Known for his simplicity and self-sacrifice, president of the Nepali Congress (NC) and former prime minister Sushil Koirala is no more with us. A committed leader, Koirala died of severe pneumonia and fever on February 9 at 12:50 am at Maharajgunj of Kathmandu. He was 76.
On February 10, the late Koirala’s final rites were performed with state honours. His body was cremated at Pashupati Aryaghat as per the Hindu tradition.
Of late, veteran leader Koirala had been living at the Maharajgunj-based residence of NC leader Dr. Shashank Koirala.
Born to Bodh Prasad Koirala and Kumidini on August 12, 1939 in Biratnagar, Koirala was a member of the politically-conscious Koirala family. He was a cousin of former prime ministers Matrika Prasad Koirala, BP Koirala and Girija Prasad Koirala. In the course of his job in the forest office, Bodh Prasad had settled down in Nepalgunj.
Prior to his death, Koirala had talked to his personal secretary Krishna Aryal and personal doctor Karbir Nath Yogi and predicted that his end was nearing. He was frequently administered oxygen and nebuliser for the treatment of pneumonia. He had also been suffering from insomnia.
The sudden demise of the towering leader has caused an irreparable loss not only to his party but also to the nation. It has left a great vacuum in the nation’s politics. Popularly known as ‘Sushil Daa’ among his party cadres, well-wishers and family members, Koirala remained a bachelor throughout his life. For him, the nation, people and democracy were more important than anything. He never pursued riches for his personal comfort. Rather, he donated all his ancestral property to the party. In terms of lifestyle and dedication to democracy, he was like late Krishna Prasad Bhattarai.
During his six-decade-long political life, he never showed any willingness to be a minister or to take up any other position. He actively campaigned for multiparty democracy during the national referendum in the early 1980s. During the disobedience movement launched by the NC against the then autocratic Panchayat system, he worked energetically.
Following the death of BP Koirala, together with late Girija Prasad Koirala, he visited Europe and the USA in a bid to expand relations with the Socialist International. He had the opportunity to meet renowned socialist leaders and hold discussions with them on enhancing the socialist movement.
In his effort to maintain discipline in his party, Koirala had adopted the policy of promoting a political culture and leading the party on the basis of collective decisions. Although factionalism was thriving in the party, he tried his best at bringing unity in the party. Many experienced party cadres, who had deserted the party or remained inactive, joined the nation’s oldest democratic party after Koirala took over its leadership.
He was quite popular among the NC leaders and cadres of different castes and ethnic groups. The Madhesis and Muslims were equally influenced.
When he was young, Koirala had dreamed of becoming a Hollywood star. But his life took a different turn in the early 1950s. Sushil was highly impressed by the principles of the far-sighted democratic icon, BP Koirala, and the social democratic ideals of the NC. So he entered politics in 1952. He received his school education from Thakurram High School in Biratnagar.
Following the royal coup of 1960, he was placed under house arrest for three months. Then he went into exile in India for more than 19 years. While in exile, Koirala was entrusted with the responsibility of editing Tarun, the official publication of the party.
In the early 1970s, he also had to spend an agonising prison life for three years in different Indian jails for his involvement in plane hijacking. He was one of the NC members that helped realise the party’s decision to hijack a Royal Nepal Airlines plane from Biratnagar. The party had taken the decision to collect funds to launch a revolution for restoring democracy in the country.
Since 1979, he was a member of the Central Working Committee (CWC) of the party. Close to late Girija Prasad Koirala, he was appointed general secretary of the party in 1996 and vice-president in 1998. The 12th General Convention of the party, which was held in 2010, elected him as the party president.
He did his Intermediate in Commerce from a college in India. But he used to say that his education was informal.
Under his leadership, the NC emerged as the largest party in the second CA election held in November 2013. He was elected CA member from Chitwan-4 and Banke-3. Later, he relinquished the Chitwan-2 seat. He was elected leader of the NC Parliamentary Party, and was appointed the prime minister in February 2014.
In the first CA election held in 2008, he had been defeated in his constituency in Banke. In 1991 and 1999, he had been elected to the House of Representatives from the Banke-2 constituency on a Nepali Congress ticket.
Senior leader Koirala was instrumental in striking a historic deal among the four major political parties to promulgate the new constitution, for which he was praised as a national hero.
A patient of lung cancer, Koirala had undergone medical treatment in the US. Upon his return from the US in October last year, the leader with great willpower had said, “I have overcome the chronic disease. Now I will remain dedicated myself to making the nation healthier.”
Immediately after his return, Koirala tendered his resignation as the prime minister, paving the way for the formation of a new government. He, however, had to face a lot of criticism from the party cadres and others for violating the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with the CPN (UML) as he fielded his candidacy for the prime minister’s chair. Incumbent Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli defeated Koirala in the election.
As president of the largest political force in the CA, Koirala made great efforts to draft the new constitution despite his ill health. A soft-spoken and consensus-oriented leader, he was able to bring all the major political forces on board. The promulgation of the inclusive new constitution would not have been possible without his unwavering efforts. The liberal leader also played decisive roles in addressing the Terai agitation through amendments in the constitution. The amendment bill was tabled by his party.
Even in his late 70s, Koirala was very active in politics. Many NC leaders and cadres were piling pressure on him to field his candidacy for the party president in the upcoming 13th General Convention. Although he had not announced his candidacy, he might have been willing to do so.
Following his resignation as prime minister, he was quite serious about implementing the new constitution in order to establish peace and stability and bring about the much-needed economic revolution in the country.
The nationalist leader was always against all sorts of foreign interference. He was committed to multi-party democracy, an independent judiciary and rule of law.
Expressing serious concern over the anomalies and problems prevailing in the country’s political sector, Koirala, during informal talks with his colleagues and friends, used to say, “Only saints and selfless persons can bring about positive changes in the country. So, we must work hard to lead the nation towards the path of economic prosperity and social stability.”
The demise of Koirala has saddened all sections of the society, including political leaders. In her condolence message, President Bidhyadevi Bhandari said Koirala’s death has caused an irretrievable loss to the nation.
“As a great fighter for Nepal’s democratic movement, he (late Koirala) devoted himself to safeguarding and promoting democratic values and ideals,” President Bhandari said.
Similarly, Prime Minister and Chairman of the CPN-UML KP Sharma Oli lauded Koirala for his unflinching contribution to the country’s democratic movement. “The roles he played in drafting and promulgating the constitution will never be forgotten,” Premier Oli added.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the UCPN-M and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ said that Koirala would be remembered as an untiring fighter for democracy.
The late Koirala’s lifestyle is worth emulating by leaders and cadres of all the political parties. Austerity, honesty and openness are some of the qualities his successors have to learn from the late leader. At a time when Nepal’s political sector has become polluted, the late leader could be a source of inspiration. He was really a man with a clean image.
Rooting out anomalies in politics, establishing peace and political stability, and initiating the process of economic development through the implementation of the constitution would be a true tribute to the pro-people leader.