The Nepali New Year’s Day 2028 (14 April 1971) brought joy to Tulsi Giri. It was the day King Mahendra nominated him a member of the Rastriya Panchayat. But Giri’s happiness was short-lived. Mahendra’s successor, King Birendra, did not like Giri. So, on 9 October 1972, King Birendra forced him to quit Rastriya Panchayat. Nonetheless, the palace did not want to drive the ‘sharp horse’ away, as it could later be put to use. A little later, Birendra appointed Giri his personal ‘political adviser’ whereupon he became entitled to state perks equivalent to a minister.
In 1975, the constitution was being amended to introduce liberal reforms to the Panchayat rule and in order to bring the Subarna Shumsher panel of Nepali Congress into the Panchayat fold. But right then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency and curtailed democratic rights. On 11 June 1975, she had Indian political leaders arrested.
Developments in India gave strength to Nepal’s conservatives who started asking, ‘If democratic India can be so illiberal, why should we be liberal?’ So the palace drafted a conservative constitution even though the recommendations it received were overwhelmingly in favor of liberal reforms. When it needed the right candidate to implement the conservative constitution, Giri was appointed the prime minister in a surprise announcement on 30 November 1975, 10 days before the constitution’s promulgation.
That day, Giri was getting his car fixed at a workshop when he got a message from home: “Call the palace secretary.” He did, and was told to go to the palace immediately. He hurried to the palace in a safari suit and sandals. King Birendra sent him to cloud nine by telling him that he was the new prime minister. Rejoiced, Giri presented ‘daam’ (token) to the king. Then, King Birendra issued a stern warning: “I will not spare you if you trouble me as you troubled my father.”
Giri’s joy instantly turned into horror, for ‘sword’ and ‘palace’ were considered to come together, as epitomized in the saying: “Jasko Tarwar Uskai Darbar” (He who owns the sword also owns the palace).
Meanwhile, Bishwabandhu Thapa had been active in politics since 1966, proposing liberal reforms in the Panchayat rule. When his proposal was rejected, he resigned as Rastriya Panchayat member. He was about to make a statement against the Panchayat rule when he was arrested and sent to Nakkhu Jail on the midnight of 13 May 1967. His political colleague Surya Bahadur Thapa was the prime minister at the time. The incident established that there was no permanent foe or friend in politics. Thapa would spend four months in jail.
He was later appointed the chairman of Gau Farka Rastriya Abhiyan (Return to Village National Campaign) in 1969. While in office, he wished to be a Rastriya Panchayat member and went to Chitwan to contest election, where he was defeated right at the ward level. Back then, a Rastriya Panchayat member had to win elections at village and district levels as well. He then resigned as the chairman of Gau Farka on moral grounds.
Five years later, Thapa was again appointed the chairman of Gau Farka. In the run up to Janamat Sangraha (referendum) of 1980, he quit Panchayat rule and started supporting multi-party system. He returned to the Panchayat fold again in 1983. In his later years, he was limited to the role of heading the Panchayat’s ‘Elder’s Club’. Despite being at the forefront of the Panchayat regime, he couldn’t get the coveted prime minister’s post, largely due to his flickering loyalty.
Next week’s ‘Vault of History’ will discuss corruption charges against Tulsi Giri and his disillusionment with the Panchayat rule