Politicians’ silence on the Mahara case speaks volumes about their beliefsAnalysts say politicians pay lip service to women’s rights but don’t speak out about cases involving one of their own.
The silence of politicians from across the spectrum in the rape allegations against Krishna Bahadur Mahara has been deafening.
When the allegations against Mahara surfaced in the media, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) called an emergency meeting and decided to ask him to resign as House Speaker and Member of Parliament. Hours later, Mahara announced his resignation as Speaker.
But despite the fact that Mahara occupied a very important post in Parliament, the Nepal Communist Party has not so much as released a public statement. Very few politicians, either from the ruling party, the opposition or parties not in government, have spoken out in the media in their personal capacity, not even to say that an impartial investigation should take place.
When questioned on the silence of the party and its leaders, the party spokesperson simply parried the question, saying the secretariat had already asked Mahara to resign from both his posts.
“He has to resign as a Member of Parliament [as well],” Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the communist party spokesperson, told the Post. Before his election to the post of House Speaker, Mahara was an influential leader of the ruling party.
Gagan Thapa of the Nepali Congress, Baburam Bhattarai of the Samajbadi Party Nepal and Kamal Thapa of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party are among the few leaders who have taken a stand on the case.
Thapa on Tuesday called for a fair investigation, saying that the case should not be swept under the carpet. “If an investigation finds the accuser guilty, she deserves action, but if the accused is found guilty, he must face the music just as any other citizen,” Thapa said at a programme in Butwal on Tuesday morning.
On Thursday, Bhattarai took to Twitter to take a jibe at the former Maoists, asking what happened to their cultural revolution.
“Using his power, a person has illicit relations! Once the relations become public, [he] forces her to make a u-turn by threatening/persuading her and saves himself! Another male/husband expels her from her home for such relations! When will the culture of sacrificing Sita in a Ram-Ravan fight end? Is this women's liberation/cultural revolution comrades?” Bhattarai wrote on Twitter.
Instead of speaking out, the government has attempted to distance itself from Mahara, although not explicitly. Speaking at a programme in Banepa on Thursday, Communications Minister Gokul Baskota remarked that those who make mistakes, not the party, should face the music.
“Can the entire party be blamed if a party member is involved in corruption? The person himself should be punished for his actions,” Baskota said. “If anyone aligned with the party engages in indecent activities that person should take the blame. Why should we [party] even care?”
Analysts say the silence and nonchalance Nepali politicians maintain in cases of violence against women or corruption indicate a decline in political culture. No matter how much politicians from different parties squabble over various issues, they appear to be standing in favour of each other when it comes to cases like financial and moral corruption, say analysts.
Jhalak Subedi, a political commentator who has followed the country’s leftist politics for decades, said that the current silence is a continuation of the patriarchy that is still prevalent among politicians.
“The patriarchal mindset has not gone away,” Subedi told the Post. “It seems leaders are hesitating to speak because they see the accused as one of them.”
All of Nepal’s political parties may have different ideologies, but their end goals, in principle, are almost the same: establishing rule of law, upholding human rights, poverty alleviation, social justice, equality for women, and an end to violence against women. They generally do not miss any opportunity to pontificate on these goals. But they rarely practise what they preach, with many male politicians believing that only women should speak up about issues related to women.
However, the onus lies both on men and women when it comes to taking a stand on issues like violence against women, especially when an influential politician is involved, according to Urmila Aryal, a ruling party leader.
Aryal, known in the party for raising her voice about issues related to women's rights, said she feels intimidated these days.
“I used to speak against wrongdoings, hoping that corrective measures could be taken. But these days, I usually maintain an indifferent position, especially after I was targeted by leaders for speaking out,” said Aryal. “I was shocked when I read the reports about Mahara.”
When a person in power commits even a small mistake, it becomes a thousand times larger than a similar mistake committed by a common person, she said.
“That’s why this case must be investigated in a fair manner,” said Aryal.
The silence of political leaders when it comes to the failings of powerful persons constitutes a serious erosion of political culture. But this is not a new phenomenon, as Nepal’s political class tends to stick to each other, say analysts.
“We have very few leaders with a critical mind and that number too is gradually diminishing,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator.
Earlier, civil society would take to the streets to place pressure on the political parties but now, they too have vanished, said Maharjan.
“A culture of silence risks autocracy,” he told the Post. “Where have the leaders who took to the streets when former prince Paras committed a crime gone?”
Politicians, however, have defended their reluctance to comment on the matter as a result of the victim’s contradictory statements. Since accusing Mahara of rape, the victim has since made a statement to police saying Mahara had done nothing wrong. Many suspect that the statement was made under duress.
“It’s an extraordinary incident and the parties should have spoken out but due to the changing statements of the victim, we could not come up with a stand,” said Keshav Jha, general secretary of the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal.
Regardless of the developments, this incident will remain a matter of shame for the ruling party and they will find it difficult to answer the public's questions, according to Subedi.
“Either the party should pressure Mahara to resign as a lawmaker or take action against him,” he said.
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