BP Koirala: Bhola Chatterjee

B.P. Koirala
B.P. Koirala

I met B.P. Koirala in late 1949 & early 1950 as a socialist democratic leader. I was very much impressed by his leading personality and principals. B.P. was a very kind person and had became a great Socialist Democratic leader in the 20th century. It is really grateful for the the Nepalese people.

When I met B.P. Koirala, we, Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Ram Manohar Lohia were also in the same group, we found B.P. a great leader for bringing democracy in the country, I met B.P. last time in 1982 and I had taken a interview about the socialist democracy which is given below:

I asked my first question: Your commitment to democratic socialism is a fact of history. You have been a socialist since the early 1930s. What exactly is your conception of democratic socialism? Do you think democratic socialism as an ideological movement has a future, particularly in Nepal?

He answered: I have made some comments on the question that you asked me. I made a speech in Sydney this February where I summarized our experience of struggle and what lesson our experience has for the socialists of the world. I placed before the Asia Pacific Socialists Organization conference in Sydney the five points I  have made.

One is about democracy. Without appropriate political institutions in which the people have a vested interest, even economic development is not possible. The rationale of the King (Mahendra) is staging the coup in 1960 was the idea that economic development could be divorced from politics and could be accelerated under his authoritarian aegis.

This did not happen. As a matter of face, royal rule brought the economy to the point of collapse. We have become poorer since his takeover. In our experience, development in our economic context, in the context of the Third World, means motivating people for the task of development involving them at every level of implementation of the decisions so made. This a political job. Authoritarian rule can only create a bureaucratic edifice with which people cannot identify themselves. This is our experience. So a socialist must concern himself with the development of democratic institutions also.

Secondly, what our idea is about foreign aid. Foreign aid in our condition, instead of helping the process of development, only creates a news class of people whose affluence is unrelated to the economic condition of the nation as a whole. The new class has no economic roots in the country. It exists solely on the basis of the manipulation of foreign aid and through corruption and illegal trade.

Thirdly, for a poor country like ours, the model of development cannot be provide by the developed societies of the West. It is too late in the day for us to start on basis of that model. Import of high technology that is slightly superior to that we currently employ. That is, only slightly improved technology that can be handled by our own men.

Where we have blindly imitated the Western model of development, we have brought about a situation in which the rich have become richer and the poor poorer, and this has created an affluent class without national roots, a class that has no genuine interest in national economic regeneration.

Fourthly, socialists can do no worse than be apathetic to the democratic struggle of the people all over the world. When I say democracy I mean liberal democracy. When i emphasis this point because sometimes there is a tendency for some socialists to give this question less importance than economic development.

Fifthly, we feel that socialism is the wave of the future. Socialism is the natural ally of the Third World and the non-aligned. Without the anchorage of socialism, the countries of the Third World drift either to fascist militarism or to dictatorial communism or to obscurantist reactionary religious fundamentalism.

We socialists therefore face a big challenge in the Third World. The center of gravity for socialism has shifted and Europe to the Third World, where socialism both as an inspirational ideal of life and as a model and blueprint for development has become relevant.

And if Nepal has a future, that is the only strategy for the survival. Democracy at the political level and economic development that does justice to the masses- these are the two major strands of socialism. Without these two aspects, economic development to eradicate poverty, as also political liberty, would be a myth. It is not only a question of idealism or putting faith in high value of life, it is a matter of survival.

I asked him second question: Do you seriously believe that parliamentary democracy can be worked in Nepal?  Or for that matter in any Third World country?

He told me, I shall not say parliamentary democracy because democracy may not be of the parliamentary variety, but without democracy there cannot be any stability in the country. If there is no democracy, then what form of government should the country have? Who has the right to govern? Who determines the priorities in development?

If there is no democracy, then the man who has the longest sword would rule. And how can you put your trust in a man with a sword more than in an man who derives his sanction from the people and comes to power? I do not accept the idea that development and democracy are antithetical. The whole question is: If I do not accept democracy who should rule? As for our country, of course, you should say that the King should rule. But that is putting your trust in a system which may not be as aware of the developing situation as those who enjoy the people’s trust. So, basically, democracy and development are not antithetical, in fact one complements the other.

When I asked, the third question: What kind of economic system would you like to have in Nepal? How do you think Nepal could expedite its economic development?

He answered me: I will give you my idea of it. My idea is not very clearly defined but I see light in that direction, I am groping my way.

My fourth question: Could I ask you to do a little thinking about it?

He replied: You see, when I was Prime Minister I went to the planning Commission’s office. There was a portrait of the king on the wall of room where the experts had assembled. I had to address them. I did not know what to tell those experts.

I asked him: They were all economic experts?

He said: Yes, quite a few of them were products of Harvard and Cambridge Universities. I told them that there was a portrait of the king, it was a very appropriate thing to do. But there should be another picture of a farmer bending over his plough.

I also told them that whenever “you have a project or a scheme of development or a plan, you have got to remember that man with the plough and his hut. And you should ask yourself what benefit that man in the picture and not the king, is going to derive out of your deliberations out of your plan here”.

This is not my original idea, it is Gandhi’s. I am not an economic expert, but I think  that any development that bypasses the villager is no development at all. Any development that take care of urban amenites and neglects the rural people is no development so far as I am concerned.

Because Nepal lives in the villages, its poverty lies there. You cannot even begin to understand the problem of poverty unless you are aware of the existence of the villages and their inhabitants. The mistake of the planners stems from the idea that they derive from the development, nations with high and sophisticated technology.

These nations are highly urbanized, even their villages are urban pockets. There agriculture has adopted a highly developed technology. The Nepali planners model of development is provided by these nations. Unless the minds of the planners are appropriately changed and their conception of development is altered, we cannot even start the process of development- this is the point of departure. I will ask the planners to take sides with the villages and the villagers, think in their terms and introduce only such technology as they can understand and handle themselves.

Such technology as is only slight improvement on what they are used to- an improved plough, no big tractors, no big machines, no bulldozers, no jet engines, not big roads meant only for imported vehicles using imported, fuel run and maintained by foreign-trained technicians, no cement or iron for construction and less dependence on foreign imports. The planners must put all their emphasis improving agricultural efficiency and no such industries as are agrobased.

You know, I was admitted to Jaslok Hospital about two years ago for my throat trouble. I sued to discuss public health problems with the doctors there. Some of them were very public spirited. I asked them what I should do if I were in government to improve the health of the people.

They said, “anything between 80 and 90 percent of the disease are water borne. If you take care of water, you would have taken care of 80 percent of the disease. you don’t have to have hospital like Jaslok Hospital of foreign-trained doctors. You start with water and you will be able to control the problem.

So I suggest we should at least make drinking water safe and available to villagers. Motivate them to keep their villagers clean, provide them not with costly hospitals, which we cannot afford in any case, but with basic hygienic needs. What I want to say is, let us not be moonstruck with the glamor of the developed countries and romanticize development. Let us start soiling our hands with the dirt of the villages which make up Nepal. Now, you may say that this will result in a kind of rural civilization, rather culture.

I continued my question, quite so. What you suggest may even remind one of Pol Pot’s brand of primitive communism.

He explained, no, not Pol. He took recourse to coercion. Pol Pot as a matter of fact drove away the urban population, large members of them from Pnom Penh and other cities and towns. That was absolutely undemocratic.

(Summary of interview with BP Koirala by Bhola Chatterjey)

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