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Future of a past President

Thursday, October 29th, 2015
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Prime Minister KP Oli bids farewell to ex-President Ram Baran Yadav in presence of President Bidya Bhandari during a special ceremony in Shital Niwas on Thursday. Photo: Gopen Rai

Nepal’s first President Ram Baran Yadav quietly left Shital Niwas on a rainy Thursday in Kathmandu, vacating the Rana era royal bungalow for the country’s first woman head of state, Bidya Bhandari.

Just like Bhandari’s victory on Wednesday in the parliament election for president  symbolised a paradigm shift in a deeply patriarchal state like Nepal, Yadav’s election in 2009 signaled the beginning of an end to the age-old dominance of Kathmandu’s traditional rulers.

Timeline by Ayesha Shakya

On 23 July that year, all major political parties except the Maoists voted for the NC’s presidential candidate Yadav and a self-made Madhesi medical doctor from the eastern plains district of Dhanusa. Yadav became the face of a secular republic that was a Hindu monarchy until then.

Like Bhandari, Yadav became President not just on merit but because of a combination of luck and changing political circumstances.

Within the NC, there were far more senior, and capable, leaders than Yadav. Girija Prasad Koirala was himself an aspirant to replace King Gyanendra as the Head of the State. But Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal did not followup on his promise to Koirala, and the commander of the 2006 Democracy Movement zeroed in on Yadav as a presidential candidate.

Veteran leader Mahant Thakur had quit the NC to form his own Madhes-based regional party, making Yadav an undisputed presidential candidate. The two recent Madhes movements, Thakur’s exit and growing clamour for mainstreaming of Madhesis turned out to be the luck factor in Yadav’s path to Shital Niwas. His victory in Nepal’s first presidential election once again proved that luck is all about being in the right place at the right time.

A buffalo herder from Sapahi village of Dhanusa, Yadav had never dreamed about entering politics, let alone becoming Nepal’s first President while in medical school in Kolakata. But he was politically conscious even in Kolkata, becoming close to democracy campaigners like BP Koirala and Ganesh Man Singh. Growing closeness with Nepali leaders in exile prepared him to champion the cause of democracy.

After graduation he returned to Janakpur where he practiced medicine and served Nepal’s first elected Prime Minister BP Koirala as his personal physician. When King Mahendra conducted a referendum on his Panchayat system, Yadav took the plunge into active politics.

In the 1990s, Yadav led the Ministry of Health twice. But he was still a simple person largely detached from power struggle. When the Madhes movement took place and regional issues gained prominence, he tried to portray himself as a Nepali rather than a Madhesi. That was one reason why the NC unilaterally picked him as a presidential candidate.

Yadav became President at a time when Nepalis were not accustomed to a commoner as the Head of the Nation. He showed how a President should talk, behave and conduct himself.  He took pains to never breach the code of conduct and maintained discipline, setting a high standard for Nepal’s future Presidents.

The only time Yadav courted a controversy was when he overturned the first Maoist government’s decision to sack Chief of Army Staff Rukmangad Katwal in 2009. The Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal dubbed his act as a ‘coup’ and ‘unconstitutional’. Nevertheless, Dahal later confessed that his attempt to sack Katwal was a mistake.

In the last months of his prolonged tenure, Yadav seemed more inclined towards Madhesi dissenters and UML Chair KP Oli, who is now Prime Minister, even warned him to stay ceremonial and abstain from politics. Some even commented that he was becoming a puppet of New Delhi, but he had only urged a national consensus on the constitution.

As Yadav shifted to a hastily-decorated private house in Lalitpur on Thursday, many are wondering what is next for him. Being the father figure of a deeply polarised nation, he cannot return to politics. Nor can he rejoin medical profession that he left years ago.

The best thing for ex-President Yadav and Nepal, is to remain a unifying figure and promote harmony between people from the hills and the plains. Once again a common man, he now can do what he could not do as President: inspire the people of the hills and plains to live together. The politically and socially polarised country is now desperately looking for a unifying figure like ex-President Yadav.

Om Astha Rai

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3 Responses to “Future of a past President”

  1. namah on Says:

    Om ji: I have a gut feeling…maybe more wishful thinking…RBY just might be the person we need to uplift our spirits. He understands politics, has the seriousness and gravitas of a father figure for this nation. Madhesis and Pahadis both regard him well.

  2. Radha krishna Deo on Says:

    Madeshi and Pahahadi are faces of a coin. Both community have suffer a lot due to idiots so called egocentric politicians. What ever possible by ex president yadava he did his best but the future path of the Nation going worst which will negatively affect for decade. We hope the leadership will concentrate on the voice of people and shot out the solution !!!

  3. Ravi Raj Kaur on Says:

    This doctor Yadav is a great man exactly like the Elders from United Nations, like Kofi Anan, Ban Ki Moon, Dr Karan Singh.
    He is a peace seeker and a great leader of the nation, his dimission does not change this, thank you dear Mr Ram Baran Yadav! Ohm Shanti and God Bless you and your family.

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