Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, lovingly dubbed the “saint prime minister” of Nepal for an exemplary political life untarnished by any scandal, and an active participant in India’s Quit India movement against British colonial rule, has died of multiple organ failure, doctors said.
The 87-year-old, who had been battling for his life in a Kathmandu hospital since last month, had been in coma since Wednesday and breathed his last at 11.46 p.m. Friday.
Born in Ramnagar village in India’s Bihar district to a family of priests who were forced into exile by Nepal’s draconian Rana prime ministers, Bhattarai joined the Quit India movement of 1942 when he was 18 and spent several months in India’s prisons for the act of defiance.
Inspired by India’s struggle for independence, Bhattarai and other Nepalis exiled in India dreamt of ending the autocratic Rana rule in Nepal and ringing in multi-party democracy.
In 1950, the Nepali Congress party was formed in exile in Kolkata and the democrats fanned out to Patna, Benaras and Kolkata, seeking to begin an armed movement in Nepal.
Though a Gandhian, Bhattarai was part of an armed uprising in southern Nepal the following year, capturing money and weapons.
On returning to Nepal, he was imprisoned for almost 14 years with the first eight years spent without any trial.
Bhattarai and his compatriots tasted their first triumph in 1990 when a pro-democracy movement clipped the power of the Shah kings, who had succeeded the Rana prime ministers, and the ban on political parties was lifted.
He became the prime minister, heading an interim government whose achievements were holding the first free and fair elections and promulgating a new constitution that guaranteed democratic rights.
However, the internal tussle for leadership in the party saw him ousted by the growingly ambitious Girija Prasad Koirala.
Nine years later, realising Bhattarai’s hold on the people, Koirala promised to make him prime minister on the eve of fresh general elections, a clever campaign that ensured victory for the party in 1999.
Though Bhattarai became prime minister a second time in 1999, he had to quit after only nine months with Koirala seeking leadership once again.
A disillusioned Bhattarai left active politics in 2003 and the party four years later.
He was described by people close to him as upright, retaining an impish sense of humour, and uncomplaining.
He was also the one rare leader who openly advocated retaining constitutional monarchy at a time Nepal was heading towards the abolition of the crown but was allowed to speak his mind without receiving brickbats.
Bhattarai, who had come in contact with Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Jay Prakash Narayan, died a bachelor, living in a simple ashram gifted to him by the government.
His last rites will be performed at the Pashupatinath temple premises Sunday.