Radhika Shakya was the eldest of the six children from a peasant family from an old settlement in Mangalbazar, Patan. But while most of the children went to Chyasal to play, Radhika did not. Instead she ruminated over problems facing her family—problems born of poverty. That precocious little girl is now the country’s ‘first lady’, the better half of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
Her family had very little land and her parents—father Chiribhai Shakya and mother Dhanadevi Shakya—worked as tailors for some Chinese customers to make ends meet. As an adolescent, Radhika was aware of the hardship her parents endured, and of the struggles one had to go through in life.
One day, Radhika heard about Mao Tse-tung from a Chinese customer.She formed a mental picture of Mao: a good leader who’d rid the poor Chinese people of their troubles. But she had not yet met a Nepali communist leader. She began wondering if there were any Mao followers in Nepal. It was the time of the Jhapa rebellion, during which time young communists were being killed or imprisoned on charges of subversion.
In 1978, Radhika passed the SLC exams from Patan’s Adarsha Kanya Niketan School in first division. Back then, simply passing the SLC was an important feat. The fact that Radhika did so well brought acclaim to her family. By that time, communist ideology had already had a strong impact on Radhika’s psyche. She enrolled in Patan Multiple Campus, where for the first time she met communists in the flesh.
She believed that joining the communist party would allow her to free the country from abject poverty. At great personal risk, she immersed herself in student politics. During that time, leaders of the Jhapa rebellion such as KP Oli, Mohan Chandra Adhikari, CP Mainali and RK Mainali were in jail.
Studying was not easy for her though. Involvement in communist politics carried significant risk. Besides, her family’s dire financial condition compelled her to take up a job and in 1980, Radhika started working for the central bank. For eight long years, she worked there as a temporary staff, because securing a permanent position was difficult for someone who was active in politics.
The turning point
In 1987, her party had organized in Pulchok Engineering College a welcome program for members who had just been released from jail. Among the 22 released was a skinny young man with an angular face. All the hardship he endured for 14 long years in prison had given him a haggard body. But when he started speaking, his words made an indelible impression on her. She thought he looked weak, but also that he had a brilliant mind. That young man was none other than KP Sharma Oli, the current prime minister.
Soon afterwards, a bunch of communist leaders—Jhalanath Khanal, Madhav Nepal, Amrit Bohora and Asta Laxmi Shakya—came to see Radhika at Patan Campus. After some preliminary talks, Khanal said, “A good and honest friend of ours has just come out of jail and is looking for a good and honest life partner.” Radhika understood what Khanal was hinting at.
Reminiscing about her wedding, Radhika says, “I agreed to the proposal. Although I was a girl, my opinion carried weight in my family.” The wedding was a very low-key affair. It involved the bride and the groom garlanding each other, and about 20 attendees cheering them on.
The new couple rented a place in Patan. Only after Oli became home minister in the Manmohan Adhikari-led government in 1994 did they move to the minister’s quarters in Pulchok. That government lasted only nine months and the couple had to shift to Radhika’s parents’ place in Mangalbazar.
Radhika continued her job at the central bank until she retired in 2011. It was this job that helped the couple build a house in Balkot, Bhaktapur. “My retirement pension is enough for us to live on. Why do we need to earn more? I’m rather more worried about his [Oli’s] health,” says Radhika.
A long and tough jail sentence had severely weakened Oli’s immunity, so his health has always been a major concern for Radhika. Whether he was at the pinnacle of power or on the brink of death, Radhika’s primary focus has always been Oli’s care.
Radhika’s biggest anxiety is that Oli does not follow a proper timetable for food and medicine. When she complains, Oli’s standard response is: “Apart from my integrity, everything I have is finite. My age, ability, time, all have a limit.” Radhika recites a sentence that Oli often says: “I will spend the time I have left for the country.”
Although the couple eat together, Oli doesn’t spare much time to talk to Radhika. He is busy meeting people until midnight. And then he reads well into the wee hours. Radhika sees him reading whenever she wakes up in the night, and scolds him.
“He doesn’t have a fixed timetable for leaving the house or for coming back. I must wait for him to ensure that he takes his medicine,” Radhika expresses her difficulty. “But his main grumble is that I couldn’t continue my studies.” She tries to mimic Oli: “Take some time out to do a PhD.” And then she laughs wholeheartedly.