voice for democracy

Ganesh Man Singh and history – The Kathmandu Post

This year’s memorial day of Ganesh Man Singh was observed at a very challenging moment in Nepali history. I call it challenging because the political contestations among the different political parties have taken a little uncanny turn. The principles for which freedom fighters like Ganesh Man Singh and others fought are in a state of quandary. The solution to such an impasse should be open discussions, self-evaluation and confessions instead of the relentless expression of rancour, mistrust and even hatred that we see in the day-to-day common political parlance in Nepal today. In this article written in honour of Ganesh Man Singh, I want to focus on his political vision and his visceral use of language in his speeches and memoirs.
The 25th memorial day of the great freedom fighter and leader Ganesh Man Singh (1925-97) was observed in Kathmandu on September 18. We saw the familiar rigmaroles of his family members and a few politicians garlanding his statue, most of whom belong to the Nepali Congress Party, and a few speeches about his life and works. Naturally, the narratives about Ganesh Man Singh’s courage, integrity and charisma were reiterated this time around. Some landmarks in Ganesh Man Singh’s political career and his integrity are familiar among the people of Nepal.
Some episodic and liminal moments of Singh’s life are commonly mentioned. They are: Singh broke Bhadragol jail before 1950 and escaped to India where he joined BP Koirala, spent eight years in the Sundarijal detention camp from 1960, led the mass movement of 1990, and declined the offer made by king Birendra to become prime minister after the fall of the Panchayat system in 1990. These events highlight Singh’s revolutionary character and his democratic ideals. Volumes have been written about Ganesh Man Singh’s life and his teachings for those interested in studying more about this subject.
Famous metaphor
The familiar metaphors used to describe Ganesh Man Singh do not show his soft, humane and kind nature. The very famous metaphor popularly used to describe him is lauha purus, or an iron man. Ganesh Man Singh always commented on the epithets used to describe him. In one speech, he said, “No, I am not a lauha or iron man. Three different kings have rubbed me so much that I have become iron dust or lauha bhasma,” which is the name of an Ayurvedic medicine made by rubbing iron.
I remember another incident. Poet Kedar Man Vyathit invited poets to his house one evening of September 2002 to have dinner with Ganesh Man Singh, his old friend and fellow rebel from their exilic life in India. One poet Bhuwan Dhungana recited her poem on behalf of all the poets there. Touched by some expressions in Bhuwan’s poem, Singh became very emotional. After Vyathit reminded him of one moment of struggle while they were in exile in India, Ganesh Man Singh said, “One day, friends will take this fledgling democracy to the king and surrender.” We were all bound by a common energy when he openly wept. After some months, prime minister Deuba asked the king to postpone the general election, due the next month, to November 19 next year. On that very pretext, king Gyanendra dissolved the cabinet, calling Deuba incompetent, on October 5, 2002.
Ganesh Man Singh had developed a sense of foreboding for some time. Singh had the tremendous power to see political developments by reading the actors’ minds and nature. Other incidents and occasions could be recalled to evaluate the calm, resolute, human and revolutionary spirit of Ganesh Man Singh.
The political leaders of the democratic political movements in Nepal do not appear to draw any political models from any book of revolution or action. The quintessence of the political ideology of leaders like Ganesh Man Singh seems to be a grand faith in the judgement of the common people. They have given various names to such principles. In other words, they do not draw from a book or the “teachings” of a particular leader who rules by disseminating lies. It has become very clear in today’s world how such a modus operandi has lost validity and trust.
The free people are, therefore, the sovereign power. But the important condition is that such people should be able to decide what is right and wrong, and that is democracy known in common parlance. But a political structure and constitution should guarantee people their rights to decide that. But some political parties and ruling elites, whose sole objective is power, may find that an impediment to their rule; then, they will create difficulties for realising the people’s rights. Ganesh Man Singh was worried about the situation emerging in Nepal, which could be seen from his remarks and speeches. He did not write like BP Koirala, he spoke. But then, BP also wrote more literary works than political philosophies.
Ganesh Man Singh put himself, his integrity and steadfast faith in democracy above everything else. His personality and his self, therefore, inspired people to action. This very persona of Ganesh Man Singh became a power of negotiation with communist leaders, mostly of the younger generation like Madan Bhandari and others. But senior political leaders equally trusted Ganesh Man Singh for creating a united front to fight against the Panchayat rule led by the king. And that became successful. The politics of Nepal took a completely different turn from there.
Moments of bitterness
Ganesh Man Singh trusted his contemporary comrades. He has spoken in good terms about his colleagues. Nepali Congress leaders had created a culture of sharing, which comes out clearly in the memoirs of Ganesh Man Singh written by others after conducting extensive interviews with him, in the diaries and other essays of BP Koirala written by himself, and in a slim book of Girija Prasad Koirala entitled Simple Convictions (2007), a collection of his speeches translated into English, to mention a few here.
But there were also moments of bitterness in the relationship between Girija Prasad Koirala and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, for example. But Ganesh Man Singh did differ with his comrades in matters of their actions and their strange political visions that took the best of them sometimes. Ganesh Man Singh was deeply disturbed by the behaviour of his comrades. That is why he declared that he was pulling out of his dear old Nepali Congress Party.
Abhi Subedi is a poet, playwright and a columnist.