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Biru Lama obituary: The ‘driver’ of the 1973 plane hijack

Biru Lama obituary: The ‘driver’ of the 1973 plane hijack

Biru Lama, who participated in the 1973 hijack of an airliner in Biratnagar as part of rebellion against the partyless Panchayat regime, died on March 3.

A lifelong Nepali Congress supporter and a close confidant of late Nepali Congress leader and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, Lama, despite being a key actor in one of the most pivotal moments in Nepal’s political history, was never given the credit he deserved.

Those who knew Lama closely, including former minister JP Gupta, describe him as an unsung democratic hero.

Born in Nepalgunj, Banke, Lama moved to Biratnagar, Morang, with his sister and her husband in his early teens soon got involved with the Congress. He was exiled in India at a young age after being implicated in a bombing in Rani, Biratnagar. His political schooling started in India, too, where he lived with underground Congress politicians and cadres.

On 1 June 1973, a 19-seater Twin Otter passenger aircraft, bound for Kathmandu from Biratnagar, was hijacked and taken to Farbisganj, India. The hijackers were NC activists Durga Prasad Subedi, Basanta Bhattarai and Nagendra Dhungel. The whole incident was orchestrated by Girija Prasad Koirala. The other accomplices were Sushil Koirala, also a former NC president and prime minister, Binod Aryal, Manahari Baral, Rajendra Dahal and Biru Lama. 

The aircraft, which was transporting the Nepal Rastra Bank’s Rs 3 million, was forced to land on a grass field in Forbesganj of Bihar, India. The goal was to steal the money to fund the armed revolution against the Panchayat regime.

As the plane landed in Forbesganj, a car was waiting there to collect the money. Lama was the driver. It was his job to transport the looted money as well as the Congress leaders, from Bihar and all the way to West Bengal. There, late NC president and Prime Minister BP Koirala and other party leaders were in hiding.  

The incident has been well documented in Subedi’s book ‘Biman Bidroha’. 

Lama, who was arrested and jailed in India after the incident, returned to Nepal alone with other exiled NC leaders in 1979-80. He remained close to the Koirala family and worked as a driver for Girija Prasad.

 Gupta, in a tribute piece to his old friend, wrote that Lama never resented being identified by others as the driver of Girija Prasad. He remembered Lama as ever so humble and a man of few words.

Lama is survived by his wife Sushma Sharma and two children. He was previously married to Armina Gurung.