The on-again, off-again saga of the rape allegation against the Speaker of Nepal’s Parliament took on a new twist after the victim lodged a formal complaint with the Police on Friday, a move that could have far-reaching political consequences.
The complaint at Baneswor Police Station now paves the way for Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara to be formally arrested for the alleged rape on the night of 29 September in the rented room of a member of the Parliament staff with whom he is said to have close relations.
That night 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. 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.
He did tender his resignation, but said it was ‘until the investigation is complete’, and he also did not resign from his parliamentary seat. Although the Police inspected the room and collected evidence last Sunday, it did not ask the victim to carry out a medical test with fluid samples to confirm rape. Police did not arrest Mahara saying no formal complaint had been filed, and did not provide the victim with any security.
However, the next day, the alleged victim withdrew her accusation, contradicting her earlier statement saying Mahara never came to her room. Her posts on Facebook accused the opposition of trying to smear ‘Mahara Sir’. There was widespread speculation that the 40-year-old victim had either been threatened or paid to withdraw the complaint.
But in a dramatic about turn on Friday, she filed a formal complaint -– six days after the alleged incident. The ball is now in the Police’s court, and ultimately it will be a test of the political leadership of the NCP if it will allow Mahara to be taken into custody and allow the Police to take the investigation forward without interference.
With Dasain having started, there could be excuses for delays, but legal experts say that holidays should not stop Police from taking Mahara into custody. 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 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.