Mohammad Firdosh Alam is contesting elections on the back of his murder-accused father’s influenceThe Nepali Congress candidate brushes off allegations against his father, says leaders of rival parties have conspired against him.
On Thursday afternoon, residents of Laukaha village in Paroha Municipality, Rautahat were enjoying a feast—sponsored by the Nepali Congress Rautahat-2 candidate Mohammad Firdosh Alam, the son of ex-minister Mohammad Aftab Alam, who is in prison on charges of killings.
Children and the elderly were enjoying a free meal, in addition to the youths who are of more help politically.
A few kilometres south from the free meal site, a house stood quiet—as haunting evidence of a dreadful and heart-wrenching incident that happened 15 years ago.
On April 9, 2008, just a day before polling for the first Constituent Assembly elections, a loud explosion was heard in the house of Sheikh Idrish, a local leader in Farhadawa, Rajpur Municipality.
With an intent to impact the elections, some of Aftab Alam’s cadres, local youths and men reportedly hired from India were busy preparing a bomb at that house. The device went off in the midst of their work.
According to witnesses, some people were killed on the spot. Those injured in the accidental explosion were later burnt alive in the brick kiln nearby with an aim to destroy the evidence. More than 20 people are said to have been massacred thus. Trilok Pratap Singh (Pintu) and Mohammad Oshi Akhtar, both local residents, were among the victims.
Mohammad Aftab Alam, a former lawmaker, is the main accused in the carnage and is currently languishing in judicial custody.
Firdosh Alam, his son, has now filed the candidacy from the Congress party, largely on the back of his father’s political career.
The gate of Alam’s house draws attention. It has a big poster picturing the father-son duo side by side. The poster features a slogan in rhyme that reads Ek Ek Matadan, Chhetrabasi ko Samman, which roughly translates into ‘a vote from everyone in honour of the locals’.
Mohammad Aftab dominates every publicity material used by the junior Alam in the constituency.
For the upcoming federal polls, the Nepali Congress Rautahat district chapter had recommended Mohammad Aftab Alam, who is being investigated in judicial custody in connection with the massacre.
The party gave the election ticket to his son in Rautahat-2, a constituency Aftab had won in 2017.
Firdosh Alam denies the allegations against his father. “Leaders of other parties have conspired against us,” he told the Post. “The KP Oli government sought revenge by arresting him [Aftab Alam].”
Nepali Congress leaders say Firdosh was given the ticket because of his popularity and as per the people's wish.
“His father won the constituency but, more importantly, Firdosh himself has good qualities as a leader and the public also want him,” said Nitesh Kumar Gupta, chief of the publicity department of Nepali Congress Madhesh province. “He is a candidate with high potential of winning the vote. He is young and popular. The public also wants him to be the candidate.”
Proceedings in the case against Aftab Alam and other accused, which is now sub judice in Rautahat District Court, have been delayed and obstructed—much to the pain of the witnesses and the victims' family.
Why didn’t the security personnel reach the scene on time? What actually happened to the victims? Without clear answers, suspicion grows.
Indra Prasad Subedi, a police inspector then, led patrols during the first Constituent Assembly elections. He had testified to the court that he was called back to the District Police Office while heading towards the incident site.
Former APF Sub-inspector Ram Krishna Lama headed the border security office in Rautahat when the incident happened. The Armed Police Force was also mobilised for election security. As soon as he was informed about the explosion, he had telephoned Chief District Officer Durga Prasad Bhandari to talk about it.
Lama had clarified in the legal process that CDO Bhandari said he had already got information from Nepal Police, that APF should remain on standby but not get involved for now, and that Nepal Police would look into the incident first and investigate.
Former CDO Bhandari has accepted that he got the information from SP Laxman Neupane and he had given the direction to investigate the incident. He got busy with the elections the next day and had followed up with Neupane, who had replied that the investigation was ongoing. As the investigation was in progress, Bhandari got promoted to joint secretary position and was posted to another place; so, according to him, he doesn't know about what happened after that.
If the case’s development is anything to go by, something looks shady.
The legal process also has been repeatedly delayed.
Alam turned himself in to the police on June 23, 2008 after a first information report was filed identifying him as the primary suspect. Just less than a month afterward, the Office of the Attorney General decided not to pursue a criminal case against Alam and five others.
After a writ petition was filed by the victims’ families, the Supreme Court ordered for proceeding the case in May 2012. A division bench of justices Sushila Karki and Bharat Bahadur Karki ordered the Rautahat District Police Office to investigate the case.
Ruksana Khatun, mother of Mohammad Oshi Akhtar, was mysteriously killed on 24 January, 2011, leaving the locals and the victim families intimidated.
Alam was arrested on murder charges on October 13, 2019. Later, police also filed a case against him for attempted murder and keeping and transporting explosives.
Following Alam’s arrest, Nepali Congress cadres took to the streets in Rautahat to protest the move; they burned tyres and obstructed the roads.
The district administration deployed security personnel in large numbers to prevent any untoward incident.
In November 2019, the Rautahat District Court decided to remand Alam in judicial custody. After he moved the Janakpur High Court, it upheld the district court’s decision, saying he will be in custody till a verdict is passed in the case.
When the hearing of the case was underway, an audio recording of a conversation between Alam’s supporters and a family member of Oshi Akhtar being tempted to change the statement had created a stir.
Two witnesses went to the court requesting to change their statements as the bail hearing was ongoing in Alam’s case in November 2019. Amana Khatun, wife of Oshi Akhtar, reached the court to change her statement.
Another witness, Gauri Shankar Ram, had also reached the court to change his statement but after being detained for four days, he admitted that he was pressured to agree to change his statement.
Alam is under judicial custody after the Supreme Court on May 6 upheld the decisions of the Rautahat District Court and Janakpur High court.
He had moved to the apex court questioning the order of Rautahat District Court and Janakpur High court to remand him to judicial custody.
Another accused, Mukti Shah, was arrested in June 2020 from his village while Sheikh Sarajul was arrested from Hetauda in July the same year. Likewise, another accused Badri Sahani was set free on a bail of Rs200,000 in October 2020.
There hasn’t been a single hearing in Alam's case so far.
The case was listed for hearing in May this year, but it didn’t really come to that. Six months later, the case is still not on the cause list for hearing.
District Attorney of Rautahat Udaya Chandra Adhikari said there is no obstruction for hearing after the apex court's order. “We need to find out the reasons from the district court on why the hearing has been delayed,” he said.
Registrar at the District Court Sushil Kumar Yadav said the case might be in the process of the implementation of the apex court order. He further said he himself is not entirely clear about what is happening with the case.
“If the process after the previous order includes collecting evidence and other activities, it takes time,” he said.
One of the justices who was involved in the order said the Supreme Court had ordered that the case cannot be stalled and that it must proceed ahead because the then Attorney General had tried to close it under political influence. “There were many evidences of the murder and one of the deceased’s mother had filed the FIR despite many attempts to persuade her otherwise,” said the justice, asking not to be named. “Now it’s up to the court to take the case to a conclusion.”