Before elections, Ramraja Prasad Singh, Shankar Ghimire, and Nirmal Lama were already a nuisance for the Panchayat regime. Rishikesh Shah became the new troublemaker post-elections. In the Rastriya Panchayat, he started talking about rule of law. He demanded that the government be accountable to the people through the legislative, not to the king. His demand for an ‘opposition bench’ in the parliament rang alarm bells in the palace. For even the thought of opposition was inconsistent with the Panchayat ideal. Shah even gave a memo to King Mahendra demanding direct public elections to the Rastriya Panchayat.
Evidently, King Mahendra didn’t like that. He had appointed Shah to the posts of permanent representative to the United Nations, foreign minister, and finance minister. The king had even made him a member of the Royal Privy Council, which was more powerful than the Rastriya Panchayat. So it was natural for the king to be unhappy with Shah. He was sent to prison for criminal offence on 10 July 1969. The court released him
a year later.
The election of graduates gave a clear message: “Educated and intellectual people are against Panchayat.” The four members elected under this provision became more influential than the 121 Panchayat supporters in the house. The palace and the Panchayat regime could not restrain them. It boosted the morale of the liberals and discouraged the conservatives. The third elections of graduates was scheduled for 8 June 1971 where more of the radical youths had filed candidacy. Ramraja Prasad Singh was one of them. Twenty-two candidates including Rishikesh Shah, Ramhari Joshi, Krishna Prasad Bhandari, Shankar Ghimire, Rupchandra Bista, Prakash Chandra Lohani, Prayagraj Singh Suwal, Birendra Keshari Pokharel were running for the four seats.
Many of the candidates had links with Nepali Congress. Most of them were fighting against the state control of fundamental rights, and pushing for direct elections to the parliament. Singh had already left a mark in the previous elections. He had also pleaded before the court in favor of arrested student leaders of Nepali Congress, which brought him closer to the party’s youth wing.
For his second campaign, Singh had drafted an even fiercer electoral manifesto. Calling King Mahendra’s move of 15 December 1960 undemocratic and unconstitutional, he said the year before that under Nepali Congress was a ‘golden age’ for the country. Naturally, Congress got interested in him. His manifesto was termed revolutionary. Rajendra Kharel, Haribol Bhattarai, Anar Singh Karki, and other Congress leaders openly supported him.
The candidacy of Krishna Prasad Bhandari was also not to the liking of the Panchayat regime. The Panchayat wanted to ensure, by all means, that dissenters got defeated. According to the erstwhile secretary of Election Commission Laxman Rimal, civil servants were given written orders: “Don’t cast your votes to the dissenters, you can vote for anyone else.” Rimal, however, says he didn’t himself see these notes (Biteka Ti Dinharu, 2012).
From Congress, socialist leader Ramhari Joshi was a candidate, and his manifesto also opposed the Panchayat regime. “The king should not rule directly. For, if there is any mistake in governance, the blame goes to the king. To save the king from such blame, the country should be run by a government elected through adult franchise. In that case, the government would be blamed for everything that goes wrong, not the king,” he wrote in his manifesto. (Atmakatha tatha Nepali Congress sanga Gasiyeka Samjhanaharu, Ramhari Joshi, 2010)
Rupchandra Bista, the famous non-conventional leader of the Panchayat era, was also a candidate for the graduate elections. “This election for graduates is a small hole in the big wall that goes by the name of Panchayat. I am here to scream out from that small hole,” he had said. (Himal Khabarpatrika, July 1999)
Ghimire, Joshi, and Bista were arrested shortly after the elections. Ramraja Prasad Singh went
Next week’s Vault of History will discuss the disturbances created during vote-counting following the third graduate elections