In those days, there was rampant talk about King Birendra being a ruler only in name, and that the actual reins of power were in the hands of Queen Aishwarya, Princes Gyanendra and Dhirendra, and some royal courtiers. Ordinary people frequently commented on how the palace secretaries and the king’s ACDs were running the government and amassing colossal wealth in the process. They talked about the indecisive leadership of King Birendra. In such a socio-political climate, Yogi Naraharinath’s interview (see last issue of VoH) added fuel to fire. Employing the umbrella analogy rather at length, he pontificated on what the country needed to do.
He defined a state as ‘an umbrella that one holds’. “If a ruler lets others hold it, sometimes they themselves take cover under it. Amshuverma did that. So did Jung Bahadur. And the one who owned the umbrella was exposed naked. That’s how it is in statecraft. One who assumes active leadership should be decisive. Those who are unable to make decisions simply cannot take active leadership,” said Naraharinath.
Not just that. He even warned that a monarch continuing such a trend could become insignificant or even fade into oblivion. “As many as 750 kings of India met their downfall as they were distant from their citizenry.”
Naraharinath also chastised the Panchas (proponents of the Panchayat rule) harshly. “In villages across the country, crooks and swindlers have become honorable figures but upright citizens are punished. Those who are honest are disciplined while the corrupt are promoted. The fault rests squarely on politicians. They appear weak. King Mahendra dared to rule the country well, but those who came to power after his demise lacked long-term vision.”
On governance, Naraharinath said: “Palace secretaries are doing work that ministers are supposed to do. There is interference from on high in every small decision. Where will the country go when rulers show such wishy-washy behavior such as trying to devolve rights but not being able to do so, or talking about democracy but interfering in every small matter? Such a system can be called neither democratic nor traditional.”
Naraharinath’s much-discussed interview did not go down well with the Panchas or the royalists; they thought his activities defamed the monarchy. Advocates of a multiparty system, on the other hand, interpreted the interview differently; they concluded Naraharinath had incited the king to become even more powerful and repressive. The Nepali Congress maintained that he was an abettor ofpolitical regression.
While the interviewer (Harihar Birahi) and publisher (Shiva Kumar Khadka) had already been arrested, Naraharinath had not been. He held a press meet where he claimed that he firmly stood by his words and that the interview, in fact, had been toned down. “If somebody has to be punished, it is the interviewee. Injustice should not be meted out to a journalist,” the yogi added.
The Panchayat rulers faced a dilemma as to how to deal with Naraharinath. Because jailing a yogi could create difficulties, the royal regime adopted a curious policy. It apprehended him on the sly and drove him on a government vehicle to the other side of the border through the Bhairahawa customs point. He was forced into exile to India.
After that, Naraharinath appeared in Kathmandu in the summer of 1989, when the country was suffering an Indian blockade. He gave a rather fiery interview to Deshantar, a Nepali weekly, which published it with a catchy title on 16 April 1989. “No one trusts those who are ruled by others. Those who salute are slaves; they cannot protect the country. No nation can become independent through foreign aid. We should not even accept air for free. I am a jogi, a global creature; I am nobody’s servant. I am saying all this only because I was born in Nepal. Only an ignoramus says India did this and that [for Nepal]. Nepalis are generous givers; they are ignorant but also altruistic. We don’t cause trouble for others. But nor do we let go of what is rightfully ours from the times of our ancestors,” Naraharinath said.
He kept travelling to and fro between Nepal and India, and busied himself with religious rituals and lectures. With the advent of multiparty democracy, he stopped being the news. Yogi Naraharinath breathed his last aged 88 on 25 February 2003 in Mrigasthali, Kathmandu.
Next week’s ‘Vault of History’ column will discuss the role of Dr Tulsi Giri (the ex-prime minister) and Biswo Bandhu Thapa (the ex-chief of Rastriya Panchayat) in the establishment of the Panchayat regime