A gentle revolutionary

TRIBUTE TO RAM RAJA PRASAD SINGH

My first introduction to Ram Raja Prashad Singh goes back to sometime in 1966/67 in his smartly furnished Putalisadak law office. Some Nepali Congress-affiliated youth activists like us were in the process of starting a youth organization and needed space for our meetings. Singh would generously offer his office for this purpose. There was no indication of his political ambition then. Later on, we were pleasantly surprised to see his election manifesto for the Graduate Constituency election of Rastriya Panchayat in 1967. The manifesto ‘back to the golden era’ was a strongly worded indictment of the Royal action of 1960 and had urged king Mahendra to restore the pre-1960 parliamentary constitution. He was not allowed to fight.

THE BANG

After four years, Ram Raja resurfaced in the political arena with a bang in 1971. He was again a candidate from the graduate constituency and his election manifesto was a bombshell, which stirred anti-Panchayat youths like us. The gist of his agenda was:

King Mahendra had promised a better Nepal when he dissolved the popularly elected parliament, imprisoned BP Koirala and subsequently introduced the Panchayat polity. But none of the promises was fulfilled. If elected to the Rastriya Panchayat, he would bring a motion against the Panchayat rule, and restore the parliamentary system.

The manifesto electrified youth and students who became his overnight admirers. The terrified Panchayat administration wanted to arrest him, but being relatively unknown and hiding from the limelight, Ram Raja was not caught. I remember an event at the packed Tribhuvan University auditorium when all candidates were invited to speak on their election agenda. Singh entered the hall unnoticed. I immediately recognized him and said, “Here enters the much sought-after election hero!” There was commotion in the hall, and he was instantly called upon to speak.

IN THE LIMELIGHT

He started to speak in English. In the audience were people of all hues including the Panchayat elements. Prompt came the reaction, “This is not America, speak in Nepali.” Singh obliged and said, “Remove Panchayat from this country in the same way we have removed English in this meeting.” Thunderous applause filled the auditorium. Singh was in the limelight and became an unchallenged hero. Plainclothesmen waited outside to arrest him, but he managed to escape. In the subsequent election, he was overwhelming elected. During election time, he had carefully avoided police arrest, with the support of NC youth leaders like Haribol Bhattarai, Purushottam Basnet and Rajendra Kharel, who kept him hiding in various places of suburban Kathmandu.

Then came the swearing-in day of the Rastriya Panchayat. A posse of security forces was trying to prevent Ram Raja’s entry into Singh Durbar, but he had somehow managed to sneak in. This author was in the audience gallery to witness the event. When Singh’s turn for oath-taking came, royalists started shouting slogans to prevent the swearing-in. The drama continued for hours and the House was adjourned. Singh did not leave the House, and had to be dragged out and detained at midnight. During his detention, the royal regime made tempting political offers through the then powerful Bagmati Zonal Commissioner Sardar Bisnu Mani Acharya, and the king himself, if he changed his political track. The tactic did not succeed. Later on, Ram Raja was released, but he continued with his rabble-rousing speeches. His freedom did not last long, as he was back to prison soon.

PRISON AND DRAMAS

My subsequent association with him was during incarceration in Nakhu Jail in 1973-74. Jail life is a great time to understand individuals from close quarters. Because of daily association, strengths and weaknesses of individuals are exposed.

Singh was a peerless human being—simple and kind-hearted. Man of decency, culture and erudition, he commanded respect and love from everybody. Our daily routine also consisted kitchen chores including cooking, fetching water and cleaning. Singh was part of all this. We also played chess, table tennis and occasionally recited poems, and staged dramas. Singh wrote, produced, directed and staged them. I happened to be one of his favorite artists who acted in all his dramas, which had republican themes.

The dramas staged included Julius Caesar, A Tale of Two Cities, Amrapali and Clara. In the first drama, Julius Caesar is murdered in the Senate Hall, the Two Cities by Charles Dickens had the background of the French Revolution, and Amrapali was enacted in the setting of Baishali republic of India. The drama Clara was partly based on his own life in Delhi University, when a group of young romantic revolutionaries used to discuss world revolution in ‘drink and dance parties’. It was in this group he says he met Clara who facilitated his meeting with Che Guevara. I still remember the part of my script, written by him, opposing constitutional monarchy. The line is: “A man eater will not be tamed by a piously written constitution.”

A Delhi University post-graduate in English literature, he was a powerful writer both in English and Nepali. After graduating in law from Banaras Hindu University, he had gone to Delhi. In between, as he told me, he had a brief stint at Aligad Muslim University, where Dr. Zakir Husain, who subsequently became the President of India, was the vice chancellor. Upon seeing a Nepali boy who had moved from Banaras Hindu University to AMU, a pleased Husain had said, “This is wonderful news symbolizing the character and strength of Indian secularism.”

POLITICAL ROOTS

Ram Raja came from a Rajput political family of Koiladi in Saptari. His father Jaya Mangal Prasad Singh (Jangali Babu) was imprisoned by the Ranas for his role in helping Indian nationalist leaders Jaya Prakash Narayan and Dr. Lohia escape the Hanumannagar prison, where they were detained by the Ranas at the behest of British India. Ram Raja kept his political distance from his father, when the latter joined the Tarai Congress and became its candidate in the 1959 general election. After completing his university, Ram Raja sought party work from General Subarna Shamsher, who then headed Nepali Congress in exile. Subarnaji, considering his youthfulness, gave him the choice to work with Rameshwor Babu or Gajendra Babu, the two rival NC leaders in Saptari in those days. Not pleased, Ram Raja did not pursue his interest and returned to Nepal.

THE BOMB BLASTS

After the defeat of multi-party system in the national referendum in 1980, Singh started his organization in India. When a series of bombs exploded in Hotel Annapurna, Rastriya Panchaya and other places, killing some including a member of Rastriya Panchayat, we did not believe he was behind the event. Ram Raja was known as a republican and was moving towards that goal with a group of people previously associated with Nepali Congress. But I thought he was too gentle and decent a person for this type of violence. He called himself Gandhianin in jail life and had termed his election bid a constitutional revolution. Secondly, despite his republican belief, I doubted his organizational ability to stage well-planned blasts. But the truth came out when his organization owned up the responsibility.

This was the first major violent action with a republican goal. The incident led NC to discontinue the civil disobedience movement—Satyagraha—against the Panchayat rule. The blast turned out to be one-off, with no follow up. Later on, many of his followers came back into NC fold, and Singh seems to have become practically a loner.

TRIBUTE

Ram Raja will go down in history as the first republican politician who also raised arms for his belief. The violent act was not compatible with his character. He was a man of decency and culture, refined to the core. Violence was probably borne out of frustration with failed constitutional means. He contributed tremendously in lending momentum to the protests against Panchayat regime. He was also a man of principles with unbending commitment to republicanism that brought him closer to the Maoists, another incompatible force, with whom he did not share other values. Despite some differences, I salute the departed soul for the strength of his character, the unbending commitment to principles he held dear, and personal sacrifices.

MyRepublica, 16 Sep 2012

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