Unearthing of the grisly mass murder in Alam case has Nepalis pointing fingers at a failed systemThe onus to strengthen the system lies on politicians and the people in power, but analysts say recent incidents show how they have used the system in service of their own interests.
Amid a spate of arrests of lawmakers over the past few weeks, one case that has drawn national attention is an explosion and a subsequent mass murder 12 years ago in Rautahat. Mohammad Aftab Alam, a Member of Parliament from the Nepali Congress, is currently in custody, facing charges of orchestrating the explosion and the murder of the survivors.
Ever since Alam’s arrest on October 13 as per a Supreme Court ruling issued in May 2012, new information regarding the blast, the murder and its victims are filtering in. The politician’s detention has also opened the floodgates of claims and counterclaims and lost in this din is one crucial question: why did it take 12 years for authorities to arrest a person accused of such a heinous crime?
Analysts, former police officials and even political leaders say that Alam’s case is emblematic of a much bigger problem—the structural failure and weakening of institutions due to politicisation.
“Alam’s case is a perfect example of the growing criminalisation of politics over the years,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator. “The system appeared to be completely dysfunctional as it failed to investigate such a heinous crime.”
The Rautahat blast took place on April 9, 2008, a day before the first Constituent Assembly elections. Alam had reportedly hired some Nepalis and Indians to build explosives in a hut belonging to one of his relatives. The bomb would be used to “capture booths” during the election. But the explosives suddenly went off, killing some and injuring others. Concerned about whether he would be implicated in the blast, Alam, in an attempt to “destroy evidence”, burned several of the victims alive in a brick kiln. The number of victims have been reported to be from 16 to 23.
Alam is an influential leader in the region. He was elected to the House of Representatives in the November 1994 midterm elections from the Congress party and since won the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008 and became a minister in the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led Cabinet in 2009. He was a five-time minister in different governments.
In the months leading up to the 2008 elections, Nepali Congress leader Krishna Prasad Sitaula, then home minister, had faced much criticism for failing to contain escalating violence in the Tarai. Sitaula on Sunday told Kantipur, the Post’s sister paper, that he did not recall any such incident taking place during his tenure as home minister, expressing surprise at Alam’s arrest 12 years after the incident.
Sher Bahadur Deuba, Sitaula’s boss in the Congress, had earlier this week even described Alam’s arrest as a conspiracy, only to retract that statement following massive criticism and call for a fair investigation.
These statements are emblematic of a failing political culture and a refusal to take responsibility for the heinous acts of party members, political analysts say. But they are also a dashing of the hopes that had been raised regarding rule of law since the restoration of democracy in 1990.
“Instead, an ugly trend of money, muscle and power started,” said Hemraj Bhandari, a central committee member of the Nepal Communist Party. “Over the years, politics became a tool to flex muscle and make money. Many more such incidents would surface if we dig deeper.”
Over the past few weeks, other leaders too have been arrested over different charges. Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a ruling party leader who until a few weeks ago was the House Speaker, is facing rape allegations. Another ruling party leader, Parvat Gurung, is facing criminal charges. He is currently out on bail. The Rastriya Janata Party’s leader Pramod Kumar Sah was arrested for vandalising Janakpur airport but has been released on general date.
“The latest case proves that Nepal’s entire state mechanism works systematically to cover up crimes instead of ensuring justice,” said Maharjan. “The police administration alone cannot mask such a heinous crime without the involvement of politicians, ministers and bureaucrats.”
The political squabble over the appointment of the chief of the Nepal Police is brazen. Party leaders blatantly ignore merit and politick on behalf of “their man” for the top post.
The official then serves the master, not the public, say commentators.
If Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s own admission, in an interview with Kantipur, is anything to go by, the law enforcement agency has largely failed to act in the rape and murder case of 13-year-old Nirmala Pant, despite his orders to conduct a fair probe.
Former police officers too admit that the law enforcement agency has been heavily politicised.
“In a third world country like ours, it’s obvious for politicians to try to influence the police directly or indirectly,” said a former inspector general of police who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But it’s up to officials to deal with the pressure.”
The police’s failure in recent times has often been heavily criticised, such as when it failed to arrest Bal Krishna Dhungel, a Maoist leader who was convicted of murder by the Supreme Court. Even as Dhungel openly travelled across the Capital, attending various high-profile programmes, the police would say that they were “searching” for him.
In Alam’s case, the Supreme Court, in response to a writ petition, had ordered to move the investigation forward by taking the accused into custody. But none of the agencies involved abided by the court order. Alam’s party, the Nepali Congress, instead fielded him from Rautahat’s Constituency 2 in the 2017 elections. He won.
Bhandari, who is also a lawmaker, said that Alam would have been in prison long ago if the state structures had been functioning well.
“The series of events shows how the country is heading towards becoming a failed state, as the institutions have been corroded,” said Bhandari.
According to Maharjan, the onus to strengthen the system lies on politicians and the people in power.
“Mahara’s case is also a good example of how law enforcement officials took their time to act,” said Maharjan. “We saw the ruling party was biding its time. Officials first spoke to the home minister and the prime minister regarding whether to pursue a criminal case.”
Many express astonishment that such a heinous crime was concealed for 12 long years, but others say that it was deliberately covered up.
The National Human Rights Commission said on Sunday that it had consistently followed the case and made several recommendations to successive governments.
“The Supreme Court order of 2012 too had mentioned the investigations carried out by the commission,” said the commission in a statement. Umesh Mainali, who was home secretary at the time of the incident, told Kantipur that he had discussed the case with the human rights body.
But in an interview with Setopati, Om Bikram Rana, who was police chief at the time of the incident, said that he was never briefed on the incident.
All of these instances show that the system has broken down, said Maharjan.
A Nepali Congress central working committee member who did not wish to be named said he was surprised to discover the length a politician could go to ensure victory.
“There is probably no other crime by a politician that has created such terror,” said the leader. “We now know the extent to which politicians can go.”