The anti-Panchayat wave seen during the 1971 graduate elections was enough to unsettle the palace. King Mahendra feared dissenters entering the Rastriya Panchayat and making things difficult. Vote counting was then stopped, only to be resumed 35 days later after criticism from all quarters. Prime Minister Kirti Nidhi Bista gave a speech calling for a stop to the dissenters’ march into the parliament. He was not in a mood to allow vote counting and pressed Chief Election Commissioner Purna Prasad Brahman to act accordingly. But Brahman refused to comply as he favored free and fair elections.Brahman was then summoned to the palace. He somehow convinced the king that Ramraja Prasad Singh could not win. Vote counting started only after that. Erstwhile Secretary of Election Commission Laxman Rimal writes: “Ballot boxes were brought to the City Hall... Vote counting continued throughout the night. Somebody tried to cut off the power. I had arranged for lanterns anticipating disturbances... So the plot of rigging counts in darkness was foiled. The chief commissioner was able to conduct free and fair polls keeping undue influences at bay.”
Prayagraj Singh Suwal obtained most votes, followed by Ramraja Prasad Singh in the second, Krishna Prasad Bhandari in the third, and Prakash Chandra Lohani in the fourth positions. The results were declared from the City Hall itself. Lohani had then announced: “Unless polls are based on adult franchise, I will not accept a ministerial post.” It so happened that he became a minister only in 1983 when Rastriya Panchayat elections started to be held based on adult franchise. After vote counting, chief commissioner Brahman did not enter the office of Election Commission. He was under great pressure from the king and the prime minister. On 10 August 1971, the palace issued a notice that Brahman had resigned from his post immediately after the results were out. But instead of simple resignation it looked more like an angry ‘dismissal’ from the palace.
Among the graduate winners, only Suwal turned out to be a Panchayat supporter. He was considered an influential leader of Nepali Congress and had also served six years in prison. Maybe his prominent political personality was counted when he was appointed minister for health as well as infrastructure and transport through a cabinet reshuffle of 16 April 1972. Generally, in the Panchayat government, one was inducted as an assistant minister and gradually promoted to minister. But in Suwal’s case, a precedent was set when he was appointed a minister right at the beginning.
King orders arrest
Although the election results were out and Ramraja Prasad Singh was one of the winners, the Panchayat regime was plotting to prevent him from taking the oath of office. After all, he had gone underground after the polls. The administration was determined to track him down and arrest him.
On the day of the oath, youth leaders of Nepali Congress put him in a taxi and dramatically took him to Singhadurbar. Police had deployed additional patrol units to nab him. They were trying to prevent him from entering Singhadurbar at any cost. But he was already seated at the lobby of Rastriya Panchayat, and his presence came as a shock to then State Minister for Home Jog Mehar Shrestha. Inside the house, Panchayat supporters started clamoring to forestall dissenters’ oath. They blamed Singh of being a traitor. Yet Singh remained at his ease, unaffected by the uproar.
Chairman of Rastriya Panchayat Rajeshwor Devkota refused to confer on him the oath of office, stating that it raised a constitutional question. So the police entered the house and arrested Singh. House secretary informed that the arrest undertaken ‘on the orders of the king himself’. Curiously, seven Rastriya Panchayat members had stood in support of Singh O
Next week’s Vault of History will discuss 1985 bombings at Singhdurbar and Durbarmarg, and death sentence against Ramraja Prasad Singh