21-27 October 2016 #830

The lonely struggle against tyranny

Political parties have finally decided to act against Lokman Singh Karki, but only to save their own skins
Bidushi Dhungel
Bhanu Bhattarai

In December last year, social and political activists, journalists, lawyers and a few politicians started meeting regularly in Kathmandu to discuss the new parallel power centre that had emerged in Nepal. They strategised over coffee about how to deal with the Commission on the Investigation for the Abuse of Authority (CIAA) and its chief, Lokman Singh Karki, who seemed to be an unstoppable force threatening the basic tenets of democracy.

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Suspended animation, Kunda Dixit

At that time, people spoke his name in hushed tones, the walls had ears and there was the threat that Karki would slap his ‘tera-pane’ (the 13-page asset declaration form) that was used to persecute opponents. Om Aryal’s case for Karki’s impeachment had been dismissed by the court and while Aryal stood fearless in filing an appeal, there was a palpable feeling of dread. Other efforts, like Suman Shrestha’s appeal under the Right to Information Act to release property details of the CIAA chief went some way in garnering media attention and breaking the culture of silence on Karki’s regime.

But matters only came to head after May. While Kanak Mani Dixit’s arrest energised sections of civil society to overcome its fear, a welcome change of guard at the Supreme Court propelled Chief Justice Sushila Karki as the most integral protagonist in this saga.

Then Govinda KC began his eighth fast unto death demanding Karki’s impeachment. The street movement around the crusading physician increased pressure on Parliament and politicians to act. An alliance coalesced around KC’s demands bringing together activists like Jiwan Chhetri, Jagannath Lamichhane, members of Bibeksheel Nepali party and medical students at TUTH.

The role of investigative journalists Krishna Gyawali, Deepak Dahal, Shiva Gaunle and Hari Bahadur Thapa were central to exposing malpractices of the CIAA chief, providing fodder for daily headlines. For a couple of weeks, the media, courts and the street supported each other to highlight the CIAA’s excesses. But one by one, the media was silenced into submission through pressure on publishers. Setopati and other digital portals stood their ground at great risk to themselves.

But it was the search for three members of parliament to register an impeachment motion that exposed the real character of Nepal’s political class. It was difficult to find even three MPs out of 595 to take a stand against Karki and challenge their party whips. Like everything else in Nepal, a ‘consensus’ among party honchos was necessary. Despite our door-to-door lobbying with 300 MPs over a two month period, it was futile. When 200 MPs confirmed they would attend interactions to brainstorm about impeachment, only 15 would show up.

Dhan Raj Gurung of the Nepali Congress agreed to sign on and but wanted to take the motion forward himself, and a couple of days later he stopped taking our calls. When we showed up in front of his house one morning with the necessary paperwork, he made us wait outside for hours and then slipped away to Sri Lanka. Not only did he not sign, he even called another MP already on board to dissuade him.

Ram Hari Khatiwada of the NC promised to meet us on three occasions, but left us waiting in the rain for hours and stood us up many times. In contrast, the young Maoist leader Aman Lal Modi was a refreshing straight-forward change. He made it clear he was committed to the cause and tried hard to win the consent of his party Chairman, but he could not go against his orders. In the end there were only Shyam Shrestha and Surendra Chaudhary out of 595 MPs willing to sign up.

We were still frantically searching for a third person when on Wednesday morning we got orders to deliver our collection of evidence against Lokman Singh Karki to the high and mighty. Hours later, an impeachment committee was formed in parliament and soon after, that motion was passed with 157 lawmakers.

The MPs were finally on board, but till press time on Thursday the Nepali Congress had still not come agreed. Knowing the character of our politicians, we cannot rejoice until the job is fully done. The 157 who did sign did not act to defend the public interest or democracy, but were simply obeying the orders of their masters. And the party leadership appears to have acted only because Karki was plotting to take them to the courts, and they got wind of it.

The people will not be fooled into thinking this impeachment, when and if it is successful, is the doing of our politicians. If it works, it will actually represent the triumph of the public interest over party interest to tackle head on a serious threat to our hard won freedoms.

Read Also:

Who is afraid of the CIAA?, From the Nepali Press

Fear and loathing, Bidushi Dhungel

Not silenced, Editorial

A parallel government, From the Nepali Press

Kathmandu witch trials, Bidushi Dhungel

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