Barat Rai was born on July 14, 1924 at Nimring VDC of Bhojpur district that lies in the eastern part of Nepal. At a young age of 18, Rai was recruited to the British Army. He fought the Second World War as a courageous British soldier in Burma.
After the world war came to an end Bharat and his co-soldiers decided to return to Nepal to join their families and celebrate their six-month long vacations in 1946. A group of 16 British soldiers arrived at Calcutta, India. Before the soldiers reached Calcutta, news of their home returning reached to BP Koirala, who was then desperately in look out for trained soldiers to join the armed revolution in Nepal, launched by his party, the Nepali Congress. Accordingly, Koirala mobilized a special team of party cadres, and instructed them to convince or even apply force to divert all returning British soldiers to Biratnagar, where the Koirala’s party activities were centralized.
The congress cadres were able to maneuver the British fighters to Biratnagar following serious parleys, and finally they reached Biratnagar. Late Koirala met the soldiers and decided to deploy them to capture Uttam Bikram Rana, the family members and his servants. Rana, who was the governor at the time, was one of the richest persons in Biratnagar, and known by his pseudo name of ‘Bada Hakim’. Initially, a battalion of 16 soldiers led by Barat was deployed to capture Bada Hakim. However, two of the soldiers managed to run away from the Rana’s premises fearing threats to their life.
Family members of ‘Bada Hakim’ and his several servants were made hostage for a number of days. Late Koirala was reported to have ordered Barat to even resort to open fire if any one from the Rana’s family tried to come of the house or try to escape. However, he was strictly instructed not to kill any person. To paralyze Ranas and their servants, Barat even cut off regular supply of electricity and food items.
Irked and frustrated due to long captivity, one of the sons of ‘Bada Hakim’ managed to shoot and kill one of the soldiers from his balcony. The situation became tense, the soldiers did rounds of blank fires and even warranted to finish everyone inside the house by setting fire in the Rana’s residence. The fatal shooting of one his soldiers was relayed to late Koirala by captain Barat, who received instructions to retaliate and even kill Ranas or their servants during such situations. Following instructions from Koirala, Bharat brought changes in his strategies to capture Bada Hakim. Then, Bharat and his soldiers started warning the Ranas of cutting off water supply in case they failed to surrender in next 72 hours. Bada Hakim was not ready to surrender even after the deadline. They again passed another deadline of 24 hours, warned of entering their house forcefully, and kill everyone.
Finally, ‘Bada Hakim’ and his family members surrendered before Barat, and requested him to allow escape from the house by abandoning all belongings. Following strict body search, Ranas and their servants were let to go except Bada Hakim, who was to be submitted to Koirala for interrogation. The soldiers broke into their house, seized wealth, valuables items, and tons of gold and silver, which was submitted to the Nepali Congress. Koirala thanked Bharat for his courageous efforts, and even let ‘Bada Hakim’ to lead his private life elsewhere by instantly quitting Biratnagar.
The peoples’ struggle for democracy turned into a reality empowering the Nepali Congress to institutionalize the first democratically elected Matrika Prasad Koirala as the country’s Prime Minister on August 14, 1952. The new freedom in the country gave enough rooms for irked Ranas to avenge. Subsequently, Bharat became a blazing target of Bada Hakim. Following mounting threats, Bharat consulted late Koirala brothers, who advised him to move to India temporarily. Finally, he decided to leave Nepal and move to Shillong, North East India.
Bharat returned to Nepal after 10 years in 1962. When he arrived Nepal, people were fighting against Panchayat System. He felt that he would not be safe if he continued to live in his country.
“The situation was very risky for me to continue living. I knew from different sources that Ranas were still looking for me,” narrated Bharat.
When I visited him in Beldangi II Refugee Camp, Bharat was sitting outside his ramshackle hut in Sector I. His voice was very hoarse, and he was battling against chronic asthma.
“Only a few could believe what I have done in my life,” he continued, “The Kankai Mai Bridge was not contracted. There were just a few houses as I passed by the East-West Highway.”
According to Bharat, he decided to permanently leave Nepal and move to Bhutan for settlement in 1962. “I was all alone. I traveled through different places of India, walked miles through deep forests to reach Sibsoo, Bhutan.”
“I still remember my first day in Bhutan. Several had gathered around me to listen at my stories. Some of them even shed tears,” added Bharat.
In a few weeks time, Bharat decided to tie up with a Bhutanese girl. When all efforts to continue living in Bhutan failed, the Bharat decided to again return to Nepal with his wife, and three children.
“When I left Bhutan and decided to take refuge in Nepal in 1992 there was no fear of Rana. I arrived Nepal with full of hopes of getting enough supports from leaders of the Nepali Congress and their leaders. However, that appeared just as my dreams.”
While in the refugee camp, Bharat traveled to Kathmandu to meet the then Prime Minister of Nepal, Girija Prasad Koirala, who was personally known to his contributions of late 1940s and early 1950s. He was given audiences a few times by Koirala, but was not much sympathetic to the status of one of the dedicated freedom fighters.
“He gave me small cash amounts during each visits, and assured me of better supports in future, but his words never turned out into a reality. Now, Koirala is gone, and hopefully his party leaders don’t know about my involvement and contributions to their party,” lamented Bharat.
As he entered into his hut, I followed him. He opened an old bag and took out a bundle of documents related to his contributions. One of them was a letter of recognition issued to him by congress leader Indira Acharya in 1993.
Ending a heroic saga and leaving no legacy of his courage, Bharat breathed his last at the age of 86, on June 27, 2010 in the refugee camp. Neither the Nepali Congress issued a condolence message on the death of a hero, nor any congress leaders came to see his family members, who still believe that Bharat had immensely contributed to the party and freedom of entire Nepalese people.
Author’s note: I visited and interviewed late Bharat Rai in Beldangi-II Refugee Camp February 24, 2010. It was from me that Bharat, for the first time, got information about death of the former Nepalese Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, just four days before my visit. The news of Koirala’s death brought him immense sorrows. He said that late Koirala was one of his best politicians, and even wished eternal peace in heaven. I had to leave the hut before completing the interview as Bharat’s eldest son, Bishal Rai, appeared too frustrated in allowing his father narrate his personal stories. “If you are from a media, please stop talking to my father. We are really fed up with frequent visitors at our hut to interview our aging dad. What are we getting by allowing media persons to just record stories? Will you convince the Nepali Congress to support our father?,” Bishal Rai questioned me.