Nepal’s first woman deputy PM dead

June 12th, 2009 - 10:36 am ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, June 12 (IANS) Shailaja Acharya, the only woman politician in Nepal to have been a deputy prime minister, died here early Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s and pneumonia.
The 65-year-old, who came from one of the most politically active families of Nepal, had been admitted to the Teaching Hospital here Wednesday after receiving treatment earlier in New Delhi and Bangkok.

The death of Acharya, niece of Nepal’s first elected prime minister Bishweshwor Prasad Koirala and aunt of Bollywood star Manisha Koirala, would be mourned in Nepal as well as India where she spent nine years in exile and was close to veteran Indian Congress and Socialist leaders, especially former Indian premier Chandra Shekhar.

Acharya entered politics as a student when, inspired by her family’s role in the pro-democracy movement, she showed a black flag to then king Mahendra, who held absolute power. She was jailed for three years for the offence.

A member of the Nepali Congress (NC) party, she won two elections from her home district in Morang in eastern Nepal and became the first woman in Nepal to head the water resources ministry as well as become deputy prime minister.

The soft-spoken, petite leader, however, started losing her position in the party after Mahendra’s son Gyanendra seized power through a bloodless coup. She tried to vie for the leadership of her party but was pipped by her younger uncle, Girija Prasad Koirala, who still remains president of the NC.

She was also the subject of controversy after she supported constitutional monarchy and opposed joining forces with the Maoists to end Gyanendra’s regime.

Acharya blamed her fall to the fact that she was a woman and not taken seriously in Nepal’s male-dominated political arena despite her sacrifices.

During Nepal’s pro-democracy struggles, she was also forced to live underground for two years in addition to spending nine years in exile in India.

But two years ago, it seemed her flagging political career would be revived after Koirala recommended her name as Nepal’s ambassador to India despite opposition from his own party men and allies.

However, fate dealt a blow to Acharya when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had to be hospitalised.

Since then, she had dropped out of the public eye, hitting the headlines only because of her deteriorating condition and the alleged negligence by her party to help with her treatment.

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