Congress shrugs off calls to suspend KhandGeneral secretaries Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma are in favour of immediate suspension while the majority of office-bearers wants to wait until a final court verdict.
Amid calls from various quarters to suspend former home minister Bal Krishna Khand who is currently in police custody, the Nepali Congress refused to take any immediate action against him. Khand is a central working committee member of the party.
While the party establishment is not in favour of removing Khand from his party role, general secretaries Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma have called for his immediate suspension.
Police on Wednesday arrested Khand in connection with the fake Bhutanese refugee scam. A number of politicians and top bureaucrats allegedly received huge sums of money in bribes from racketeers, in return for the help in forging documents of hundreds of people who would be sent to the United States in the guise of Bhutanese refugees. Khand has been a longtime supporter of Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba.
In order to discuss the arrest of Khand and other issues of the day, the Congress held a meeting of its sitting and former office-bearers on Thursday. Khand’s arrest figured in the meeting but no concrete decision was taken, said Jeevan Pariyar, a joint general secretary of the party. Several former and sitting office bearers including the general secretary duo are in favour of suspending Khand.
The issue was hotly debated between the members of the Deuba camp and those of the rival faction led by Thapa and Shekhar Koirala. However, as Deuba commands a majority in the party, the voices of Thapa and Sharma could not carry the day, a former Congress office-bearer told the Post. Thapa even asked Deuba to issue a statement on the fake refugee scam as more Congress leaders are rumoured to have helped in forging of the refugee documents.
Saying that CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli could raise the issue in Parliament, Thapa suggested to Deuba that Congress members should be made clear on the issue. (UML suspended Top Bahadur Rayamajhi in connection with the scam.) Thapa demanded a meeting of the party’s central working committee to discuss the issue in detail. But Deuba did not commit to calling the meeting, the former office-bearer said.
After Deuba’s brief remarks, party Vice-president and Deputy Prime Minister Purna Bahadur Khadka briefed the Thursday meeting on Khand’s arrest. After Deuba loyalists firmly supported Khand in the meeting, the party president refused to call meetings of the central working committee or the central work execution committee.
The Congress charter does not recognise decisions of sitting and former office-bearers, a leader present at the meeting told the Post. To suspend a central member, such a decision should be made either at the central working committee or central work execution committee.
Mahendra Yadav, another joint general secretary of the party, said there is no need to suspend Khand as one, there is no such practice in the Congress and two, Khand has been helping police investigations.
Some leaders brought up the cases of CPN-UML and Rastriya Swatantra Party who suspended their leaders—Rayamajhi and Dhaka Kumar Shrestha—from their respective posts after they were dragged in corruption cases. Rayamajhi faces charges similar to Khand in connection with the refugee scam but has been absconding. The UML removed him as the party secretary on Wednesday until the time his charges are cleared.
The RSP suspended Shrestha as lawmaker after a tape surfaced where he is heard asking for Rs20 million from hospital operator Durga Prasai so he could bribe senior politicians to become the health minister. After the leak, the RSP removed Shrestha and recommended his replacement.
But the Congress is in a fix. The meeting also ruled out another party discussion on Khand’s case even as the fake refugee scam has rattled Nepal’s entire political spectrum.
The meeting was divided over whether Khand should be suspended with some members suggesting that a decision be withheld until the court rules on his case.
“Only when the court issues a verdict can we establish his guilt,” said Pariyar. “There should be fair trials in the fake refugee scam and no culprit should be left off the hook but no innocent person should be snared either.”
Whether Khand should be suspended will be discussed and decided on the day the central committee meeting is held, Pariyar added.