People protest against Bhutanese refugee scamCivil society members accuse leaders of misusing state funds, authority.
On Wednesday, Hira Timalsena, a 80-year-old man, travelled from Suryabinayak in Bhaktapur to Bhadrakali, Kathmandu, braving midday heat. Timalsena took a public vehicle and got off just in front of the Singha Durbar main gate. Timalsena was there not for any administrative work but for a cause of public concern.
Then he mingled with the motley crowd of civil society members, professionals and other activists who had converged under the old Peepal tree at Bhadrakali. They aimed to pressure the government into carrying out an independent probe into everyone involved in the fake refugee scam.
Timalsena held a placard that read, in essence, ‘Luxury for politicians, misery for the people’. Timalsena told the Post that he didn’t know anyone in the crowd personally and had learned about the protest through social media. “I wanted to join the protest out of outrage against the corrupt activities going on in this country,” he said.
Timalsena added that he has been closely observing Nepali politics since 1950 but had never seen corruption of this scale.
“I felt I needed to raise my voice against these malpractices,” said Timalsena, who is originally from Udayapur and has been living in Kathmandu Valley for the past few years.
Timalsena is one among around 200 people who were present on the first day of protests organised by Brihat Nagarik Aandolan, a group of civil society members and people from various walks of life.
Earlier in the morning, police had arrested former home minister and Nepali congress leader Bal Krishna Khand in connection with the refuse scam. The rage was palpable among the protesters who were holding placards that questioned elected leaders’ intentions and demanded a thorough investigation into the scam.
“The Bhutanese refugee case should be resolved through an independent investigation,” one placard read. The protesters also held placards that recalled major corruption scandals of yore such as misuse of billions of rupees released in the name of Maoist combatants, CCTV footage scandal, security printing scandal, Omni case, Yeti case, and Lalita Niwas land scam, among others. All of these scandals involved influential political leaders.
Until Wednesday, police have arrested 12 people including former minister Khand and his personal aide Narendra KC in connection with the refugee scam. Police have also arrested Tek Narayan Pandey, a former home secretary who had been serving at the Vice President's office, and Indrajit Rai, who served as security adviser to the then home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, for their roles in helping Nepalis forge documents to migrate to the United States as Bhutanese refugees.
Addressing the audience in the sit-in protest, Kedar Bhakta Mathema, a former vice-chancellor of Tribhuvan University, explained how the Nepali society is mired in corruption.
“For some people, corruption is a life saver, just like water is for the fish,” Mathema said, adding that the ongoing protest was just a beginning and in due time, the whole of Kathmandu would be rallying against corruption.
Commending the move taken by incumbent Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Mathema said the spate of arrests should continue. “This government has entered into a tunnel and it should get to its end,” he said.
While Mathema spoke, participants started to share the report that the CPN-UML suspended its secretary Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, who has been on the run since May 4 after the Kathmandu District Court issued a warrant against him and his son. Police have already nabbed his son, Sandeep.
Addressing the gathering, Dr Govinda KC, a physician and activist advocating reforms in the medical education sector, accused the top leaders of three parties—Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli—of being complicit in abuses of authority.
“They should have been punished for their past wrongdoings, but the public have awarded them with high positions,” KC said.
Meanwhile, Sanjeev Uprety, an author and civil society activist, urged everyone to join the protest to make the government and politicians accountable. “We should join this protest if we want to become nagariks [sovereign citizens] and not the raiti [subjects of a fiefdom],” Uprety said.
The event saw speeches punctuated by poetry recitals wherein poets called out the ‘corrupt politicians’ who continue to trick ‘gullible citizens’. They said the scam revealed the injustice against the real refugees who are compelled to live tough lives.
“People do not have food to eat, and the inflation has become a nightmare for them,” said noted poet and singer Anjan Babu, who also sang a parody song. “But politicians in power are living lives of luxury.”
Meanwhile, Timalsena, who took part in the protest for nearly two hours, said the agitation should go on and everyone should join it.
“The problem of unemployment is rife and life has become really hard for common citizens,” he said. “But these corrupt leaders are living in luxury. They deserve to be boycotted by the public.”
Timalsena added that he wants to see the country transformed before he dies. “That’s why I am a part of this protest,” he said. “This protest should spread far and wide.”