Battle royal in Nepal

Published On: October 8, 2016 12:20 AM NPT By: Mahabir Paudyal  | @mahabirpaudyal

It was more a matter of speculation in May 2013. Little was known about ‘behind-the-scene-deal’ on appointment of Lokman Singh Karki chief Commissioner of Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA).

It was known that India proposed and Nepali political actors helplessly accepted him, that Karki was indicted by Rayamajhi Commission for his alleged involvement in suppressing 2006 People’s Movement.

A group of civil society leaders had made an appeal to President Ram Baran Yadav not to endorse Karki and that Yadav had assured the latter he would not. Notwithstanding, Karki became the head of Nepal’s anti-graft body. 

In three years, Karki’s appointment saga has become an open secret, thanks to one after other revelation by various media outlets.  Today we know that Karki was not only favored and recommended but also installed by Indian lobby. A comprehensive report by Pahilopost stated that Indian President Pranab Mukherjee himself had telephoned his Nepali counterpart to okay Karki’s appointment and that Indian Embassy in Kathmandu had also been exerting pressure on political parties to approve him. Journalist Ameet Dhakal mentions in his recent article how Karki himself boasts his appointment had been made possible through the backing of India’s intelligence officials.  

It has come to the fore that then Prime Minister Khil Raj Regmi used Karki’s appointment as a bargaining chip. If the parties did not accept Karki as CIAA head, Regmi is said to have warned, he would not be able to hold Constituent Assembly elections due for November in 2013. If the parties had ignored that warning, perhaps CA elections would not have happened, leading the country to a state of perpetual vacuum.

Therefore it would be a mistake to understand Dr Govinda KC’s demand for Lokman Singh Karki’s impeachment; CIAA’s branding him as ‘mentally unstable’ and Karki’s selective target on institutions including Social Science Baha only as his attempt to silence critical voices against him. 

It is clear whose interests Karki intends to serve. Dr KC’s Satyagraha needs no further introduction.  As for journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, whom CIAA chief seems to be hounding, he was among the first writers to openly oppose Karki’s appointment and among the first intellectuals to vociferously condemn Indian economic blockade. CIAA’s witch-hunting him post-blockade cannot be a mere coincidence.

Parliament is the only body that can discipline Karki, impeach him, or make him truly fulfill the duty he has been entrusted with: corruption control in the real sense. This is why silence of parliamentarians has been decried in public sphere: Why do leaders not support the just cause of Dr KC? Why do only two parliamentarians, out of 595, show up in solidarity rally for Dr KC? Why are leaders like Gagan Thapa, Shyam Shrestha and Dhanaraj Gurung, who had taken up Dr KC’s call for Karki’s impeachment earlier on, silent? Needless to say, they are legitimate questions but you won’t be able to get to the bottom of them if you ignore the following realities.

Our parliamentarians (exceptions apart) have their share in irregularities and corruption. Each parliamentarian is entitled to Rs five million as discretionary spending apart from 30 million rupees in the name of Constituency Development Fund. As various media reports have highlighted over the past years lawmakers misuse this fund to warm up their own or their cadres’ pockets. Thus anyone can be prosecuted. The ones who raise questions against CIAA chief can expect CIAA to open the dossier against them. Besides, our parliamentarians have also misused  authority to hijack health, education and governance reform policies.  CIAA apparently has had the record of this all which it can use against them when necessary.  So no parliamentarians dare Karki.

Nor can major parties speak up against him first because they have lost the moral ground by appointing him despite opposition from within their own parties and the media. Besides, each has had some corruption scam hanging over them like sword of Damocles. Congress leaders have the fear of CIAA reopening the infamous four million US$ Sudan scam. Maoist leaders fear the likely prosecution over billion rupees cantonment corruption. As for UML, most of its leaders have association with NGOs, which are accused of misusing donor’s money.  Just in case, somebody raises the issue, CIAA has had a group of loyalists from among political parties, media and intelligentsia for its defense. 

The CIAA head holds keys of secret files of dubious deals of all. If they dare to raise heads he will open those files.

On hindsight, one can say that the consensus on Karki’s name was an outcome of tacit of understanding between a group of corrupt people and a person with equally tainted past. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango.  Karki is the visible symbol of big game of power abuse whose influence can be tracked beyond the borders. Let the Karki’s apologists say what they want but if there was no great Indian pressure, then president Yadav would not have capitulated. 

Leaders only admit to Indian meddling when they are snubbed or sidelined. One common realization among Nepal’s Prime Ministers seems to be that the state power does not lie in their hands. Baburam Bhattarai confessed this in December 2012 through his infamous remark “the key to state power lies elsewhere” (meaning India). Perhaps current Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has had enough of this.  Therefore, he, who used to warn India to not to “micromanage” affairs in Nepal, is silent. 

But already volumes have been written about India’s micromanagement in Nepal. At least one book is published every year that reinforces the long-held belief that India (through its intelligence wing, secret agents, bureaucracy or security agencies) does not allow Nepal to chart its own course. India proved it through the five-month long blockade last year. It has proved that it is capable of creating trouble of any magnitude—on its own or through its proxies who are in political parties, bureaucracy and as is sometimes thought even media—to keep its dominance in Nepal.

Thus what might seem like a fight between Kanak Mani Dixit and Dr Govinda KC and CIAA chief is actually a big battle against an entrenched nexus that is thriving under overt or covert protection or support from next door neighbor. It is a movement against political leaders who have submitted themselves to India and India which thinks the only way it can assert itself in Nepal is through micromanagement. This is a battle against all those who misuse state resources and who think they can get away simply by being in good book of foreign power centers, against those who offer themselves to be used by India or use India to continue to hold on to power. This is the battle against all those leaders who think they need to be accountable to the external elements more than to their own people, a battle to uphold the image and integrity of anti-graft body and to discipline its chief. This is a battle more difficult to win than the past struggles for regime change for this is the struggle for good governance and holding leaders to account. 

How else do you explain the silence from the parties?

This is why those who are in the frontline of this battle need to be praised for their courage and conviction. For this is no small undertaking:  only those who have maintained transparency in their dealings and who have never submitted themselves to foreign powers can speak against CIAA chief.

Things can change if we don’t give up holding the political actors to account and can stand up to India and tell them politely and strongly that their engagement in micromanagement is corrupting their own image.  But for this, we need a group of intellectuals who are a little stubborn to the cause, who have not compromised their convictions, who have paid taxes to the government, given up greed for money and power and therefore who have nothing to fear and lose. A lone doctor cannot do much.

Perhaps Dashain is not the right time to discuss something disturbing like this. Ideally, this is the time for family reunion, sharing of joy and spending the days by relishing delicacies. But since we will have to confront these uncomfortable questions in a week’s time anyway, why pretend otherwise?

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