Shailaja Acharya

It has been a decade and a half since she left this mortal world and we remember her again as a crusader of democracy that she was for all her life with brief stints in power reaching the height of the very FIRST female Deputy Prime-minister in the country.  The time has swiftly passed, the luster of her party Nepali Congress has dimmed and it struggles to regain power as the leadership appears lethargic, stagnant and waning in light of the old glories of the party that gave democracy to Nepal.


She had fought for her life for the last two years of her life’s journey. The diseases finally won over her. Her life was a long struggle with the old regime and even after the change she may have lost a great deal- her place in history by choosing less popular stands and political incorrectness. She was known for her stubbornness, and sticking to her grounds, her principles and fighting corruption all her life. She probably would not have changed very much. She would be uniquely different with a fierce commitment to fighting corruption. She dealt with events and life on her own terms.


“A man must do what he must in spite of consequences.” (John F Kennedy’s famous speech). She symbolized this expression without question.


And, finally, they ALL paid her the due respect she deserved.


This is what folks shared about her after she passed away.


“Shailaja-ji got a high tribute (finally). So many people came to pay tribute that the Maoists let the Assembly function to pass a resolution on her death with all the stately rituals.  I think for many it was a time to reflect on what they had done to harm her politically and personally!!” (Subas Pokhrel)


”Although her tacit support to KG (King Gynendra) during 2004-5 was controversial, I personally feel that she gave her life for democratic struggle and that small blimp hardly counts.” (Ambika Adhikari)


I remember her during our student days at Banaras in the mid to late 60’s along with other student activists such as Pradeep Giri, Chakra Bastola,  Prakash and, Niranjana  Koirala. I was an engineering student at Sindri then and occasionally came to Banaras and listened to the talks of democracy, armed struggles to fight with the Panchayat regime, and mention of Che Guevara or even philosophical talks of “existentialism.” Will we succeed? Is it for real?” I struggled then within myself. Many of these words were perplexing and mind-boggling to my young brain then but in the course of five decades so much has changed- many for better and some for worse.

Arun Dahal

She was bold and fearless no doubt and also a bit eccentric and emotional at times, I thought.


On Christmas Day of 2008 I spent an evening with Mrs. Bijaya Shrestha of Ohio whom I had met after a few years since I went to America (she had lost her husband Mohan Shrestha by then) and we reminisced on many things including the black flag shown on the day Queen Elizabeth paid a visit to Nepal in Tudi Khel in 1961.  We talked about the bold four who dared to finger point the regime; they were Shailaja, Kundan, Bijaya Baral and Nona Koirala; the first three were still very young, in their teens.  Everyone else but her became part of the establishment but it was Shailaja who never left her ground till the end. She never gave up.  We must respect that zeal and tenacity, courage and determination. Also, Bijaya Malla Shrestha said, “We were the first rebels, the feminists and fighters for democracy in our feudal country. Shailaja never looked back.”



“I also saw her determination to fight for fair decision-making process and against corruption. I remember the day when she, as a minister, was the chief guest in our Central Department of Botany, TU, where she expressed her commitment to fighting against corruption even if she had to quit the post. In few weeks, that became reality. In her days, she certainly had inspired the youths fighting for democracy.” (JP Sah)


“Perhaps Shailaja Acharya represents the benevolent aspiration of the politically conscious youth and their failure as the political executioners when in power. As per the writing of her close friends, she was incorruptible. That means the root of our problems is more in our system and less in who we are as persons.”


Death of Sailaja Acharya should be an indicator of our mortality and a message for us to stop wasting our time in leader worshiping and denunciation, or system worshiping and denunciation but to think anew to develop a framework of a future system that represents the aspiration of not only ours but also that of the future generations.”(Pramod Dhakal)


There were numerous other expressions after her loss.

“….but to me, she always embodies the spirit of bravery which dared to challenge the brutal force in its midst.”


”A fearless, charismatic, idealist, and brave all in one.”

”Among the many things I admired about her was her Gandhian lifestyle and her idealistic commitment to the greater good of the Nepali people.  She gave her whole life towards achieving democratic ideals in Nepal.  In the ocean of corruption among so many Nepali politicians, she was one of the islands of purity.”

”In the past several years she was involved in NGO and charity work, particularly promoting the welfare of Nepali women.”

”In 1998 when she was the DPM  (Deputy Prime Minister and Water Resource Ministry, some of us spent time at her office while she spoke about utilizing Nepal’s gigantic water powers for the economic upliftment of the nation.  Although not much happened during her tenure (or on other ministers’ tenure), her sincerity in making Nepal more developed was crystal clear.”


No one should assume she was without any flaws.  I found her overly emotional, dogged, and stubborn at times rather than convincing in her arguments. Her cousin Niranjan Koirala made a statement during our conversation that,
“While she was a fearless and relentless crusader for democracy and later against corruption, she was a failure (if I may use that word) as a minister.  Running a government requires flexibility and the art of compromise- both of which she lacked. After NC (Nepali Congress) came to power, she should have either involved herself in organizational work of the party or taken up some non-governmental job creating some social values in Nepalese society as much was needed then is needed even now.”


”She will be sorely missed as one of the most prominent female leaders of recent times in Nepal.” (Ambika Adhikari)


The voices that could not be silenced with bullets and dungeons deserve some respect, no doubt. I too agree and concur.


The least she did was fight the corruption and never left her ground. She stood tall and firm. Finally, she does get the honor she deserved for all the fights she won or lost. Her style was always, let the chips fall where ever they may.

(Many of these comments were shared in Nepal Democracy Forum, the USA, and a decade ago.)