Congress objection to anti-graft body’s move may be right, but the means is wrong, analysts sayInstead of raising its voice against systemic problems and corruption in Parliament strongly, the main opposition is resorting to House obstructions.
Ever since the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority filed graft charges against 175 individuals in relation to the Lalita Niwas land grab, the Nepali Congress has been protesting from the streets and Parliament, saying the move to indict its leader Bijay Kumar Gachhadar is biased and guided by political vendetta.
The Congress obstructed the proceedings of the House of Representatives on Sunday as well, the third time since Thursday. Its youth wings have taken to the streets.
The main opposition is griping about the anti-graft body’s decision to exonerate two former prime ministers, whose Cabinets actually took the decisions, and Nepal Communist Party (NCP) General Secretary Bishnu Poudel and his son Nabin Poudel. Similarly, the Congress has also objected to the anti-graft body’s move of not implicating former chief secretary Leela Mani Paudyal, even though it has dragged three government secretaries to the court in the related case.
Political commentators, as well as some Congress leaders themselves, said that while the main opposition’s protest is justified, the way it has been taking up the issue is wrong. Instead of raising the issue of propriety, misconduct and corruption in Parliament, the Congress party is resorting to obstructions, which could send a wrong message, they say.
“The way the Nepali Congress is raising the issue may not send a positive message to the people,” said Shekhar Koirala, a central member. “Why were two former prime ministers exempted? Some have been given the clean chit while others have been indicted on an ad hoc basis. The anti-graft agency’s credibility has come into question. All these issues should be raised together.”
Since its loss in the 2017 elections, the Nepali Congress has been struggling to get back on its feet and internal wrangling has made it even weaker. The party has been facing criticism for failing to play the role of an effective opposition in Parliament.
Political analysts say the Congress party, which also faces censure for institutionalising corruption and being the biggest supporter of the incumbent Oli administration, is squandering an opportunity to salvage its image by blocking the House proceedings to protest Gachhadar’s implication.
“The Nepali Congress should raise its voice from the streets and Parliament against the discriminatory move of the anti-graft agency instead of talking about Gachhadar only,” said Lokraj Baral, a former ambassador to India. “This way the party won’t be able to make its position clear on the issues like corruption and misconduct.”
Even some leaders belonging to the ruling party have expressed dissatisfaction at what they call the anti-graft body’s selective decision.
Prabhu Sah, ruling Nepal Communist Party coordinator for Province 2 and a parliamentarian, has called the anti-graft agency’s decision “ ridiculous”.
“The prime minister holds the executive authority in the prime ministerial system and he or she should be responsible for all good or bad work?” Sah wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “But in the Lalita Niwas land scam, those ministers who forwarded the proposals have been charged while the prime ministers who gave the nod have been given the clean chit. This is ridiculous.”
On Sunday, while the Nepali Congress obstructed House proceedings, its sister wings staged a protest at Maitighar Mandala, accusing the anti-graft body of surrendering to the government and the government of influencing the independent constitutional watchdog.
Political commentators say the Nepali Congress’ protest is misplaced and if it does not mend its ways now, it runs the risk of further losing public support. The party is too concerned with the indictment of one of its leaders and it is failing to see the larger picture, they say. The Congress party met with criticism last year too when it stood in defence of Mohammad Aftab Alam after he was arrested in connection with a blast and the subsequent murder of around a dozen people in Rautahat 12 years ago.
The party's penchant for standing by corruption convicts goes back a long way. Khum Bahadur Khadka is one example. The party had thrown its weight behind him despite his conviction in corruption by the court.
“The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority is a state organ; not an agency under the government. The way the prime minister, ruling party leaders and ministers are rushing to take credit for the commission’s decision shows the commission is acting on their behalf,” said Uddhab Pyakurel, a political science professor.
“But the Congress party seems to have lost the plot. It should be protesting against the bigger problem the government’s influence in the anti-graft body could invite.”
Instead, the party is just clinging on to the indictment of Gachhadar, according to him.
“If the Congress party wants to send a message that it believes in the rule of law, it should let the court decide on Gachhadar’s matter,” said Pyakurel. “The party has a host of issues that it can raise from the streets and Parliament.”