Un-Regal justiceThe pardon of a murder convict hints at how little our political class cares about people’s concerns.
For all of the past two decades, as his attempts to rise to the top of political echelons within the Nepali Congress got crushed by Sher Bahadur Deuba, Ramchandra Paudel whined about not getting his dues. When his plans to launch an offensive against Deuba in the last party general convention failed, he even chose to stay home in a show of timidity in lieu of the courage to take his opponent head-on. But then the lowly equations of arithmetic-based power politics changed in March this year as parties and politicians shifted loyalties overnight—and Paudel secured for himself the position of the third President of federal Nepal. Now was his last chance to change his image from an eternal whiner to a bold defender of Nepal’s constitution. He seems to be failing on this front too.
Paudel gave a hint of it last month when he pardoned Yograj Dhakal, aka Regal, a murder convict, on Constitution Day, in a shameful disobeyance of the ideals of constitutional justice. The President is now claiming that the pardon was a political decision made by the government and that all he had done was to authenticate it. By that logic, even his predecessor Bidya Devi Bhandari had just authenticated the political decision made by the then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to dissolve Parliament. As the guardian of the constitution, the President has the wherewithal to reject the government’s recommendations if it violates the national charter. This was as true in Bhandari’s time as it is today in Paudel’s. To his credit, Paudel did return a separate list of those recommended for Presidential pardon, asking the government to furnish clear reasons for the recommendations. But his office should also have closely scrutinised all recommendations, given the seriousness of the matter. Thankfully, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the defendants in a writ petition, including the Office of the President, to submit a written response within seven days for pardoning the murder convict. May better sense prevail among the judges in the final hearing too.
Paudel is of course not alone in partaking in the indefensible act of pardoning Regal, a criminal facing life sentence for committed cold-blooded murder at a busy crossroads in Nepalgunj in broad daylight. In this case, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the prime minister, also failed to show any agency of his own, perhaps because his rise as the executive head of the State, despite his party’s meagre 32 seats, was made possible by the support of the Nepali Congress, the largest party in Parliament. So he has to follow what the Congress President Deuba dictates. (The Congress president is suspected to have lobbied for the pardon of Regal, a leader of the party’s youth wing. Deuba has been silent on the matter.)
If people had any hope that the established parties that faced existential questions in the last elections would change themselves for the better, they are in for a disappointment. If our current crop of political leadership cannot even be persuaded to part company with hardened criminals, to maintain their own self-image if nothing else, it is hard to believe that they will heed people’s other concerns.