘the victory of the panchayat’. They started off hooting and jeering and the mass became uncontrollable. The rally became chaotic. Panchayat had been dead. How could it be the victory of the dead panchayat? Why 45 beautiful lives lost to end the panchayat? Such questions were valid. Surely, the remark of the victory of the panchayat was a stupid one. Ganeshman rose up from his seat, and snatched the microphone from Koirala, and spoke a single world ‘silence’. The mass kept quiet. The rally went on. Leaders spoke on. That was the mass respect Ganeshman Singh commanded at that time.


Ganeshman Singh never gave in to the repressive opponent. In 1990, the opponent was the king that had been sitting on top of the no-party system and running the administration arbitrarily for his lavish helicopter ride during the two-month annual winter visit to the far western region. The people’s movement was for the reinstatement of the multi-party democratic system, and the end to the no-party system, and the king would be a constitutional monarch. As the people went on fighting for their demand peacefully demonstrating on the streets of the towns across the country, Ganeshman and his spouse Mangla Devi were in the Bir hospital at the heart of Kathmandu. Some said that they pretended to be sick to avoid the arrest and the denial of the public access to him. He was heavily guarded and surrounded by numerous plainclothes policemen. King Birendra sent his men to negotiate with Ganeshman at the hospital but he did not want to negotiate and opted for the outright end to the no-party system. His strong determination earned him the title of ‘iron man’.


BP Koirala did not dare to go with the communists. He had a phobia of the communists overrunning the Nepali Congress (NC) party. So, he had never been for going along with the communists for jointly launching the movement against the king. He was rather going with the king. He even said that he was conjoined with King Mahendra at the neck. Ganeshman broke up this notion of BP Koirala in 1990. He told the communists to come united to form a united front with his NC party to launch a peaceful movement for reestablishment of the multi-party democracy. It would have been impossible if BP Koirala were alive. At that time, the communists were broken up into several parties. Ganeshman became the unifying force for the communists. He also became the supreme leader of the people’s movement of 1990. He commanded both the leaders of the NC and the united communist front. He reached such a pinnacle of leadership that he became the most acceptable leader to all the political parties. So, he earned another title ‘surba-man-nya’ means acceptable to all.


After the victory of the people’s movement, Ganeshman virtually became the kingmaker. The then King Birendra offered him the office of prime minister but in return he said, “Your Majesty, from now on the people would appoint a person to the office of prime minister not your majesty.” He pointed at his colleague Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and told the king, “He would be the next prime minister.” He put together the representatives of the NC, communists and some representatives of the palace to form an interim coalition government for crafting a new constitution, and for holding general elections thereafter.


At each crucial moment, Ganeshman had to step forward to bring back the person straying out of the path. The interim government formed a constitution-crafting commission. It worked for more than three months, and crafted a new constitution of 1990. The coalition government duly presented the constitution to the king at the palace to promulgate. His sycophants and King Birendra wanted to trick the coalition government into promulgating the palace-crafted constitution. The news quickly spread out as wild fire among the people. Ganeshman again stepped forward and warned the king and his sycophants of another movement that would decide the destiny of the king if the king and the sycophants were not to accept the new constitution. He gave the king the choice of either to promulgate a new constitution as presented by the coalition government or face the consequences of not doing so. The king promulgated a new constitution, and accepted the office of a constitutional monarch. Thus, the monarchy went to hibernation. King Birendra had sufficient time to play a small hand drum called ‘madal’ at the palace. He also missed the annual helicopter ride with his queen during the two-month winter season in the far western region in the name of checking the development work going on there.


“No good deed goes unpunished,” Kenneth Feinberg quoted US Senator Hillary Clinton in his book titled ‘What Is Life Worth?’ the unprecedented effort to compensate the victims of 9/11. This quote was applicable to the good work done by Ganeshman. He got punished for the unselfish work he did throughout his life. He did not take over after the fall of the panchayat in 1990 rather he passed on the office of prime minister to his colleague Bhattarai, and tried to be a political saint. The destiny did not allow him to live in peace and in sainthood. His spouse and his son lost the general elections, so did his colleague Bhattarai: the interim prime minister at the hands of the NC cadres in the general elections held in 1991. Girija Prasad Koirala rightly understood that he would not be able to have the office of prime minister if interim Prime Minister Bhattarai were to win the elections. So, he posted his cadres to defeat Bhattarai in the elections. Girija Koirala also knew that Ganeshman had been a formidable power. So, he needed to clip the wings of the powerful man. This he could do only defeating his spouse and son in the battlefield of the general elections. Girija Koirala sent his cadres to defeat those two unsuspecting sincere humans in the general elections.


I revered no other Nepalese political leaders so much than the Ganeshman because so far I did not find any other political leader that had sacrificed the whole life for the public, and tried to be saint at the height of his political gains. I read reminiscences of his life called “Mero katha ka Pana haru” mean the pages of my life story in two volumes in the Nepali. The following highlights of his life still flash in my mind.


After the treaty between King Tribhuvan and His Rana Prime Minster Mohan Shumsher done in New Delhi, India in 1951, all political prisoners were released from the Kathmandu jail called ‘bhadra-gol’ not far from the ‘dhara-hara’ tower. Ganeshman collected his meager belongings and came out of the jail. Nobody was there to see him not to mention the welcome. He was walking alone. On the way he met somebody. Then, the news of his coming out of the jail spread across Kathmandu in a moment. By the time he reached ‘Mahan-kal’ temple: only a few hundred meters away from the jail, hundreds of people gathered there to welcome him. Thereafter, people in thousands came out of their homes with flowers and vermilions. They took him around Kathmandu for almost the whole day. Thus, Ganeshman received a hero’s welcome on the first day of Nepal becoming a democratic country.


Ganeshman was totally against the agreement reached between King Tribhuvan and Mohan Shumsher, and signed in presence of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi: capital of India in 1951. Ganeshman wanted the total victory of the people but BP Koirala accepted the agreement. BP Koirala was the president of the NC then. So, Ganeshman had no choice. In addition, Ganeshman was in jail thanks to the trick BP Koirala played on him. The irony was that the first prime minister of democratic Nepal was the last Rana prime minister. The people’s revolution was stopped at the half way despite the opposition of other leaders such as Ganeshman and his colleagues in jail. King Tribhuvan got back the power his predecessor had lost to the Rana prime minister for 104 years. What the people got thereafter was political instability and chaos.


Ganeshman scaled the 15-foot-high-jail fence and came out of the jail at night in the second half of 1940s. He was walking on the streets of Kathmandu. Street dogs started barking at him but the dogs recognized his vice and kept silent. His wife at home heard his voice but he did not go home. He went to a trusted friend. Knowing the serious situation and the urgency of taking Ganeshman to a safe palace, the friend locked Ganeshman in a toilet for some time until he was prepared to take Ganeshman to another destination. Both of them went to the land tenant at Buddhanilkantha before the daybreak. He left Ganeshman there, and he came to Kathmandu for collecting some money for Ganeshman. Ganeshman waited for some time but he did not wait long, as it would not be safe for him to stay there so long.


Ganeshman left the place for going down to south. He came to a house to have a shelter for a night not knowing only a mother and a daughter lived there. The mother needed a man to live with her for taking care of her land, and her too at the old age. The mother cooked a good dinner for Ganeshman. As the chat went on, the mother said, “I want you to marry my daughter, and take care of my land and other property. You will live with us just like my son.” The mother pleaded Ganeshman to stay on not knowing Ganeshman was in a different mission.


Ganeshman came down to Butwal: the town at the foothill. Apparently, police were following him. He met with a fellow party worker there. He received some money for the expenses on the way to India. Then, he left Butwal as soon as possible. He crossed the border between Nepal and India, and boarded a bus on the Indian side. Later on, he came to know that police arrived Butwal by then.


At that time most of the NC leaders were either in jail in Nepal or were in India. Ganeshman met with BP Koirala and other NC leaders. BP Koirala wanted Ganeshman to go back to Nepal. Ganeshman accepted the responsibility given to him for working within Nepal despite the fact he just had escaped from the jail, and he would be again in jail in Nepal in no time.


Ganeshman with some other colleagues came back to Nepal not through the regular route but the route people rarely traveled. When they reached Roshi River in Kavre, they needed to cross the river on the back of an elephant. Everybody sat on the back of the elephant. The mahout instructed the elephant to get up. When the elephant slowly lifted up, all of them including Ganeshman fell off the elephant. Then the mahout instructed them to hold each other tightly when the elephant would rise up. They sat back to back and held each other. When the elephant rose up, all of them fell off again. Ganeshman forgot to hold the back of the mahout. Only on the third attempt, they succeeded to keep intact on the back of the elephant. The Roshi River was flooded with the monsoon rainwater. The elephant walked slowly and steadily and finally safely took them on the other side of the river.


They slept on the daytime and traveled at night. They reached Banepa. They stayed at the home of the later famous congress leader in Banepa. The news of Ganeshman arriving in Nepal had already reached the Ranas. Again Ganeshman went to jail in Kathmandu. This was really what BP Koirala wanted. Ganeshman and BP Koirala were the rivals for the party leadership. Probably, BP did not want him in India effectively working for tearing down the Rana regime. So, for BP, it would be better to dispatch him to Nepal again. BP Koirala deliberately sent Ganeshman back to Nepal only to land him in jail, I believed.


Another leader called KI Singh of a different political party often made fun of Ganeshman comparing his escape from jail with that of Ganeshman on the stump in 1959. He loved to make fun of other leaders, too. But I still remembers how in one of his public speeches, KI Singh said that Ganeshman escaped through the sewage pipe whereas he himself broke through the jail, and fled to China for political asylum. KI Singh did not feel shy to lie to the public at the mass meeting. In fact, Ganeshman along with his friend in the jail practiced months to scale the jail fence at night. He finally succeeded it. It was a blatant lie that Ganeshman passed through the sewage.


Ganeshman also made fun not of KI Singh but of communists. His party and KI Singh were not serious threat to the NC but communists were moving ahead challenging the NC. His closest rival was communist leader Pushpa Lal at the Kathmandu constituency. Pushpa Lal was the younger brother of martyr Ganga Lal. Ganeshman defeated Pushpa Lal narrowly in the general elections held in 1959. In his election speeches, Ganeshman used to say, “‘dal bhat tarkari aru jamai sarkari’ means you have the meal of lentil, rice, and vegetable, and then everything goes to the government if you opt for a communist.” At that time, communists have been making debut. Very few people knew the names of communist leaders such as Stalin, and Mao Zedong. Writings of Stalin, and Mao Zedong in small booklets appeared at the bookstores in Kathmandu but Lenin’s did not show up at all. Communists won four seats in the parliamentary elections in 1959.


The most childish explanation BP Koirala gave to Ganeshman for adopting the four-star current NC flag was Suvarna Shumsher made hundreds of flags in 1940s; so, BP adopted his flag just to save the flags from going to waste. Suvarna was a third class Rana. He had no chance of getting to power. Only the first and second-class Ranas had better positions in the then government. Even the second class Ranas did not have the opportunity of getting the office of the hereditary prime minister. That was humiliating to the ambitious Ranas such as Suvarna and his brother Bharat. Classification of the siblings of the same father but of different mothers became intolerable to the siblings at the lower ranks. So, his brother Bharat and Suvarna went to their home in Calcutta, and set up a national congress party to fight against their brethren in Nepal. Other Nepalese common folks mostly residing in Benares set up another political party for the same purpose. Benares was the center for the Hindu religion and for teaching and learning. Most of the few well-to-do Nepalese went to Benares for education and for living with the divinity there at the old age. They wanted to merge both the political parties into a single party called Nepali Congress (NC) in 1940s. They agreed to adopt the flag of the party set up in Benares, and some other things of the party in Calcutta. Speaking at the general convention, BP Koirala said that the flag of the Suvarna party would be the flag of the NC. Later on, BP Koirala explained to Ganeshman that he had to do so because Suvarna had made so many flags that he did not want to waste.


In Kathmandu, Ganeshman had joined a political party called ‘Praja parishad’ set up by the joint efforts of Ganga Lal, Tanka Prasad Acharya, Dharma Bhakta Mathema, and Ramhari Joshi before going to India and joining another party set up by the compatriots there. Ganeshman said in the pages of his life story that he was very jealous of Ganga Lal. He tried to bully Ganga Lal whenever he had opportunity to do so. Recently, Ramhari Joshi disclosed that a single pamphlet against the Rana regime had terrorized the Ranas in the early 1940s. The Rana prime minister was scared to death. The, then prime minister saw the threat to his life from every corner of streets and every window of the houses in Kathmandu. Their Brahman caste had saved Tanka Prasad Acharya and Ramhari Joshi from death but Ganga Lal and Dharma Bhakta Mathema had to give their lives because of their Nevah caste. The Ranas believed that killing Brahmins was equal to the killing of a sacred Hindu cow.


I had read at one place that in 1959 when Ganeshman was the minister for transport and works went to complain to Prime Minister BP Koirala that the contractor had been working not to the satisfaction but Koirala remained mute. It was the indication that the elected government headed by BP Koirala had the invisible link with the contractor that Ganeshman could not break up. I also had the bad experience in dealing with the NC cadres for having a public water supply connection to our house in Bhaktapur in 1959. The local State public water supply office worked at the order of the NC cadres. I needed the approval of the local NC cadres for that. To my total dismay, the NC cadres demand so much money that I could not afford to have the public-water-supply connection.


Ganeshman had been the victim of both the party leaders and the cadres. For example, party president BP Koirala first betrayed the party and the sincere leader Ganeshman, accepting the four-star flag apparently Suvarna had made at high cost, and the agreement reached between the king and the Rana prime minister in India, and later on not taking up the issue of the corrupt contractor Ganeshman could not tolerate, and complained to BP Koirala. In later years, Ganeshman needed to tolerate the offense of Girija Koirala, and disloyal of the unscrupulous party cadres after the victory of the people’s movement in 1990. Consequently, even after reinstating democracy at the high cost of self-sacrifice and family sacrifice, Ganeshman suffered the humiliation at the hands of Girija Koirala and his cadres. Sincere politician like Ganeshman waged a lifelong battle against the despotic rulers but the unscrupulous leaders such as BP Koirala and his brother Girija Koirala reaped the fruits of the success of such political battles. Currently, politicians have earned the reputation of being corrupt beyond doubt. So, it was not surprise that Nepal needed to live as a poor country even with so much of natural resources and good human resources, too. Nepal might need to face another people’s movement to finish off the corrupt politicians and corruption, and to put the country on the right track of development.


November 20

, 2014


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