Pradip Giri, the passing of an iconoclast

Pradip Giri, eminent Nepali intellectual and politician passed away on Saturday, aged 74, after a prolonged battle against cancer.

When we went to see him in his hospital bed last week, Pradip Giri was unconscious. It looked like this great man, known for struggling all his life for democracy, was now struggling for life.

This eminent Nepali intellectual and politician passed away on Saturday night at age 74, after a prolonged battle against cancer. His departure marks the end of an era in Nepal’s political sphere. Giri was one of the few remaining contemporaries of B P Koirala, and one who stayed true to the original social democratic ideology of the Nepali Congress.

A vast storehouse of knowledge and experience, a politician with personal rapport across the political spectrum and internationally – Nepali politicians do not come with such honesty and stature anymore.

During the absolute monarchy days, I was an editor with a leftist bent. Both the Communists and the Congress were on the same side against the Panchayat system to try to take Nepal into a more democratic era.

The Nepali Congress under B P was organising a Satyagraha for democracy. That is when I first met Pradip Giri who was supporting this non-violent protest against the Panchayat, and he encouraged us to form a common Communist-Congress front against authoritarianism.


Pradipji, dressed all in white, and some other Congress members were just beginning to shout slogans during a pro-democracy demonstration that week at a Kathmandu intersection when the police swooped in and took them away to detention.

The People’s Movement was ultimately successful, and multi-party democracy was restored in 1990. We used to meet often with Pradipji, and the subject of discussion ranged from the Gandhian philosophy of non-violent struggle, to capitalism, socialism, Marxism-Leninism – but also about literature and the arts.

Pradip Giri may not have been a Communist, but knew more about Marxism than committed leftist ideologues. He had studied the communist international movement, and had even written a book about Lenin.

In the first democratic election after the fall of the Panchayat in 1992, I won the election from Lalitpur and Pradip Giri became an MP from Siraha district. Our cross-party discussions continued in the canteen of Parliament over tea and snacks even as the polarisation between the UML and the NC grew in the mid-1990s.


Pradip Giri was known as a great orator. Not fiery, but someone who spoke with great authority and with deep conviction about making democracy work in practice to raise living standards. He was also known for low attendance in the House, so it was difficult to track him down.

Pradip Giri had a frugal lifestyle, and was true to his Gandhian belief. He never hankered for power or position, which was so unlike many politicians then and now.  He was also not a very organised man, neither professionally nor in his personal life. I even broached this subject with him once, telling him: “Your life is not very disciplined, Pradipji, it is almost like you are an anarchist.”

Of course, Pradip Giri did not change. He was as disorganized as ever, but continued to be the conscience of his party, and of Nepali politics even as the parties drifted away from the moral tenets of what democracy should be in spirit and practice. Which is why Pradip Giri was apart among Nepali politicians, he stood above them, he was made of different stuff.

Although he had the intellectual ability to debate with B P Koirala, the family never really trusted him when the NC leadership was living in exile in Banaras. Back in Nepal after 1990, Giri was therefore identified more with the Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai wing of the party. And it was because of his firm belief that Nepal’s Communists and Congress should work together that I got to be close to him.


Even though he was never really accepted by the Koirala clan, Pradip Giri did more to propagate BP’s ideals than any of his family members, or others who called themselves Kangresi. His book, विश्वेश्वरप्रसाद कोइरालाः व्यक्तित्व र विचार is an important text for all those who want to understand BP’s persona and thought. He went on to edit anthologies of BP Koirala’s writings, speeches, interviews.

Even though he was respected within the NC, and party faithful all listened intently when he spoke, no one really followed him. It was because Pradip Giri was not distributing perks and favours. The more distorted Nepali politics became, and as the NC distanced itself from its founding principles, Pradip Giri’s puritanical belief in socialism with a human face became more and more a cry in the wilderness.

There are few Nepali politicians who read, write or think. There are even fewer such people in the Nepali Congress leadership today. Few have Giri’s ability for academic discourse that rises above party lines and political polarisation. He was all the more convincing because he readily admitted to mistakes, showed humility in personal interactions, and had the ability, unique to contemporary politicians, to listen to others.

Pradip Giri did not want to talk about the operational strategy of politics, and about who was back-stabbing whom. He was above all that, and it almost felt like even though he was a politician, politics was beneath him. Often, he was most critical about his own party’s policies.

‘Struggle’ could have been Pradip Giri’s middle name. For him, it was always about struggle. He thrived in struggle. He was in the NC Central Committee, and one of few who spoke what was in his mind without mincing words about the struggle steer the party back to BP.

Pradip Giri also struggled till the end in his hospital bed, as he fought his cancer, and later pneumonia.  He would have been the first to explain how death is a part and parcel of life. If he had come out of it, I would have liked to sit down with Pradip Giri one more time in the Parliament canteen to discuss the reality of mortality.

Raghu Panta is a former Minister and a Standing Committee member of the CPN-UML.  

Pradip Giri’s body will lie in state at the Nepali Congress office in Sanepa till 2PM on Sunday before cremation at Pashupati.

Read also: Yes to constituent assembly, Pradip Giri

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