Keshav Sthapit’s candidacy for Kathmandu mayor sparks furoreSthapit has been accused of sexual harassment by at least two women.
The CPN-UML has decided to field Keshav Sthapit for mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC).
Sthapit comes with years of experience. He has held Kathmandu mayoral position twice in the past. But this time, Sthapit’s candidacy has sparked furore, with some questioning the UML’s decision to field him for the coveted post. He has been accused of sexually harassing women twice.
At least two female working professionals have shared their accounts of sexual harassment at the hands of Sthapit in the wake of the #MeToo movement in Nepal.
In 2018, Rashmila Prajapati, a former employee at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City office, and Ujjwala Maharjan, a former correspondent with Republica English daily, shared the harassment they faced in 2000 and 2012, respectively.
Prajapati and Maharjan had taken to social media platforms to share their stories of harassment by Sthapit. In multiple interviews with the Post in October 2018, Prajapati and Maharjan described in detail the advances made by Sthapit.
Sthapit, however, denied describing the charges as “a rape of men’s rights.”
Sthapit is a long-time UML member. He had won the Kathmandu mayoral post in 1997 on a UML ticket after losing the previous election to Nabindra Raj Joshi of the Nepali Congress.
Sthapit’s term ended in 2001.
In 2006, then king Gyanendra, who usurped power in a royal-military coup, made a futile attempt to conduct the local elections. He picked Sthapit for Kathmandu mayor. But he was sacked later for his alleged closeness with the Maoist party. The elections conducted by the Gyanendra regime were boycotted by major parties and the election results were later nullified.
The first Constituent Assembly elections in 2008 made the Maoists the largest party. In 2011-12, during the then prime minister Baburam Bhattarai’s tenure, Sthapit led the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority. He played an instrumental role in the Bhattarai government’s road-widening drive. During his first stint as mayor, Sthapit had bulldozed concrete structures at Maitighar where currently the mandala is. Sthapit often boasts himself as a visionary and person who believes in “destruction for development.”
Sthapit had wished to fight for Kathmandu mayoral post in 2017 also, but after the UML fielded Bidya Sundar Shakya, he contested for Bagmati Provincial Assembly. He won. He was appointed minister for physical infrastructure of Bagmati.
In 2018, following Maharjan and Prajapati’s accounts, Sthapit was fired by Chief Minister Dormani Paudel “for behaving in an indecent and rude manner while also shirking official responsibilities.”
Now that Sthapit is eying the mayoral post again—he filed the nomination on Monday—questions have arisen over the UML leadership’s decision to field him despite charges of sexual harassment against him.
Sthapit on Monday once again denied the allegations while responding to media queries, and even went on to make some brusque remarks against the survivors.
“Nowadays it doesn’t cost much for these retards to take medicines. This issue is raised sometimes. I have nothing to say,” said Sthapit, “If I don’t get into controversy, I won’t be a Sthapit.”
Sthapit’s running mate is Sunita Dangol, a 29-year-old communications professional and indigenous manuscript campaigner, who initially was planning to contest for the Kathmandu mayoral post as an independent candidate.
Accusers are infuriated at UML’s decision to field Sthapit. On April 23, one of the accusers, Prajapati, took to social media to express her disgust at the UML’s choice.
“The UML couldn’t find anyone eligible for Kathmandu mayor and has fielded a ‘sex offender’. And even a supposed women’s advocate, after receiving assurances of a position, is now backing the offender,” Prajapati wrote in her Facebook post, “Disgusting politics!”
Accusers and rights activists are perplexed at the normalisation of such a serious issue by political parties. While Sthapit supporters have further trivialised the accusations as mere hearsay, Prajapati says, “the accusations don’t come out of thin air.”
The power-driven motives of parties have demonstrated the incompetence of the party and the rampant culture of impunity, according to Prajapati.
“For the UML to field Sthapit, an accused harasser, shows that they have been unable to groom a single capable leader in the past 25 years,” Prajapati told the Post over the phone.
Earlier on April 24, Prajapati clarified her stance on Sthapit’s candidacy.
“I am not anti-UML; the party has lots of good individuals. This is a protest against the candidacy of not just a sexual harasser but also one of the most ‘corrupt’ mayoral candidates,” she wrote on Facebook. “This is a protest against corrupt individuals and corrupt culture.”