Swatantra Party cadres under public scrutinyThey are growing anarchic, intolerant of criticism and are no different than traditional party cadres, say observers.
Rabi Lamichhane and, by extension, Rastriya Swatantra Party’s supporters have been showing little tolerance for criticism and questions being asked of the newly-emerged party and its leader.
Insults and epithets like ‘traitor’, ‘jhole’, ‘patrukar’, ‘brokers’ and the like are routinely traded on social media by the followers against just anyone who expresses any critical comment against Lamichhane and the RSP. Such low-level comments pour in immediately after critical statements.
It is a common practice among the cadres of Nepal’s traditional political parties to severely reprimand those who criticise them or their leaders. And the general public who were already disenchanted with such cadres in general are now further disappointed by the activities of the members and supporters of the newly emerged parties.
In a recent video, two women are seen saying boastfully that even if Rabi beheads people, or engages in crimes, they will still vote for him, as long as he contests the polls.
Another video that has gone viral shows a crowd trying to assault Yubaraj Safal, who had filed a writ petition against the Office of the Attorney General’s decision not to file a case against RSP President Rabi Lamichhane under the Passport Act in the first week of April. Safal had filed a writ petition questioning Lamichhane’s eligibility as a lawmaker.
Passing a verdict on the same petition, the Supreme Court invalidated Lamichhane’s citizenship certificate. The same court order eventually stripped him of his lawmaker and ministerial positions.
In the video, people were seen shouting thok sale lai [thrash the mean guy], and police escorting him out of danger.
In yet another video, an elderly woman and some men are seen torching some copies of Kantipur newspaper, in Chitwan. A crowd is seen clapping, cheering and whistling in the video, in celebration, after the paper’s copies are set alight.
The RSP received huge support from the youths across the country and had landslide victories in some of the major constituencies, especially urban. It won 20 seats to become the fourth-largest political force in the federal parliament, cashing in on the public's frustration against the traditional political forces’ poor delivery.
However, many have now started raising questions against the RSP and their leaders' conduct. And the common theme of these is: "Shouldn't the supporters and cadres of a political party that entered the scene vowing to clean up the mess created by the traditional forces and to enrich democracy be tolerant of the criticisms and questions—the key fundamentals of democracy?"
Observers say the activities of Lamichhane's supporters are attacking democracy, calling their behaviour anarchic.
Tara Nath Dahal, executive chairman of Freedom Forum, an organisation that advocates free speech and right to information, said the freedom of expression allows an individual to express discontent, criticism and disagreement, but these should not incite and encourage violence. “All these recent activities are an indication of a lack of democratic culture. Tolerance and respect towards differing opinions are crucial to democracy. Those engaged in such activities lack both,” he added.
Dahal believes that the new parties should have been more democratic and rational as people have high hopes from them. “To ensure such characteristics in the party organisation, the leadership must put in efforts to discourage cadres from such activities. Otherwise, the leadership is going to face a moral question.”
With regard to the intolerance of RSP supporters towards criticisms and questions, a political analyst Chandra Dev Bhatta said neither will this improve the political system nor will our societies head in the right direction. “Revenge politics have been dominating, of late. Such responses in social media is a hindrance in developing a better political system and is not healthy for democracy. Remarks such as Rabi should win, even if he does a crime, indicates a lack in judgemental capacity,” Bhatta added.
The RSP and its leaders, including its chair and parliamentarians, have been courting controversies, one after another, within a year of the party's formation.
A couple of months after the November polls, the party chief Lamichhane lost his lawmaker status while the party sacked its House member Dhaka Kumar Shrestha not only as a parliamentarian but also from positions he held within the party.
On January 28, the Supreme Court annulled the lawmaker status of party chair Rabi Lamichhane, saying the citizenship certificate he had submitted to contest the major polls was invalid.
And then, just a few days ago, the RSP expelled its lawmaker Shrestha over a bribery charge. The party took the decision after a leaked audio in which a voice, allegedly Shrestha’s, demands Rs20 million from another person, the controversial medical manager Durga Prasai, so that Shrestha can become health minister in the federal government.
Though the RSP decided to immediately sack Shrestha and replace him with another party member Bindabasini Kansakar, Parliament is yet to endorse the party’s decision to sack Shrestha.
Furthermore, Lamichhane, when he was the home minister, had called for a tender with a seven-day deadline, in violation of the existing procurement laws. Surprisingly, only one company submitted a bid and the ministry awarded the contract to the same. A Cabinet meeting on Tuesday scrapped the tender, concluding that the process didn’t follow the procurement process properly.
Some party leaders agree that such practices are harmful for not only the party, but also the whole country.
“The first condition of democracy is the right to express differing views and criticisms. We Nepalis had launched many movements in the past for that freedom. The extent to which we can debate in a polite manner and convince the people holding diverse opinions shows our commitment to democracy and social dignity,” an RSP lawmaker Sobita Gautam wrote on Twitter, on Wednesday.
“I request all, especially the supporters of Rastriya Swatantra Party, to engage in the election process without threatening and showing abusive behaviour towards any person, gender or community,” Gautam added.
The party’s press coordinator, Ganesh Karki, said the RSP condemns activities like torching newspapers merely for someone's criticisms, or asking questions to the party leaders.
“Whoever is engaged in such activities does not remain our supporter. We are trying our best to prevent such activities. But our society is in the habit of lavishing praise, blindly. If they praise, they praise too high and stoop too low, if they have to denounce someone. Changing such a mindset in society is our priority. We don’t need such support, if it encourages violent activities,” Karki added.