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Biography - BP Koirala

Page history last edited by editor 12 years, 5 months ago




Life History

The first column contains factual information, the second column highlights some of the key features in BP's life during that period based on his autobiography1.


Early Life

  • 1914 - born
      • Father Krishna PK was a Gandhi follower --> became interested in politics early on
  •  1917-29 - whole family was in exile in India (Banaras --> Bihar); property confiscated
  • 1930 - The British arrested him (and his brother) for having contacts with terrorists; set free +3months
  • 1932 - completed IA studies in Banaras
  • 1934 - completed BA in economics and politics in Banaras
    • Joined Indian National Congress 
  • 1937 - completed a Law degree in Calcutta 


  • BP (and his family) had to bear economic hardships in exile; (ex: sold newspaper, ate kudo, his younger brother died from diarrhea)
  • He was involved in politics from early on, with struggle against British 


Political Career

Founding of National Congress Party


  • 1947 founded from India to bring change in Nepal; seeing India will soon be free



Struggle against Ranas


  • 1947-8:
    • Imprisonment b/c led labor demonstration
  • 1951
    • Led armed revolution of 1951 to overthrow Ranas
    • Became home minister  
    • Until Nov 1951 (Mohan Shamsher PM) 
    • After Nov 1951 (Matrika P Koirala PM) 
  • 1955: Tribhuvan died, Mahendra became king 
  • India's backing was big for BP for his struggle against Ranas (Mahendra Shamsher)
    • BP continuously communicated with Nehru. 
    • His in-prison fasting was recognized in India and pressure was building against Nepali Ranas
    • Bihar was willing to provide a plane for flying BP's wife to meet BP in prison. This would have been a big shame point for Ranas
    • India hid Nepali King in the embassy 
    • Indian security authorities facilitated BP to transport arms across the border (with deniability) for armed revolution
    • Indian tried extremely hard to hide the fact that they were not involved in supporting armed revolution  
  • BP and the relationship with the King in removing Ranas
    • Coordinated with the King (and some Ranas in Palpa) in preparation for an armed revolution
    • Developed strategy to help King escape Nepal... (King hid in the Indian embassy)
    • BP declared that the Rana government is illegitimate after the King escaped; Ranas put Gyanendra in power
  • Then BP led armed revolution
    • Coordinated logistics for the war, including transporting arms, storing arms, money...
    • Militants - Ajad Hind and ex-military
    • High Command - BP and Subarna Shamsher (studied Military strategy)
    • Military Command - Yak Thumba, Puran Sing (Ajad Hind) 
    • East (Birgunj): KI Sing, Girja, Bishwobandu, Tarini
      • Not well trained, lost many lives 
    • Ranas finally gave up and there was a meeting between Ranas and India to build a consensus government sharing power between the two groups 

BP in the new democratic government and struggles that followed


  • (1951) BP had to start with institution building and reconciliation with traditional centers of power
    • When BP started, the offices, departments, ministries were of low quality. A tremendous amount of energy was required in institution design, reconciliation with old forces, stabilizing military power, maintaining law and order, and staying wary of Ranas' anti-government activities
    • Military was not completely in good relationship with the new government 
  • India switched sides: now it supported Ranas to counter BP's rise in influence
    • Indian Ambassador made frequent visits to the palace and "acted like he was king"
    • India switched sides, now supporting Mohan Shamsher
    • Indian Ambassador tried to cause conflict between Tribhuvan and BP by bringing up things like the army giving canon-salute, which is reserved for King, to a home-minister 
  • Ranas were still powerful, and were acting out and becoming a threat to the government
    • Mohan Shamsher sent a mob (Gorkha Dal) to attack BP, who ended up killing one of the attackers with his Pistol
  • Inter-party dynamics was also not favorable
    • Party-chairman (BP's brother MPK) said bad things about Home Ministry
      • Wanted special provisions, such as cars while he was chairman
      • BP had disagreements in 4 areas (after MPK became PM) 
        • King: MPK said King gave the government to the people; BP believed that King came from revolution; King has to be held within the realms of constitution
        • Land reforms: MPK believed in status-quo - a) we don't have legal power b) it will add to crisis;
        • India: BP said we should be wary of India and kept at good distance not too close
        • Govt Accountability: BP: Government should be answerable to Party not just the king
      • MPK created a new party (Rastriya Praja Party - 1951) with the help from Tribhuvan
        • After Tribhuvan died in 1955, MPK lost a big ally 
    • Not supported by his own party
      • Party, King thought BP was soft on PM (a Rana) for not asking latter to resign; he didn't think PM needed to be removed

Uncertain democratic experiment and sharing of political powers

  • 1959
    • Mahendra introduced a new constitution and free parliamentary elections
    • NC Party won, BP became Prime Minister
  • 1960
    • Mahendra suspended constitution, dissolved parliament, dismissed the cabinet, imposed direct rule, and imprisoned BP (b/c BP's new policies  were going against traditional centers of power - King, aristocrats, landlords, bureaucrats)
  • 1960-68: imprisoned
  • 1968: PM Surya Bdr Thapa helped in his release
    • Then he lived in exile in Banaras


  • New constitution defined how power was to be shared between King and the Parliament; now King was also made responsible; written by Sir Ivor Jenneings 
  • BP developed close relationship with Mahendra
    • PM BP offered agreeable framework for institutional development to the King; King was happy with BP's principles
    • King tried to show the outside world that there was conflict between the two, but, inside, Mahendra was very impressed and close to BP
  • Institutions and bureaucracy (What was the true state of political system)?  
  • But, things fell apart - Mahendra's coup
    • BP was confused why Mahendra had a coup... he thought it was a mistake 
    • There were conspiracies to infuse conflict - "Jogi" went around stirring up people against the government, showing approval of the King
    • King was losing power at the same time and may have wanted to show his power
    • Some of the reasons cited (not by BP):
      • BP's government was a failure
      • "Political leaders became power-mongers"

A new king and a potential change?

  • 1972: Birendra became king
  • 1976-78: Birendra arrested BP for treason and imprisoned him
  • 1978: cancer treatment in the US
  • 1979: BP tried for a "national reconciliation"
    • Under house arrest (for participating in a student demonstration)
    • Birendra announced National Referendum (BP welcomed) 
    • Results --> King rule (Panchayat system)  
    • BP accepted ppl's verdict, welcomed results 
  • 1981: Boycotted election results, b/c of unfair election process
  • 1982: Addressed a large public meeting in Ratna Park
  • 1982 (July) Died


  • Public Address - NC needs to promote both nationalism & democracy
    • Increasing threat to sovereignty of Nepal
      • Due to individualism, immigration, lack of unity
    • "Before we focused only on democracy. But now the next big responsibility for NC is to promote nationalism AND democracy simultaneously." Only following one can lead to shallow nationalism propaganda or fall in the trap of international power
    • It's time for reconciliation and be united with the vision - "rastra rahey janta rahanchhan"




BP's Leadership


Leadership Characteristics 

  • Vision driven
  • Continuous struggle for Nepal's democracy and fight for the people 
    • Land reform - pro-farmer 
  • Persistence and resilience 
  • Willing to bear pain/die for a cause (fasts, demonstration, imprisonments)
  • Ability to strategically build relationships 
  • In prison, BP built relationship with a guard to communicate with Indian PM Nehru (via Purna Bahadur)
  • Practical problem solver
  • Communicating to outside while in prison using a guard
  • Communicating with King, by writing in cigarette 
  • Willingness to work together with the enemy
  • Spoke with Ranas (Bijay Shamsher) after the armed revolution to develop a consensus government (sharing power between Rana and NC)
  • Authoritative and charismatic personality
  • Ability to counter arguments with logic (ability to shut up opponents trying to hinder his activities using sound arguments)
  • Foresight from Logical Situation and Strategy Analysis
  • Short term and long term situation and risk assessment (ex: had a good foresight of potential outcomes of going against the Ranas if students were to protest against the King...)
  • "A politician needs to think 20-25 years ahead. I am that kind of politician." 
  • Strong local party-base
  • Was able to develop a good party base in villages
  • Ability to build "easy-conversational" personal relationships with Kings, Ranas, etc.
  • Mahendra would open up to BP regarding former's secret visit to psychic in London; Tribhuvan's invitation for social events; ability to build relationship with Rana's family members (ex: Bijaya Rana, his wife, etc) 
  • Dynamic leader
  • Mahendra called him so
  • Honesty/Trustworthy/ Principled
  • Insisted that institutions need to be built on Principles (in his conversations to Mahendra)
  • Wrote about being politician for people not for high chair 

Key Strengths

  • Identified the need for national reconciliation emphasizing the importance of promoting both nationalism and democracy

Potential Question Marks

  • Lack of clarity on exactly what kind of system to have in the beginning?
  • BP agreed to have Gana tantra instead of Lok tantra (1951 while building coalition government with Ranas)
  • Willingness to use violence in his struggle? 
  • Ordered to shoot anyone who interfered in his public talk (4:45)
  • Armed revolution (BP argues that according to revolutionary principles, deaths are necessary and cannot be considered murder)


Other characteristics

- "Rana System/Dynasty is bad, but this does not mean that every single Rana is bad"

- Krishna Prasad Bhattarai said - BP was a biggest leader, his family was very revolutionary against social injustice, very progressive; economic perspective - socialism and democracy can both go together?? and both would be important for development

- Chandra Shekhar (Indian PM) - struggled against obstacles; friendly, gentlemen, kept traditional beliefs while accepting modernity

- Indian Journalist - touch of humility, projected to be candid, greatest Nepali of the 20th Century

- Ganesh Man Sigh said (couldn't understand)- BP believed in socialism, but some of his activities seem to indicate that he was not a socialist (like staying clean???); ??


- Strong psychoanalysis skills (provides detail description of people in his autobiography)

- Sympathetic of Tibet, over Chinese encroachment; but wanted to stay away from this in the time being





Based on BP's life history, his vision and his strengths and weaknesses as a leader, what are some of the lessons that the current and future leaders learn?


  • There will always be conflict among members in an organization. People may have different thoughts, opinions, beliefs, ideas of means and ends. SO the key is to determine how to mitigate conflict and be able to rationalize any thoughts and opinions. 
  • Leg-pullers are common in politics. Even your brother can be a leg-puller. Such individuals often willing to exploit the social/cultural diversity of voters to achieve their political gains (MPK stirring up Madhesis and some other candidate stirring up Pahadis) in 1959 election.



Additional Resources

Video Resources


BP Koirala, A dedicated life


- good overview of his life

- good old footage

- video paints a positive picture



1. Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala. Atmabrittanta: Late Life Collections. Himal Books. Nepal. 2001 Link 

2. BP Koirala, A Dedicated Life. Nepal Television Documentary Link

3. The Panchayat System under King Mahendra. The Library of Congress.  http://countrystudies.us/nepal/19.htm




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