Tulsi Giri was such a staunch supporter of the monarchy that he once said in a speech, “If His Majesty so orders, I can even walk around wearing a saree and lipstick.” This statement was famous throughout the Panchayat rule.
The Narayanhiti Palace maintained secret assessments of people it could exploit. It used people when they were needed and discarded them when they outlived their utility. According to an assessment made public by Rewati Raman Khanal, former chief secretary of the Narayanhiti Palace, “Dr. Tulsi Giri is a sharp Arabian horse. It will take you to your destination. It recognizes the riders, but can cause them to fall if it is not properly reined in. (‘Rewati Raman Khanal, Anubhuti ra abhibyakti’, page 15).
The palace’s assessment of Bishwa Bandhu Thapa, on the other hand, was that he was impatient and unstable—which did reflect his political behavior. According to Khanal: “Bishwa Bandhu Thapa is a brass vessel; it won’t leak even when it’s filled to the brim with water. But it can topple. It must be clasped. In other words, it should not be let go. It is one that will always remain useful.”
Giri was good at logical arguments and he had gift of gab. Thapa, on the other hand, was diligent, creative and adept at immediately drawing up a framework for any topic. So journalists who opposed the Panchayat regime compared Giri to a horse and Thapa to a donkey.
Giri did turn out to be a sharp horse for the palace. But the palace could not always rein him in. As a result, Giri’s political life underwent several upheavals; at times it even sank into a quagmire. Sometimes Giri was at the center of the Panchayat system, but at other times he was sidelined or even jailed.
From a minister, Giri went on to be the deputy chair and, on 2 April 1963, the chair of the cabinet. A few weeks later, Thapa was appointed the chair of the National Panchayat. Cabinet meetings were held at Narayanhiti Palace under the king’s chairmanship; they started taking place at Singha Durbar after Giri took over.
Consequently, Giri got to meet and socialize with the king less often. In contrast to earlier times, Mahendra started paying less attention to Giri and Thapa—so much so that the two had to make a request to the palace secretary for an audience with the king. Giri, who was used to wielding power from the time of his proximity to BP, became disappointed when the king stopped bestowing favors on him.
Giri suddenly resigned on 23 December 1963, ostensibly on health grounds. The real reason, however, was that he was unhappy with the lack of king’s attention. There was speculation that his resignation would create a crisis in Panchayat politics. As it was the initial phase of the Panchayat system, King Mahendra lacked people of Giri’s caliber.
Meanwhile, Surya Bahadur Thapa, then deputy chair of the cabinet, played the role of a mediator. He frequented Dr Giri’s house in Hattisar and told him: “Leaving in the middle like this would spell the end of the Panchayat regime. And people would blame us.”
Owing to Thapa’s frequent efforts, Giri returned as the cabinet chair on 26 February 1964. The two had forged a strong bond. In that era, people called Surya Bahadur Thapa the ‘hazuria’ of Tulsi Giri—meaning Thapa was extremely loyal to Giri.
But Mahendra was scared Giri could betray him at any time and thus formulated a strategy to groom Giri’s heir. So despite his unwillingness, Mahendra on 5 July 1964 appointed Bishwa Bandhu Thapa, the chair of the National Panchayat, as the first deputy chair of the cabinet. Surya Bahadur Thapa was made the second deputy chair.
Next week’s ‘Vault of History’ column will discuss Tulsi Giri’s personal life, including his interests in cars, cameras, watches and women