Anti-corruption drive rattles political parties
Former prime minister and CPN (Unified Socialist) leader Madhav Kumar Nepal cut short his Europe visit to return home after the Supreme Court ordered the authorities to investigate all individuals whose names have been associated in the Lalita Niwas land grab case.
Upon arrival, Nepal told the media that he decided to return to quell the rumor that he fled the country to avoid investigation. He also claimed that he had not taken any bribe when his Cabinet took some decisions concerning the Lalita Niwas property, and that he was willing to help with the investigation.
The SC order has opened the way for the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police to investigate the alleged roles of Nepal and another former prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, in the land misappropriation case. Publicly, top leaders including Nepal have expressed their support to the ongoing investigation. But as more and more politicians are coming under the investigation, top leaders of major political parties are reportedly trying to sabotage the probe.
Soon after returning home, Unified Socialist leader Nepal was involved in a series of meetings with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba. In these meetings, Nepal reportedly expressed objection over the SC ruling to investigate the former prime ministers and high level government officials.
Nepal, who believes that the ongoing investigation is ‘politically motivated,’ also held a one-on-one meeting with Deuba. Earlier this week, Deuba also held a meeting with Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, who has so far maintained that the ongoing investigation into corruption cases should not and will not be influenced by any political party.
Likewise, former prime minister Bhattarai has also expressed displeasure over the SC order. A few days back, he said that there should be an investigation into the alleged corruption that took place during the management of the Maoist cantonment after the party entered the peace process. Of course, Bhattarai was referring to Prime Minister Dahal, chairman of the ruling CPN (Maoist Center).
The anti-corruption drive launched by the Dahal-led government has sent shockwaves inside major political parties. As more and more politicians are being dragged into corruption cases, a silent consensus is building among the parties to retard and eventually drop the investigation.
NC President Deuba in particular is under immense pressure from his party members to protect them from CIB investigation. Congress senior leader and former home minister, Bal Krishna Khand, is already under police custody for his alleged role in the fake Bhutanese refugee scandal. CPN-UML leader Top Bahadur Rayamajhi is also under arrest in connection to the same case.
More recently, NC lawmaker Sunil Sharma was also arrested in a case of fake academic certificate distribution. Many NC leaders believe that Prime Minister Dahal has been selectively targeting Congress by opening corruption probes. NC President Deuba, in his recent meeting with Dahal, expressed dissatisfaction over the CIB probe into the fake refugee case and suggested transferring some investigating officers.
The main opposition, UML, has also accused the Dahal government of selectively opening old corruption files to its leaders. A few days back, UML Chairman KP Oli said that Prime Minister Dahal was adopting a ‘Pakistani model’ of arresting opposition leaders on trumped-up corruption charges.
The ongoing probe into corruption scandals is also gradually creating distance among the ruling coalition partners. The Unified Socialist has already expressed dissatisfaction and is seeking intervention to prevent investigation against its chair Nepal. A rift is also developing between the NC and the Maoists.
Some NC leaders have even suggested that the party leadership should reconsider its participation in the government, if Dahal continues to target Congress leaders. The NC currently holds nine ministries in the coalition government. However, there is a growing belief among NC leaders and members that the party's influence within the government is waning. Some leaders say that the party should consider forming a new government by aligning with the UML.
Another coalition partner, the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), has also expressed discontent with the government following the decision to initiate investigations into the 2007 Gaur massacre. Though Prime Minister Dahal later assured to halt the investigation, the JSP remains unconvinced.
The anti-corruption scandal took a new turn after a recent ruling by the apex court concerning the Lalita Niwas land grab scandal placed the ruling coalition in a precarious position. In its Aug 7 ruling to probe everyone involved in the Lalita Niwas land grab case, the Supreme Court said that initiating action only against those government officials who executed decisions while sparing the ones who made those decisions would be unjust. The court has ordered the law enforcement agency concerned to investigative the case from the top down. Along with former prime ministers Nepal and Bhattarai, the SC ruling has also paved the way for the CIB to investigate four former ministers and a number of former secretaries.
Meanwhile, the ruling Maoist party itself has found itself in a fix, as its leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara has been dragged into the July 20 gold trafficking case. The main opposition, UML, has demanded for a separate high-level committee to investigate the case. Some leaders within the Nepali Congress have also supported the idea of forming an independent probe panel. But Home Minister Shrestha, from the Maoist party, has said that the CIB itself will look into the case.
Prime Minister Dahal is being criticized for reportedly trying to protect Mahara by refusing to form an independent panel to investigate the gold smuggling case.
KP Sharma Oli: “The government has initiated the politics of revenge. Though the arrest of some individuals is a normal thing, the government is adopting the Pakistani model of politics. If someone speaks against the government, they are arrested on some pretext.”
Baburam Bhattarai: “I am ready to cooperate with the government agencies on Lalita Niwas case. We should form a high-level investigation panel and all corruption-related scandals should be investigated in a fair way. But the government should not use the corruption file as a tool to terrorize political opponents.”
Madhav Kumar Nepal: “There should be a fair and impartial investigation and I am ready to fully cooperate with the government agencies. I am not involved in any bribery so I am not nervous about it.”
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