KATHMANDU, Feb 18: After spending nearly four months in judicial custody, former disgraced speaker of the House of Representatives Krishna Bahadur Mahara returned home on Monday. He was only suspended from his position as a lawmaker after being accused of attempting to rape an office staffer.
So he is returning to parliament as a ruling party lawmaker after getting the full text of the court verdict acquitting him of the rape attempt charge .
Unlike in the past, Mahara won't get to lead the lower house of parliament because another MP from his party, Agni Prasad Sapkota, is now the speaker.
But he will complete the remaining three years of his term as MP. Former school teacher Mahara was a leader of the Maoist rebels in their decade-long armed insurgency against the state. He also headed a negotiations team before they joined peaceful politics. After joining the mainstream he served as deputy prime minister, home minister and information and communications ministers.
His supporters in the party often projected him as a future prime minister. The rape attempt charge was a major setback in his political career. It is not clear whether he will regain the same power and influence following his protracted entanglement with the law.
But the way his supporters thronged Dilli Bazaar jail to welcome him as Mahara was released indicates the support he still enjoys in the party. Analysts say the court acquittal has only served to boost his morale but a real comeback in politics will largely depend on the party leadership and his own approach in the days to come. If the party leadership stands by him and cadres in his constituency do the same, the veteran politician can regain power, insiders say.
“As a key player in Nepali politics and a close aide of Prachanda since the beginning of the Maoist insurgency, through the peace process and into mainstream politics, I don't think he will shy away from politics in future or remain silent,” said the analysts adding, “The court verdict is also supportive of a political rebound. ”
However, his rivals in the party will pose a herculean challenge. Mahara, who started his political career from Rolpa, was forced to contest recent elections from Dang after Barshaman Pun, a junior comrade, insisted on contesting from the Maoist bastion himself .
After the Maoist party merged with the then CPN-UML to form the Nepal Communist Party Mahara, once considered a right-hand man of Prachanda, had to struggle within the party to file his candidacy from Dang-2. Another NCP leader, Shankar Pokharel, was also eyeing that constituency.
NCP chairman KP Sharma Oli had to persuade Pokharel to contest for provincial assembly member and assure him of appointment as chief minister of Province 5, which includes Dang, after the other chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, lobbied hard for Mahara.
The rivalry between Pun and Mahara hasn't subsided . On the contrary, there are those who suspect that Mahara was framed in the rape attempt case and that Pun's wife Onsari Gharti played some role in this .
Mahara's supporters in Dang have welcomed the court decision, saying, 'justice has been done'. They argued that Mahara was framed for his tough nationalist stance against the $500 million MCC grant.
Asked whether Mahara will regain his past influence , Sushil Gautam, a Dang-based left leaning analyst, said he will recover from the 'political damage' .
“I don't see any possibility of erasing the public stigma of the rape attempt case,” said Gautam adding, “But Mahara has a track record of overcoming odds although it will take some time this time round.”
Party insiders hinted that Mahara is preparing to take a nationalist line in the party on key issues to restore his standing. Those opposing the MCC say the US grant is being provided as part of an Indo-Pacific Strategy aimed at containing China.
Leaders close to him say Mahara will stand with NCP leaders opposing the grant .