On 29 September, the victim called Police, senior female member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) as well as reporters saying she had been roughed up and raped by Mahara who had come to her room with a bottle of whiskey.
After the news broke, Prime Minister K P Oli and NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal met hurriedly and advised Mahara to resign from his post as Speaker. Mahara did tender his resignation, but said it was ‘until the investigation is complete’, and he also did not resign from his parliamentary seat.
Police had collected the whiskey bottle glasses as well as Mahara’s spectacles which had broken during the scuffle. However, Police did not arrest Mahara saying no formal complaint had been filed, and did not provide the victim with any security.
By Friday, however, the woman was taken for a medical test and she was given two police bodyguards to prevent her from being harmed.
The Mahara case has been seen as a litmus test of the political leadership of the NCP, at a time when the party has been under fire for non-performance, corruption and impunity.
If convicted, Mahara can face up to ten years in jail. According to Nepal’s criminal law, rape of someone above 18 carries a jail sentence of 7-10 years for the perpetrator, and the sentence is half that if it is attempted rape.
Mahara, 61, has been a committed communist and in politics for the past four decades, starting out as a member of the radical Mashal group and was elected to Parliament from Rolpa at age 32. When a faction of the Communist Party launched an armed struggle, he joined Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai as a senior leader.
Known for being close to Dahal, Mahara was dragged into controversy in 2009 after a recording of a phone call he made with a Chinese contact asking for Rs500 million to buy MPs. No investigation was launched, and Mahara was never punished.
He played an important role in peace talks to end the war, and served as Finance Minister and Home Minister in successive Maoist-led governments after 2008. As Communication Minister he was once more tied to a scam related to telecom contracts, and even Maoist cadre accused him of siphoning off money meant for ex-guerrillas in Maoist cantonments. Again, there was no probe, and it was well established that he had Dahal’s protection.
This time, it looks like Dahal and other comrades cannot save Mahara. Public outrage was already growing over non-performance and corruption in the NCP government. The government has been ridiculed in social media for not being able to resolve the rape-murder of Nirmala Panta two years ago.
For many the Mahara rape allegation is emblematic of the impunity enjoyed by senior politicians in Nepal. The NCP may have no choice this time, but to cut and cut cleanly.