Wearing a plain white polo shirt and a hint of a smile, former House Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara walked out of Norvic Hospital on Tuesday surrounded by security guards and some supporters. He was whisked away to the district government attorney’s office at Babarmahal.
Mahara is accused of attempted rape of a female colleague in Parliament, Roshani Shahi, on 29 September. When the news hit headlines, and the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) reacted with uncharacteristic decisiveness, advising Mahara to resign. For watchdogs who have been criticising the government for impunity, including in war crimes and last year’s highly publicised case of Nirmala Panta, this came as a complete surprise.
Was the government finally buckling under national and international pressure to clean up its track record on impunity? Was Mahara the last straw? Could the party be reacting to sagging public support?
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Senior politicians have been falling like nine pins. This week it was the turn of MP Mohammad Aftab Alam from Rautahat, accused of burning a dozen people alive in a brick kiln after they were injured while making explosives to be used in the first Constituent Assembly elections in 2012. With unprecedented swiftness, police on Tuesday arrested another MP, Pramod Sah from Sarlahi, after he was accused of vandalising an airline counter and roughing up airline staff in Janakpur. There is also an arrest warrant out for Parbat Gurung, MP from Dolakha accused of attempted murder.
Initially, Mahara’s response fit the pattern of powerful men who know they can get away with any crime. His press adviser said he had never gone to Shahi’s apartment, but after CCTV footage emerged of him arriving on the street outside, Mahara agreed to cooperate with the investigation. When his health reportedly worsened in custody, he was taken to an expensive private hospital.
Mahara’s first resignation letter was conditional: he said he was stepping down only for the duration of the investigation, hoping to get right back to his speaker job. In fact, that is still a possibility since he has not resigned as member of parliament.
“An MP is suspended if accused of grave crimes, so Mahara is not receiving any government facilities or salary at the moment,” explains Rojnath Pande, spokesperson of the Parliament secretariat. “However, he is not dismissed from his position. If he is cleared, he can go back to his duties as an MP.”
Read also: Plot thickens in Nepal Speaker rape case, Nepali Times