Yogi Naraharinath played an important role in ushering in the partyless Panchayat regime. Not only was he repeatedly embroiled in controversy during the Panchayat reign, but was also imprisoned.
He stood against the new education plan that the government had introduced in 1971. Naraharinath argued that the plan did not accord due respect to the nation’s languages and cultures, and that it would drive the country toward ruin.
His movement against the plan had the potential to incite people. King Mahendra was fully aware of Naraharinath’s ability to impress ordinary citizens, and the monarch invited the yogi to the palace for a meeting. The two had an argument and Mahendra even threatened Naraharinath. According to Shambhu Prasad Gyawali, then home and panchayat minister, King Mahendra said to Yogi Naraharinath, “You are a jogi (mendicant). If you’re dissatisfied with something, you can suddenly leave a place and go wherever you want. Being a monarch, I don’t have that luxury.”
Naraharinath was not cowed. The palace feared he could recreate an incident similar to the one in Gorkha a decade earlier. Mahendra passed away the same year the new education system was implemented. His heir to the throne—King Birendra—had Naraharinath arrested. The yogi went into exile in India after serving a six-month prison sentence.
Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi knew of Yogi Naraharinath’s skills and talents, and she built an ashram for him. Naraharinath frequently organized long religious rituals, where he invited prime ministers, ministers and senior officials. He used to say “Bhrastachaar, commission-trantra, swaha!” (‘To hell with corruption and the system of commission’).
Yogi Naraharinath used to attract a fair bit of attention while he was in Nepal. The Nepali Congress considered him an abettor of the royal coup against democracy, and could not stand him. Its cadres chased him out of Chitwan in the mid-1980s when he delivered a speech in the district against the party. He was in the process of opening a school in Chitwan when he gave that speech. At the same time, he was trying to create an anti-Congress climate and establish the illiberal leader, Dr. Tulsi Giri.
In the latter half of the Panchayat reign, Naraharinath came out strongly against King Birendra’s governance. He made a public announcement, arguing that Birendra was unable to govern and that the real rulers behind the scenes were somebody else. After he gave a long interview to journalist Harihar Birahi, the yogi was once again sent into exile in India. (Birahi and publisher Shiva Kumar Khadka were arrested, tried for crimes against the royal regime, and jailed.)
This incident is known as Chhataa kaanda (the umbrella episode). “If somebody wants to stand under an umbrella, they should have the ability to carry it themselves,” Naraharinath said. “If they do not even have that much power, it would be futile to have an umbrella.”
“One who does not have the strength to carry an umbrella would be better off accepting that he does not need it and voluntarily handing it over to others. Wanting an umbrella but not being able to hold it won’t work.” These statements were part of an interview published in Janajyoti, a Nepali weekly, on 7 August 1987. They were interpreted as a jibe at King Birendra’s tendency to hold on to power but without the ability to wield it.
Next week’s ‘Vault of History’ column will discuss how Yogi Naraharinath was exiled into India following the Chhataa kaanda and his return to Nepal