Kathmandu: In 2014, Santosh Khaderi came across the docu-series “Pradhanmantri” aired on the Indian news channel ABP News. The series documented the tenures of 13 Indian prime ministers and aimed to bring “never-seen-before” facts of modern Indian history. One particular episode devoted to the tenure of P.V. Narasimha Rao fascinated Khaderi.
At the time, Nepal’s politics revolved around the constitution-making process. In 2015 when Nepal promulgated its constitution, India took an umbrage at the statute and imposed an economic blockade on Nepal. The media devoted their space to talk about earlier blockades imposed by the southern neighbor. But Khaderi was not satisfied and he took it upon himself to dig up history on those blockades. He wished that Nepali media too had similar kind of content as the Rao documentary. So he started to browse through archives and news published during those periods.
He couldn’t locate much information about the previous blockades but he found some older news and videos related to Nepal through the news agency Associated Press (AP). He continued researching Nepal’s history from various national and international media. As it is hard to find archives from Nepali publishers, he had to rely mostly on documents and articles maintained by other countries.
Khaderi now has a collection of documents on Nepal’s history that are known to only a few. This includes official records, photographs, and letters. He regularly posts them to his over 8,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter beginning at the end of 2017.
“The comments on those posts motivated me to dig up more information on Nepali history,” he says.
The people in social media didn’t only like his posts but they were also impressed by his way of presenting those materials. Editors in the media noticed, too, and began to approach him to write for them.
“If earlier I collected information only to share as a post on social media platforms, later I began to develop the available information into comprehensive articles,” he said.
Khaderi is not a career historian. He is, in fact, a college dropout who was compelled, like thousands of Nepali youths, to move to the United Arab Emirates for work, in 2014.
So far, Khaderi’s subjects have included a tumultuous romance between the Rana General Bishnu Shumsher and a Hollywood actress, the arrival of first train to Nepal, diplomatic relations between Nepal and Australia, Kalapani dispute, interesting facts about ambassadors appointed during 1956-1961, and BP Koirala’s letter to Sardar Ballav Vai Patel, among other things. One can read them in his blog.
Recently, he tweeted a video featuring a speech delivered by the autocratic former monarch Mahendra which was filmed in the USA during the 22nd general assembly of the United Nations. The 1967 video shows Mahendra addressing the assembly in English*. The monarch’s eloquence surprised many, at a time when a significant section of the public regularly takes offense at the “poorly-delivered” English speeches from the country’s politician’s in international events.
While Khaderi regularly posts interesting incidents from Nepal’s eventful history, he has also put to bed inaccurate documentations.
For instance, BP Koirala, in his autobiography ‘Atmabrittanta’, claims that he met Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi a day before the latter was shot dead, on January, 30,1948. But the Indian newspapers of that time, Khaderi points out, have reported that the two politicians met on November 5, 1947. “Koirala probably had a hard time remembering the exact date or that could be an error during editing,” Khaderi says.
Khaderi points out another fact related to the Kalapani-Limpiyadhura dispute between Nepal and India. It is widely believed that Indian armies were deployed in Kalapani from 1962 but, in fact, they were there since 1958, Khaderi says. “The Indian force had an interest in Kalapani earlier than we thought,” he adds.
At a time when History departments across Nepal’s universities are scrambling to have pupils admitted to this social science discipline, works by people Khaderi are all the more important. But this disinterest in history is institutional, he says.
Nepal doesn’t have a National Archive and it’s “disappointing that the governments do not publicize or digitize many documents of historical importance”.
“Some countries publicize even the confidential files,” he went on, “but our country never follows such practices. Instead, the officials even try to conceal the files which might be revealing to the public. Curiously, however, the secret agents of other countries seem to have access to them.”
Khaderi requests concerned authorities to digitize all the files that can be publicized, and ensure that access to them is free. “The old books in the national library should also be available in digital versions or they should be printed again. Archives of Gorkhapatra should not only be digitalized but also reprinted in its original form.”
Khaderi is not a career historian. He is, in fact, a college dropout who was compelled, like thousands of Nepali youths, to move to the United Arab Emirates for work, in 2014. But his curiosity of Nepali history, dating back to his school days in Dang, midwestern Nepal, seems to be relentless and of benefit to thousands who look to the past to make sense of the present.
“History is not only a source of past records,” Khaderi says. “It is also a source to know how to build a better future.”
[*Correction: An earlier version of the story mentioned “The 1967 video shows Eton-educated Mahendra addressing the assembly in English.” The story has been edited to correct the mistake. We regret the error.]