In custody, Ramraja Prasad Singh was asked of his whereabouts during the 40 days he was underground. He was also taken to meet King Mahendra, after which zonal administrator Bishnu Mani Acharya issued an order to jail him for two and half years. But he was then again taken to the palace. There, he was told to apologize, in which case he would be pardoned. Singh was even told that he would get a position of power. King Mahendra told him: “I’ve found you to be a suitable Madhesi candidate for the post of prime minister. But you please support me.”
But Singh rejected the offer, emphasizing he was ‘not for sale’. Obviously, that made the king angry, so Singh was again jailed. The king was by then convinced that the graduate candidates were unwilling to abide by the Panchayat rule.
Singh appealed before the Supreme Court for him acquittal from treason charges. On knowing that, King Mahendra pardoned him and he was then conferred oath of office as a member of Rastriya Panchayat. But before long, he was again expelled from the house, this time on the charge of ‘contempt of Rastriya Panchayat’. Indira Shrestha was appointed in his place.
In August 1972, Rastriya Panchayat members Krishna Prasad Bhandari and Prakash Chandra Lohani were arrested for giving speeches against the regime at Itumbahal. Both were jailed for 17 months. Former Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa was also arrested for speaking on the same occasion; he did time for 14 months. King Mahendra had died few months before that. When he was alive, he was getting increasingly worried about graduate elections as it had already become a thorn in the ruler’s flesh.
Mahendra’s successor Birendra had been schooled in Darjeeling, gone to college in Britain and then to Harvard for some time. He had also been to Japan for training. The foreign-educated king was expected to ensure the representation of more educated members in Rastriya Panchayat. People thought he would relax the Panchayat rule somewhat, pinning their hope on his foreign exposure and education.
In 1975, work was underway to amend the constitution and liberalize the Panchayat regime a bit. But then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in India, giving fuel to Nepal’s authoritarians. They started arguing: “The parliamentary system has proved to be a curse in India. Otherwise the prime minister wouldn’t impose an emergency there. We should learn and refrain frombecoming liberal.”
Actually, as Rupchandra Bista termed it, the provision of graduate elections were eating up the Panchayat regime as dissidents were using them to weaken the regime. The rulers would not allow that. Through the constitution amendment of 12 December 1975, the provision was scrapped.
Angered by the treatment of the palace and Panchayat stalwarts, Ramraja Prasad Singh resorted to armed revolt by opening a party named Janawadi Morcha Nepal. Around midday on 19 June 1985, he launched coordinated bomb blasts in the Kathmandu Valley: near Narayanhiti Royal Palace in Durbarmarg, and at the gate of Singhadurbar. The latter killed Rastriya Panchayat member Dambar Jung Gurung and comptroller Bishnu Dawadi. Other members Janak Bahadur Shah, Deep Bahadur Singh, and Bholaman Singh Thapa were injured. The bomb that went off at the lobby of Annapurna Hotel in Durbarmarg killed one and injured two dozen people, including four foreigners.
Singh once again came into spotlight. The Panchayat regime got angrier with him and the Supreme Court handed him ‘death sentence’. He took refuge in India. After the restoration of democracy in the country, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala granted him amnesty on 15 July 1991. Deputy chair of Singh’s Morcha, Khemraj Bhatta Mayalu, became a member of parliament from Nepali Congress.
Singh remained inactive until the country turned into a republic. The erstwhile Maoist party had wanted to make him the first president of republican Nepal, acknowledging his early fight for the republican system. The party fielded him as its candidate for the presidential election in July 2008. He lost to Dr. Ram Baran Yadav of Nepali Congress .The article marks the end of the ‘Vault of History’ series. Thapa will soon return with a new column