Dr. Kundan Aryal
The Nepali month of Shrawan has coincided with the memorial days of two great figures of Nepal's democratic and left movements. This week the country marked 39th memorial day of BP Koirala and 43rd memorial day of Pushpa Lal Shrestha. BP Koirala, the founding leader of Nepali Congress, is also remembered as the first elected Prime Minister of the country. Pushpa Lal established the Nepal Communist Party and translated Marx's Communist Manifesto into the Nepali as a part of an effort to promote ideas of democracy, equality and justice. Both had pioneered in sowing the seeds of political ideologies and pluralism. Similarly, this month is also remembered for the publication of Nepal's first literary magazine Sudha Sagar which appeared 122 years ago.
Like Public Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestic, the first multi-page newspaper published in the Americas, Sudha Sager was also short-lived. However, it has created a benchmark in Nepal's intellectual tradition. Public Occurrence was in the public domain in 1690 and Sudha Sagar was 194 years younger than it. Public Occurrence suffered the crackdown of colonial rulers. But Sudha Sagar was not shut down owing to the displeasure of Ranas over its contents. The colonial government closed down the Public Occurrence because of its content. On the other, Sudha Sagar was literary magazine that promoted the culture of reading and writing.
Bhatta’s pioneering role
Sudha Sagar was more than two years older than Gorakhapatra, the country’s oldest existing publication. Unlike in the US, periodicals or the prototype of the magazine were published before the birth of newspapers in Nepal. In America, Andrew Bradford's American Magazine was published five decades after the initiation of newspapers in 1741. Sudha Sagar, with the content appropriate to read in leisure time, was published by Motiram Bhatta, who relentlessly worked for the development of the Nepali language to make it an effective medium for literary expression. Bhatta, who pioneered in publishing the periodicals in Nepal, had already been involved in publishing Gorakha Bharat Jeevan from Benarus in his student days in 1884.
He persuaded the owners of printing house in the ancient Indian city to publish Nepali books as well. Upon returning back home, Bhatta launched Sudha Sagar. Press chronicler Grishma Bahadur Devkota asserts that it was the first periodical in the Nepali language. Any issue of the periodical or the analysis of the contents published in it is not available so far. Moreover, one of its issues is available in the archive. Prominent historian Baburam Acharya had once said that he had 4-5 copies of Sudha Sagar in his collection, but he lost them during the great earthquake of 1934.
Sudha Sagar ceased to exist with the demise of Motiram Bhatta in 1897 B.S. However, according to the literary critic Taranath Sharma, Bhatta's works on the history of Nepali literature marked the crucial formative period up to the year 1919 known as the Motiram era. Bhatta had foreseen the role of the Nepali language, which had long been the major lingua franca throughout the hills of Nepal and beyond. He was inspired to build Nepali nation state with Nepali language as the key force to unite Nepalis across the country.
One of the prerequisites for the emergence of the modern intelligentsia in any society is the printing press which produces printed words on a large scale. In the context, the first Nepali book came out only in 1898 and the first newspaper, Gorakhapatra began to publish in 1901. Despite the control of rulers over intellectual activities, Nepali society began to move forward gradually to encounter modern worldviews. As the Rana rulers treated the spheres of social reforms, education, literature and social works as incompatible to the longevity of their regime, discontent among the general public started to pour. One such incident occurred in July 1920, when Subba Krishna Lal Adhikary was arrested for publishing a book named Makaiko Kheti, which the Rana rulers accused of carrying seditious content.
Nepal's struggle to achieve modernity in all spheres of social lives, including politics, reached a peak by the late forties in the aftermath of the World War II. In January 1947, Nepali National Congress was formed from a conference held in the Indian city of Calcutta. Tank Prasad Acharya, founding leader of Nepal Praja Parishad was inside the prison for his involvement in the distribution of anti-Rana pamphlets in 1942-43. BP Koirala was elected as the acting president of the newly established party. It impact of the new party was seen in labour movement. Three months after the announcement of new party, workers’ agitation started Biratnagar.
Pushpa Lal was the office secretary of Nepali National Congress. Later, in 1949, he established the Nepal Communist Party in Calcutta. No one would suffer injustice in history for a long time. Pushpa Lal, who was misunderstood by his comrades during his life, started to gain respect after the success of the movement jointly organised by Nepali Congress and the different factions of the Communist Party of Nepal. Nirmal Lama, a prominent leader of a faction of the Nepal Communist Party, apologised after 12 years of Pushpa Lal's demise that his party should not have been termed him as a traitor.
Bhola Chatterjee, in his seminal work Portrait of a Revolutionary, states that BP Koirala dreamed of a Nepal where a man would cease to be the object of exploitation by man, where the government of the people, for the people and by the people would be a reality. Today, we are witnessing, this dream has not died with the passing away of Pushpa Lal and BP. As Nepal has entered a new political era, the dreams and vision of BP and Pushpa Lal continue to inspire Nepali people for building a just, democratic and inclusive society.
(Dr. Aryal is associated with the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Tribhuvan University.)