The second elections of Rastriya Panchayat created problems for the Panchayat regime as some political enthusiasts had entered the electoral fray with democratic agenda.The second graduate elections were scheduled for May 1967. The month leading to the polls was filled with anticipation. Among the contestants were people like Rishikesh Shah, Ramraja Prasad Singh, Bashudev Dhungana, Nirmal Lama, Shankar Ghimire, Birendra Keshari Pokharel, and Prayag Raj Singh Suwal.
Shah was among the framers of the Panchayat constitution but had gotten fed up with the Panchayat regime a few years after the constitution’s promulgation. The palace had kept him at bay.
During the second graduate elections, most conspicuous was the rise of Ramraja Prasad Singh. He did not have a political background and he wasn’t a known figure. He was pursuing a legal career, having obtained an advocate’s license three years earlier and then running a law firm at Putalisadak in Kathmandu. Out of the blue, he filed candidacy for the polls with a two-page electoral manifesto entitled “Elect Ramraja Prasad Singh. Here is why.”
In an electoral rally at Battisputali in Kathmandu, he said: “King Mahendra orchestrated a coup in 1960. The challenge is upon us to fight that coup. Every revolution has to go through phases. You tell the people that something wrong has happened. You tell them that it wasn’t good and should be corrected. But you need a legitimate platform from where you can tell the people. That is called ‘representation’.” (Ganatantraka Laagi Sangharsha, Ramraja Prasad Singh’s autobiography published in 2010)
That was a highly-charged speech calling for educating the people, taking out rallies and, if that didn’t work, starting an armed revolt against the regime. Obviously, the Panchayat regime could not tolerate such bold words—and that was just his first speech!
When he delivered the speech in English, the Panchayat supporters began to hoot against him. It brought Singh into notice and the administration put him under surveillance. The police had come to arrest him immediately, but they couldn’t recognize him as he was still an unknown face. He then went to the Tarai, hiding from the authorities. The police eventually did nab him in Mahottari, and his candidacy was cancelled. He was later released on bail.
Nepali Congress showed an interest in the 1967 elections as well. Shankar Ghimire, who was close to the party, was a candidate. He too had an electoral agenda of ‘restoration of democracy’. But he, along with Nirmal Lama, was arrested before the polls.
The Election Commission suddenly announced that elections were postponed. It also published a notice that dissenters were barred from contesting. Former general secretary of Nepali Congress Bishwa Bandhu Thapa, who had then gone into the Panchayat fold, was arrested as he was planning to issue a statement that the action breached people’s fundamental right of contesting elections. Congress leader Surya Prasad Upadhyay, who was considered close to Panchayat, was also arrested. Surya Bahadur Thapa was the prime minister at that time.
The election of graduates was rescheduled three months later, on 25 August 1967. Of the 24 candidates who contested this time, Bashudev Dhungana, Birendra Keshari Pokharel, Rishikesh Shah, and Prayag Raj Sing Suwal were elected.
Next week’s Vault of History will discuss the third elections of Rastriya Panchayat where pro-democratic leaders had further tussles with the Panchayat regime