Koirala flag flies high in Nepal politics

September 22nd, 2010 - 2:45 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Sep 22 (IANS) A 71-year-old pro-democracy fighter who served three years in India’s Tihar Jail for hijacking an aircraft is now the new kingmaker of Nepal, winning a hotly contested election to head the oldest party in the country.

Sushil Koirala, first cousin of late prime minister and strongman of Nepali politics Girija Prasad Koirala, has pipped Koirala’s former protégé Sher Bahadur Deuba to become the new president of the centrist Nepali Congress, the second-largest party in parliament.

The victory means the Koirala clan, known as the Gandhi family of Nepal and close to India’s ruling Congress party as well as the socialists, will continue to dominate Nepal’s politics.

According to the results of the election announced early Wednesday, Sushil Koirala polled more than 50 percent of the votes, securing 1,652 against the 1,317 garnered by Deuba, a three-time former prime minister.

Sushil Koirala now becomes the fourth Koirala head of the Nepali Congress after B.P. Koirala, the founder of the party, and his two brothers Matrika Prasad and Girija Prasad.

Koirala’s father Bodh Prasad was exiled to India during the oligarchical Rana rule in Nepal, living in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Though Sushil Koirala was born in Biratnagar town in eastern Nepal, he was educated in India’s Banaras city.

After joining the pro-democracy movement in Nepal under the Nepali Congress, he spent several years in exile in Banaras and Patna.

The mild-mannered Koirala was also part of the Nepali Congress group that was entrusted with hijacking a plane in Nepal to raise money for the party’s armed movement against the Rana rule.

The venture saw him spend three years in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail after he was arrested in India.

A two-time member of parliament from Nepal’s border town Nepalgunj, Koirala became the acting chief of the Nepali Congress after Girija Prasad Koirala’s death earlier this year.

The new chief’s immediate task will be to decide if the Nepali Congress will remain in the fray in the prime ministerial election scheduled for Sunday.

After seven rounds of contest between the Nepali Congress contestant and the opposition Maoists failed to elect a new prime minister, the Maoists announced they would withdraw their chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and not take part in the eighth round of vote.

Koirala, however, had favoured continuing with the election.

Nepali Congress veteran Purushottam Basnet said the party will make its final decision only after Koirala recovers from a chest infection.

The 71-year-old was admitted to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital Wednesday where doctors said he should be kept under observation for some days.

The Nepali Congress will continue to elect other key office bearers Wednesday and no decision regarding the prime minister’s poll will be taken till the elections are over.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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