The passing of a Communist veteran

Print edition : May 08, 1999

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Manmohan Adhikari, 1920-1999.

MANMOHAN ADHIKARI, one of the founders of the Communist Party in Nepal, died in Kathmandu on April 26. He was 79. The death of the former Prime Minister and Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) came even as the country was preparing for general elections. His demise is likely to affect the party's prospects in the polls.

The CPN(UML)'s prime ministerial candidate, Adhikari, suffered a heart attack on April 19, while campaigning at Gothatar village in the Kathmandu I constituency. The end came seven days later in a Kathmandu hospital.

King Birendra led the nation in three days of mourning with a message of condolence, while veteran Nepali Congress (N.C.) leader and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said: "A bright star in Nepalese politics has set for ever and I feel very lonely." Adhikari was given a state funeral and cremated in line with tradition, on the banks of the Bagmati river, flowing through the heart of Kathmandu. He was the second political leader after Ganesh Man Singh, veteran freedom fighter and one of the founders of the Nepali Congress who died in 1977, to be given a state funeral.

Adhikari was contesting in two constituencies, Kathmandu I and Kathmandu II.

Adhikari's death marked the end of an era. He was the last surviving co-founder of the 50-year-old Communist movement in Nepal. The Communists under the leadership of Adhikari played a vital role in a popular democratic movement in 1990, which ended Nepal's partyless panchayat system and forced the King to restore multi-party parliamentary democracy.

During the course of the democratic movement, Adhikari's Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) merged with the country's other leading Leftist party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist Leninist), to form the CPN(UML). Adhikari was elected the new party's president. Fondly called the Bheeshma Pitamaha of Nepal politics, he was a sobering influence on some party hardliners. In the 1994 snap elections, the CPN(UML) emerged the single largest party in a hung Parliament and came to power with Adhikari as Prime Minister.

In September 1995, Adhikari resigned after a nine-month stint when the Pratinidhi Sabha or the House of Representatives passed a no-confidence motion against him. On his recommendation, King Birendra dissolved Parliament, but a Supreme Court verdict reinstated the House and paved the way for the N.C. forming a coalition government with the active support of parties other than the CPN(UML).

BORN in 1920 in a wealthy landowning family of Biratnagar in southeastern Nepal, Adhikari never compromised with pro-monarchists. He entered politics when he joined the struggle for democratic rights against the authoritarian Rana regime in the late 1940s. India was close to Adhikari's heart when he began his political career. As a 22-year-old science graduate from Benaras Hindu University, Adhikari took part in the Quit India Movement in 1942 and was imprisoned for nearly two years.

Later in 1947, Adhikari participated in trade union movements in Biratnagar and was jailed for three years. From 1942 to 1946 he was in the forefront of workers' and students' movements. He was elected general secretary at the first convention of the Nepal Communist Party in 1953 and was imprisoned for nine years after the first-ever popularly elected government in Nepal was dismissed in 1961 and a partyless panchayat system was introduced. After the 1961 event, the Communist Party split into more than half a dozen factions and Adhikari stood with the veteran Marxist leader, Pushpa Lal. During the 1960s and 1970s, when globally the Communist movement tended to acquire a Russian or Chinese orientation, Adhikari's party followed the middle path.

Adhikari headed the underground Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) during the panchayat regime. His party took part in the People's Movement of 1990 as a constituent of the United Left Front before the party merged with the CPN(ML). In the first multi-party democratic elections in 1991, the CPN(UML) emerged as the main Opposition party to the ruling N.C.

An asthma patient for the last four decades, Adhikari went to China after he contracted tuberculosis. He stayed there for four years for treatment.

Political observers in Nepal believe that the death of Adhikari is a major loss for the party. After the split in March 1998, when the CPN(ML) was formed under the leadership of Bamdev Gautam and Sahana Pradhan, Adhikari's sister-in-law, Adhikari had acted as a stabilising force in the struggle for power among different factions within the CPN(UML). The problem in the CPN(UML) is not the scarcity of capable leaders but that of a leader acceptable to all factions. A senior CPN(UML) leader said: "Manmohan Adhikari had everything that the young CPN(UML) leaders lack. After the sudden demise of the charismatic Marxist leader Madan Bhandari, it was Adhikari who was entrusted with the task of leading the fractured Communist movement in the country."

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