Obituary: Ganesh Man Singh

Ganesh Man Singh, political activist: born Kathmandu, Nepal November 1915; Supreme Leader, Nepali Congress Party 1982-97; married (two sons, three daughters); died Kathmandu 18 September 1997.

Ganesh Man Singh was one of a rare breed amongst Nepali politicians: a man of integrity. The state funeral he was given on 19 September was the first to be accorded to a commoner and, in a symbolic gesture, the former freedom fighter's body was draped with the national flag by the prime minister, Lokendra Bahadur Chand. Ironically, Chand had been a prominent leader in the authoritarian Panchayat system that Singh had helped to overthrow.

More than anything else Singh was a rebel. Although born into a well- to-do family in impoverished Nepal, Singh was not part of the Rana oligarchy which ruled the country as its private fiefdom from the mid-19th century until 1951. In an era in which sycophancy to the Rana family was essential, Singh's rebelliousness was tantamount to treason. In 1939 he joined the Praja Parishad, Nepal's first political party, and in 1940 was sentenced to life imprisonment for anti-Rana activities.

Singh was a popular hero and his exploits were legendary. He was a small man but he was charismatic, fearless and physically very strong. In 1944 he made a daring escape from prison by scaling the walls of Bhadragol Gaol. This feat earned him the title "Iron Man". After his escape Singh fled to India, where he was schooled, like so many Nepali politicians, in the Indian nationalist movement. In 1946 he became a founding member of the Nepali National Congress. Its successor the Nepali Congress played an important role in the dismantling of Rana rule in 1951.

Power in Nepal in the 1950s was shared unequally between the monarchy, the political parties and the Ranas as the country inched towards a modern political system. Singh played a significant part in this process: in 1951 he was Minister for Industry and Commerce and later that year Minister for Food, Agriculture and Land Reform. In 1957 he led a successful civil disobedience movement to force the king to hold multi-party elections. Congress won a landslide in the 1958 general election and Singh became Minister for Works and Transport in the government of B.P. Koirala.

The Congress government did not survive for long. King Mahendra became concerned about his diminished powers and in 1960 launched a royal takeover. Political parties were banned, the king took direct control of government and Congress leaders were arrested. Singh spent the next eight years in prison and was released in 1968 only to go into exile in India yet again. He returned to Nepal in 1976 along with other Congress politicians and conducted an illegal campaign to replace the king's authoritarian Panchayat system.

By the late 1970s Singh's relationship with other senior members of the party was strained. He challenged the wisdom of the party leader, Koirala, in accepting the verdict of a national referendum in 1980, in which a slight majority gave support to the Panchayat system instead of multi- party democracy. After Koirala's death in 1982 Singh became Supreme Leader of the Nepali Congress; at the same time splits within the leadership became more profound. Singh advocated an alliance with the increasingly powerful Communist parties in order to overthrow the system while B.P. Koirala's brother Girija Prasad Koirala, the conservative general secretary of the party, insisted that Congress should keep its distance from the Left. This Singh-Koirala split was never healed.

While the Congress Party became politically isolated in the late 1980s, Singh never lost his popular touch. He realised that the party would have to reform itself and he was instrumental in forging a working relationship between Congress and Nepal's Communists. This led directly to the creation of the Jana Andolan (People's Movement) which overthrew the Panchayat system in 1990 and reintroduced a democratic system. Singh was styled the "Commander" of the Jana Andolan.

Ill-health forced Singh to the sidelines of the Congress Party in the aftermath of the democracy movement, but he remained active in national political life. In many senses he was the conscience of the Congress Party. Despite its radical rhetoric, after 1990 Congress moved from a centre- left to a centre-right party. G.P. Koirala, who became prime minister when Congress won the 1991 general election, was accused of dictatorial leanings. Singh criticised Koirala, sometimes with an element of hysteria, but always with conviction that Koirala and his policies were damaging Nepali democracy and the millions of Nepalis who lived in absolute poverty. Angered by Singh's outbursts, Koirala marginalised him to the point where Singh's supporters mutinied against the Koirala government. Congress fought the 1994 general election as a divided party and it suffered a humiliating defeat. This, Singh explained, was because the party had lost its way. His critics maintained that it was because Singh himself had undermined it.

The large number of people who went on a pilgrimage to visit Singh in his Kathmandu residence during his final years revealed that the "Iron Man" still wielded power within Congress and that he commanded respect outside it. In 1996 the party reconferred the title of Supreme Leader upon Singh after it - and party membership - had been stripped from him by a furious Koirala at the height of the feuding. In 1993 Singh was also given the United Nations U Thant Award for Human Rights.

Singh was not an intellectual heavyweight but he was forthright and unpretentious and he possessed immense energy. He was a symbol of Nepali democracy and he came from an age in which democracy meant hope to many Nepalis. Today, when Nepali democracy is wracked by corruption and opportunism, and when the system that was supposed to deliver economic prosperity is patently failing, Ganesh Man Singh's death is a saddening reminder of missed chances and the decay of political idealism.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game