“Hold on!” former President Ram Baran Yadav commanded a Nepali Times photojournalist from taking his picture during an interview last week. He put on a Nepali topi, and then said: “Now you can take my picture.”
In the eight years that he spent in Shital Niwas as Nepal’s first civilian Head of State, Yadav rarely made public appearances without the topi on his head. He carefully maintained the symbolism of promoting Nepal’s national unity and integrity.
This public posture has prompted Madhesi parties that voted for him in the 2008 presidential elections to dislike him intensely. Even non-Madhesi parties have fallen out. As a result of this collective disdain, Yadav is now enduring the state’s apathy bordering on insult.
“I transferred my house in Kathmandu to my daughter, and my land in Dhanusa to my sons, thinking that the state would look after me,” he told us. “But I am facing difficulty managing my life.”
When Yadav quietly left Shital Niwas on a rainy afternoon in October 2015, the Madhes was burning and there was deep polarisation between the inhabitants of the hills and the plains. Yadav wanted to launch a nationwide campaign to stitch the social fabric together again, but he has been consumed by more mundane problems like house rent and electricity bills.
The owner of the house rented by the government for Yadav in Bagdole threatened to throw him out, demanding past dues publicly at a press conference. The government did not budge, and the landlord filed a case at the Lalitpur District Court seeking the administration’s help to get the ex-president to vacate his house. It was only when President Bidya Bhandari took up the matter that the government finally paid the house rent.
When he was elected President, Yadav had good personal relations with almost all political forces. By the time he retired, most were his enemies. It is not difficult to understand that the state’s current harassment of Yadav is a result of this.
Prime Minister KP Oli always had good relations with Yadav, but when Yadav advised the Big Three parties to wait for a few days to bring Madhesi dissenters on board before promulgating the new constitution, Oli had snapped back: “A medical doctor knows nothing about legal issues.” Many believe that Oli’s disdain for Yadav is the main reason for the state’s apathy towards his post-retirement life.
NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba always considered Yadav ‘close to the Koiralas’. Even when Oli agreed with other parties to re-elect Yadav as President after the new Constitution, Deuba stood against it. When Yadav faced difficulty in living a dignified life befitting an ex-President, Deuba couldn’t be bothered.
The CPN Maoist (Centre) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal had pitted Ram Raja Prasad Singh against Yadav in the 2008 presidential election. In 2009, when Dahal as Prime Minister sacked the Nepal Army Chief Rookmangud Katwal, Yadav reinstated him. After this high-voltage political drama, Dahal stepped down and never tried to make peace with Yadav again.
Future of a past President