Ottawa (Canada): On Saturday night (20 August), Nepali Congress leader, writer and socialist thinker, Pradeep Giri, breathed his last at the Mediciti Hospital in Lalitpur. Thanks to the love and care afforded by his wife, Bharati Silwal-Giri, Pradip Giri spent the last few years of his life in a well-managed and resourceful setting. Despite coming from a landlord family of Bastipur, Siraha, Giri spent most of his life amid scarcity and whatever money he had he would spend among his friends and followers.
During his childhood, Pradip read almost all books in his house–mostly in Hindi–gathered by his father Mitra Lal Giri, who was elected in the first parliamentary elections in 1959 from Nepali Congress party. Pradip passed SLC from the school his father had founded. He then went to Kathmandu and later to Varanasi, India, for higher studies. These were eventful times.
In 1960, King Mahendra dismissed Prime Minister B P Koirala’s government, put him and other Congress leaders behind bars and later introduced the partyless Panchayat system. In India, first elected Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru passed away in 1964 but his daughter, Indira Gandhi, was yet to emerge as a powerful leader.
Giri became active in the student politics affiliated to the Socialist Party of India led by Ram Manohar Lohia. He was also close to Nepali Congress (NC) which was banned in Nepal at that time. When B P Koirala went to India in self-exile in 1968 and started living in the holy city of Varanasi, Giri had an opportunity to know the leader personally and used to have debates on issues ranging from literature, arts and politics.
When Koirala called for an armed struggle to overthrow the Panchayat regime, Nepali Congress activists were nabbed in Okhaldhunga district and later in Kathmandu. They were extra-judicially killed by the Panchayat regime. There were speculations and allegations about how the information got leaked and NC cadres started distancing themselves from this fiery writer and speaker.
After India led by Indira Gandhi annexed Sikkim in 1975, in December 1976, B P Koirala returned to Nepal calling for ‘national unity and reconciliation’ with the then monarchy to protect the sovereignty of the country.
Giri was so good at explaining Marx’s propositions that Nepali Communist leaders invited him to deliver lectures on Marxism to their cadres.
In 1980, King Birendra announced the referendum between the ‘reformed Pancahyat polity’ and multi-party democracy. Giri returned to Nepal and campaigned in favor of multiparty democracy. His home district, Siraha, was one of the few Tarai districts where ‘blue’ won over ‘yellow’ in the referendum.
In the mid-eighties, Giri came to Kathmandu and continued to write and speak about democratic socialism. He was active under the banner of Democratic Socialist Youth League (DSYL)–loosely affiliated to Nepali Congress–and courted arrest during the Satyagraha movement called by Nepali Congress in 1985. In 1988, he became one of the founders of Human Rights organization of Nepal (HURON) led by flamboyant diplomat, author and historian, Hrishikesh Shah.
Giri was close to Nepali Congress leaders Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. He was among the few within the party who could speak with authority on the ideologies of Nepali Congress. He became a central member of the party and was elected to the parliament from his home district, Siraha, twice. He was also appointed as Member of Parliament and Member of the Constituent Assembly by Nepali Congress party.
Giri would read any book–mostly in Hindi–that was available in his village and school. He used to read Hindu epics, Mahabharat and Ramayana. He had an extraordinary capacity to recall stories from those epics, mostly from Mahabharat, and relate them to the present context. Through his storytelling capacity, he continued to connect with party cadres, media and masses.
In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari argues that humans are story telling animals. For thousands of years, we have developed the shared story and we believe them. Whether it’s capitalism and democracy or communism, these are the ‘stories’ and billions of people follow them, says Harari.
Interestingly, Giri was so good at explaining Marx’s propositions that Nepali Communist leaders invited him to deliver lectures on Marxism to their cadres. He had studied philosophy and economics in India and advocated that people should be at the center of development.
‘Giri had the capacity to narrate complex subjects in an interesting and easy-to-comprehend way drawing historic and often mythological references,’ says Senior Journalist Rajendra Dahal. ‘He could connect to the imagination of the youth through his stories and speeches.’
He was among the few within the party who could speak with authority on the ideologies of Nepali Congress.
After literary fests were introduced in Nepal, Giri was invited to tell stories of Mahabharat and their relevance in present day Nepal. Whether in the floor of the parliament or a TV studio, Giri promptly referred to Mahabharat stories that quickly connected with masses. A widely read person, he often referred to the British parliamentary practices and how Nepali politicians should try to emulate them.
Senior journalist Kishor Nepal, who had a long friendship with Giri, says that Giri had interest in literature, spirituality and politics–in that order. Giri spent months at the Osho Tapoban at Nagarjuna Hills at the outskirts of Kathmandu and had read Osho’s literature widely.
Like Indian mystic Osho, he saw institutions like nation-states and even family as barriers to individual freedom. ‘Socialism can’t be complete without love and respect for each other. We should not sacrifice our freedom in the name of ideologies,’ Giri often said.
‘Giri was a ‘sannyasi’ (monk) in the true sense. He never collected money, property or any other physical goods that would be more than what was needed to sustain his life,’ wrote Senior Journalist Hari Adhikary.
His critics say Giri did not interfere and did not try much to stop or reverse the power-oriented politics of his party or in the Nepali body politic. But those who knew him from close quarters insist that Giri was a conscience keeper of his party and the Nepali politics at large.
‘I am the only MP who did not sign this constitution (in 2015) but I urge you all to protect this document,’ said Giri in one of his last speeches in the parliament. An eternal optimist, Giri hoped that Nepali society would move towards a better future in the days to come. He, however, cautioned that socialism is not something we could see and practice in our lifetime. ‘It might take generations,’ he warned.
Bhagirath Yogi, a former BBC journalist, is Consulting Editor of Nepal Live Group.