Up until the royal coup on 15 December 1960, Dr. Tulsi Giri and Bishwa Bandhu Thapa were considered the eyes and ears of Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala. Others thought of Giri and Thapa as BP’s ‘swift horses’. BP formed opinions and acted on them based on the inputs of the duo. While Giri was a master of logic, Thapa was adept at coming up with new ideas and writing about them. As both acted strictly in accordance with BP’s strategy, they were considered his yes-men. Both were ambitious.
The veteran politician duo of the Panchayat regime, Giri and Thapa lived in BP’s home—and slept in the same room—until BP became prime minister in May 1959. Both had already assumed the role of the Nepali Congress General Secretary. Giri did not contest the first parliamentary polls of 1959 as he was not interested in fighting elections. Thapa, on the other hand, insisted that he be given a ticket to contest the election from Chitwan. Giri supported Thapa’s claim to the ticket, and Thapa got it, at the expense of Bakhan Singh Gurung, the rightful claimant.
When the Congress won the country’s first parliamentary election with a two-third majority, Giri became a deputy minister and a member of the upper house, and Thapa the party’s chief whip. BP made good use of both. But because both were extremely close to BP, King Mahendra conceived of a strategy to use them for ‘informants’.
On the other hand, BP made Giri a minister to arrange the king’s transport logistics in order to understand Mahendra’s strategy. Giri was sharp, clever, logical and eloquent. He was part of the king’s entourage during the king’s frantic cross-country visits in early 1960. It was on that visit that King Mahendra and Tulsi Giri forged a deep relationship. Suspicion became rampant within the Congress that Giri was inciting the king to make strident speeches and helping him with his coup plans.
Subsequently, there was pressure to remove Giri from the cabinet, and on 26 August 1960, he was forced to resign. But the palace dilly-dallied on accepting his resignation. King Mahendra maintained that he, and not the prime minister, had the right to remove a minister from his post. Finally, the palace issued a statement on 14 September 1960 that Giri’s resignation had been accepted.
Even BP had suspected that Giri was playing a double role. Giri also used to rouse BP to act and speak against the king. Writes BP in his autobiography: “Tulsi Giri always used to tell me things against the king. He told me to be strong and respond to the king’s statements in this or that way. He used to say things like: In the speeches in Biratnagar and Saptari, you the prime minister became spineless and pathetic, and surrendered.”
A close look at the political landscape of that era reveals Giri had a role in creating a rift between the king and the prime minister. On the day of the royal coup in December 1960, both BP Koirala and Tulsi Giri were arrested. But while BP served an eight-year-long sentence in Sundarijal jail, Giri was released after five days.
Next week’s ‘Vault of History’ column will discuss the backgrounds and further political journeys of Tulsi Giri and Bishwa Bandhu Thapa