Twelve days after the December 1960 royal coup that dissolved the parliament and the elected government, Dr Tulsi Giri and Bishwa Bandhu Thapa were respectively inducted as the first- and second-ranked minister in King Mahendra’s cabinet. Earlier in the Congress government, Giri was ranked 11th in the hierarchy of ministers.
Both Giri and Thapa were transformed from ‘BP’s swift horses’ into ‘Mahendra’s horses’. They were firmly established in the public imagination as the primary abettors of the royal coup that killed the multiparty system. Citing Giri and Thapa, people talked about the erosion of trust in politics.
Thapa was on a tour of the US at the time of the coup. He was arrested—for show—when he came back. But after a few days, he was included in the list of ministers. Thapa had grown up with the Koiralas from the time the two families were in exile in India during the Rana era.
While Thapa had fought against the Rana rule, Giri had suddenly risen in national politics after the dawn of democracy in 1951. The son of a wealthy landlord from the south-eastern district of Siraha, Giri had come to Kathmandu in the early 1950s to practice medicine. While Giri had his own car, BP did not. The two forged a deep relationship in the course of travelling together in Giri’s car, which helped him become the Congress’s deputy general secretary and then general secretary in just a couple of years.
But Giri and Thapa turned into figures who would develop the political philosophy of the Panchayat system, formulate its plans and policies, and create an environment unfavorable for the Nepali Congress. Thapa could not always remain hewed to the Panchayat; he kept switching allegiance between the multiparty and the Panchayat systems. In the early stages, Thapa was a dyed-in-the-wool Pancha, but he gradually changed his view and argued in favor of a multiparty system. But Giri was convinced that a multiparty system could not go hand in hand with the monarchy.
Before 1959, Giri was a strong critic of the monarchy. While he was the Congress general secretary, he had published a piece critical of the monarchy entitled ‘Desh, naresh ra janata’ (Country, king and people) in the party’s mouthpiece Nepal Pukar. Following the publication of the article, Nepal Pukar was banned and its editor fined. Earlier, Giri could not write in Nepali; it was Thapa who translated Giri’s writings in Hindi into Nepali.
Throughout the Panchayat reign, Giri was considered a leading figure of the illiberal camp—even though the palace used him at times to further its own interests, and left no stone unturned at other times to destroy him. Giri, on the other hand, kept bestowing favors on the palace even until his twilight years. As a result, Giri got the appellation of the ‘mother’ of the Panchayat system.
Next week’s ‘Vault of History’ column will discuss the reason Tulsi Giri’s relationship with King Mahendra soureda