Nepal prepares for Koirala’s cremation (Lead)

March 21st, 2010 - 8:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Meira Kumar Kathmandu, March 21 (IANS) Saluted and mourned by thousands nationwide, Nepal’s peace architect and former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala was set to be cremated Sunday, marking the end of an era in the Himalayan nation’s politics.
Amid massive security arrangements, an estimated 100,000 people queued up under a scorching sun in Kathmandu alone to pay their last respects to the 85-year-old who was remembered as a “towering titan” and “leader of leaders”.

The crowds included Nepal’s ministers and bureaucrats, diplomats and an official delegation from India, comprising Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Mukherjee described the five-time prime minister of Nepal as a “tall man” in whose death India had lost a “great friend” and South Asia an extraordinary leader.

Former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Rajnath Singh overlooked his party’s hostility to Nepal’s Maoists and shared seats with Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda at the Pashupatinath temple premises.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader D.P. Tripathi and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury also arrived in Nepal to pay their last respects.

Meira Kumar signed the condolence book at the residence of Koirala’s daughter Sujata Koirala, saying the passing away of Koirala marked the end of an era in Nepali politics.

“Koirala’s tireless dedication to the cause of peace and democracy in Nepal and his immense contribution in fostering and strengthening close and friendly relations between India and Nepal would always be remembered,” she said.

Koirala’s frail body, draped in flags of his Nepali Congress party, silken white prayer scarves and garlands, received an additional state honour when Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal laid the national flag on top.

Initially kept at the Dasarath Rangashala, Kathmandu’s oldest stadium, for people to pay their last tributes, the body was then taken in a stately procession to Aryaghat, the burning ghat at Pashupati. Hundreds lined the roads along the route taken by the funeral cortege, escorted by an army guard of honour, while hundreds more marched before and after it.

The crowd shouted slogans saying Koirala’s memory would live forever and asking Nepal’s leaders to promulgate the new constitution in time.

The pyre resembled a royal throne, covered with marigold garlands. Koirala’s only child, daughter Sujata, also the deputy prime minister, would bring the nearly five-hour marathon funeral rally to an end by setting fire to the pyre.

Though Hindu families in Nepal have sons usually performing the rite, the Koiralas have always been different. It is the clan that gave Nepal its two women deputy prime ministers, including Koirala’s niece Shailaja Acharya.

The government declared a public holiday Sunday to observe state mourning for Koirala, the man who was instrumental in bringing peace to Nepal after a decade of Maoist insurgency by signing a peace pact with the communist guerrillas and bringing them back to mainstream politics.

Nepal’s national flag will fly at half-mast for three days in the country as well as Nepali missions abroad.

In Biratnagar, the town in southeast Nepal where Koirala cut his teeth in politics by joining the labour movement in a jute mill, his photographs, garlanded with flowers, were kept in main squares for people to pay their last respects.

Dozens of people shaved their heads nationwide as a sign of grief, a traditional rite that is usually undergone by bereaved sons.

“Nepal has lost a guardian,” Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai said.

Though his health was failing, the octogenarian leader’s death ahead of the promulgation of a new constitution May 28, has now raised fresh doubts about the political parties’ ability to accomplish the task.

“Our party undertakes to fulfil Koirala’s last wish,” said Arjun Narsingh KC, spokesman of his Nepali Congress party. “It was to see the constitution be implemented followed by lasting peace and development.”

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