Birth: 23 April 1943, Nawalparasi
Death: 18 March 2021, Biratnagar
The year was 1985. In a cold police cell in Biratnagar with only a tiny ventilation hole allowing some rays of light, Ashok Koirala was given third-degree torture for his involvement in anti-Panchayat activities. At one point, the officers inserted a packet-full of red chili powder into his anus, knocking him unconscious. The incident, infamously known as Khursani Kanda in Nepali politics, failed to faze him though. In the grim and blurry moments that followed, he felt an ever stronger resolve to fight for democracy.
Outside, public pressure was mounting and the authorities released him after two months of unlawful custody. Koirala, a member of the outlawed Nepali Congress party, rejoined the ongoing anti-Panchayat democratic movement. Five years later in 1990, a multi-party democracy replaced the Panchayat regime. Biratnagar elected Koirala as its first mayor.
Often regarded as a man of principles by his contemporaries, Koirala was a staunch defender of democratic values. For his opposition to nepotism and never seeking favors despite his right connections, his party colleagues spoke of him highly. While former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was his cousin, another ex-PM Sushil Koirala was his elder brother.
Koirala was the fourth among 12 children of a civil servant father and a homemaker mother. He grew up in Kailali, Nepalgunj, and Siraha, as the middle-income family moved with the father’s transfers. The young Koirala did not have stable education but plenty of exposure to different places and people.
When his father got transferred to Biratnagar in eastern Nepal from Nepalgunj, Koirala’s family had to split. Ashok accompanied father Bodh Prasad and mother Kumudini to Biratnagar, where he spent the rest of his life. He married Shanta Koirala when he was 46.
Koirala got involved in student politics, and later played a key role in leading the student movement during the 1990 People’s Movement. He was a founding central committee member of the Nepal Student Union, the student wing of the Nepali Congress. He served the union as vice-president under President Sher Bahadur Deuba, who later rose to party presidency and became four-time prime minister.
He is remembered for his outstanding leadership of the second People's Movement of 2006, when he was the president of Nepali Congress Morang district committee. He was a key figure in the consolidation of party organization in its most important base—Biratnagar. Elected to the Constituent Assembly in 2013, he was among the drafters of the new Nepali constitution.
The 77-year-old was undergoing treatment for pneumonia at Biratnagar-based Neuro Hospital when he passed away. He is survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter.