When Novel Kishore Rai returned from Bonn after serving a much appreciated-even celebrated-term as Nepal\'s ambassador to Germany, the last thing he expected in Nepal was a petty accusation intended to destroy his reputation.
A leak to a Kathmandu newspaper earlier this month, most likely from officials in the Nepali Embassy in Bonn, accused Ambassador Rai of leaving Germany without paying credit card dues of a little over DM 1,000 (about NRs 32,000).
Foreign Ministry officials at Shital Niwas deny having played any part in the leak, but seem strangely reluctant to speak up for an envoy who had served the country well. Dr Rai\'s replacement, Balaram Singh Malla, could not be reached by telephone for comment because the embassy is in the throes of moving to Berlin.
Because the process of credit card billing (where payment is made alter presentation of monthly bills) is not well understood in Nepal the newspaper story carried a certain credibility among the Nepali public, already predisposed to believing the worst of their representatives abroad after one was caught stealing books in Washington DC some years ago.
The tiny unpaid amount was actually billed to the credit card of Dr Rai\'s spouse, Nirupa Rai. Besides the fact that the unpaid sum was very small in Deutsche marks. Ambassador Rai says that most of the charge was actually the result of a billing error for a train fare to Paris that he had already paid in cash.
Diplomatic insiders say that, by all indications, this was a motivated leak meant to taint the image of someone with a scrupulously clean reputation. But it was a tragic blot in the four-year ambassadorial stint of this Tribhuvan University linguist. Says Ram Thapa, the Cologne-based President of the German-Nepal Friendship Association (GNFA), "This is an incredible insult for someone who did Nepal so proud. A simple credit card oversight has been used as a smear campaign." Indeed, the accusation needlessly tarnished the unblemished image of a non-career scholar and much-acclaimed diplomat.
Novel Kishore Rai was appointed ambassador to Bonn by the UML government of Man Mohan Adhikari, and was unique in that a serving academic was given a posting, which had earlier been the preserve of ex-generals, retired bureaucrats and royal palace appointees. At last Nepal had an ambassador in Bonn (plus his wife) who spoke fluent German, which added to his effectiveness in a pivotal European country. Being a political appointee (though he is not a party member), there was a fear among these German professionals that he would be recalled when the UML government fell in Kathmandu.
They therefore lobbied hard and succeeded in prevailing upon the new foreign minister to maintain Ambassador Rai at his post. That initial political hurdle having been overcome, Dr Rai was able to complete his full term in November 1999. even as the country saw six prime ministerial changes back home.
This was an ambassador extraordinaire, as can be gauged from remarks made by luminaries from Germany, Austria and Switzerland in a special GNFA testimonial published when he finally left Bonn. Karl Kirchhoff, Head of the South Asia Division of the Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development, writes of how Ambassador Rai\'s "loyalty to Nepal was enormously motivating for us" and how he admired his "commitment, charm, wit and expertise".
Former UNDP Resident Coordinator in Nepal, Manfred Kulessa, writes of how not since the days of the" great Sardar [Bhim Bahadur Pande]" had Nepal seen an envoy to Germany as effective as Dr Rai. A German-based Nepali doctor who has worked for long to provide ambulances and medical equipment to Nepal writes:
"We had nearly forgotten over the previous years that we could get support and interest from the ambassadors of Nepal. With Dr Rai a new era started." Toni Hagen, the noted Swiss geologist of Nepal said that Dr Rai belonged "to the new generation of open-minded, well-educated and unbureaucratic young Nepalis with a sense of compassionate responsibility for the whole people without self-interest."
Perhaps the best accolade came from firebrand German activist and journalist Ludmilla Tuting, who has covered Nepal for more than two decades. "You were the best ambassador from Nepal we ever had in Germany," she writes.
After such a sendoff in Germany, when asked how he felt about the accusation, Dr Rai\'s eyes well up with with tears, and he takes off his glasses. He does not answer. You try again, and ask: "Why don\'t you send a clarification to the newspaper?"
He replies, "Des ko rajdootlay yasto garcha bhanera kasailay patyaula jasto malai lagena. Tyasailay khandan garina,\'\'( I did not believe that anyone would believe that our country\'s ambassador would stoop so low. So I chose not to react.)