By Maila Baje
This is not a defense of former Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara. Nor is it an attempt to divert attention from the despicable crime he has been accused of. It is an effort to see whether there is more to the story than meets the eye.
A man who has maintained a public record of probity and propriety is accused of raping a women employee of the parliament secretariat who is a former foot soldier of the Maoist rebellion. The Nepal Communist Party – almost erasing factional fault-lines – demands Mahara’s scalp.
Mahara drags his feet, but to little avail. He must go – and does. By then, in a bizarre twist, the accuser recants her story, now even portraying the guilty as a guardian. The accuser’s marital life is destroyed while Mahara’s professional one is undoubtedly in tatters. How the case has impacted the ex-speaker’s family is largely a private affair. The legal process has been activated and must take its course, nevertheless.
That’s that, is it? It shouldn’t be. There must be more to the story.
Why the alacrity to do away with Mahara? The allegations around this time nine years ago over the leaked audiotape in which Mahara was heard soliciting money from a Chinese operative to buy legislators ostensibly to form a new government was far more damaging to the country – even treasonous, perhaps. But the Maoists circled the wagon and induced the wider political fraternity to do the same. Mahara went on to assume greater political responsibilities.
Is this time different because of – to borrow the lexicon of the American liberal/left – the seriousness of the allegation? Or is it because the accused the head of the supreme legislature? Or both — and much more?
Maybe a government under fire for its growing anarchic tendencies needed a public relations elixir. Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli and his ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ must know that the questions lingering from the Mahara affair are too stark to let the government claim much credit – even if Mahara turns out to be guilty as accused.
Maybe Mahara’s speakership is the reason, but from another angle. He has long been the public face of the Maoists, having led the first peace talks with the state. Mahara dominated the international media when ‘Prachanda’ was a shadowy creature. Since the Maoists entered mainstream politics, Mahara served in eight of the dozen or so governments.
Soft-spoken and well-informed, he seems to have enjoyed the trust of the Indians, Chinese, Americans and other stakeholders. Sure, his private life – like that of most public figures – was the subject of tawdry talk. Through discretion and deliberation, he remained secure where others stumbled. During party fissures and fusions alike, he studiously avoided rocking the boat. During many raucous sessions of parliament, Mahara could easily have lost his cool. His meticulous yet equally mundane – conduct alienated both sides of the aisle.
Now, let’s suppose that our political order is on the cusp of convulsion – as most of us have been saying. No matter how precipitously the hammer was to fall, there is little doubt that the multiparty system would suffer. Republicanism, secularism and federalism are the issues in contention.
In such a scenario, the speaker would likely retain his role, a la Tara Nath Ranabhat in a different context and era. Did someone rock that boat? Or, put in another way, what if the boat got rocked while Mahara thought he was conducting business as usual after hours? Just asking.