The Bhattarai government has badly missed the plot in Dailekh. By directly intervening in investigations into the murder of journalist Dekendra Thapa, it has sent a troubling message: if need be, the state will not desist from subverting the rule of law. By trying to protect even those who have confessed to Thapa’s murder in cold blood, the Maoist-led government has shown a clear criminal intent. The ruling party’s approach to the case is getting more and more troubling by the day.
First, it ordered the authorities in Dailekh to refrain from investigating Thapa’s murder case. Now, Dailekh CDO and DSP have been transferred for not acting tough against those protesting undue state intervention. Then, in a blatant attempt to silence the media, the Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League (YCL) cadres on Wednesday threatened Dailekh-based journalists with their lives: apparently, if the journalists didn’t keep quiet, they would meet the same fate that Thapa did eight years ago. All these incidents go to show that UCPN (Maoist) has little regard for the law of the land, and will flout it with impunity, as and when it sees fit; and if anyone questions its actions, the critics will be summarily silenced.
Thankfully, although the democracy in Nepal has its flaws, it is still resilient. In the post 2006 set up, no single force, however strong, is in a position to silence dissent and to impose its will, certainly not on the vibrant Nepali press. Despite repeated attempts to muzzle it, Nepali press is getting stronger by the day, fortifying its own defenses in the face of the state’s repeated failure to safeguard its interests. The proactive role played by the judiciary and Dailekh police in Thapa’s case also shows that the government does not have the power to dictate terms completely. Then there is the constant pressure from the international community, most strongly evidenced in the recent arrest of Nepali Army Colonel Kumar Lama in the UK. If the Nepali state fails in its duty to secure the rights of its citizens, the international community will not desist from stepping in to uphold universal human rights norms.
Compliance to rule of law will strengthen Maoists’ claim of being a democratic party.
PM Bhattarai and UCPN (Maoist) have discredited themselves a great deal through their highhanded approach to Thapa’s murder case. They would do well to refrain from further tarnishing self image by letting investigation run its natural course. Rather than make the Maoist party more vulnerable, as seems to be the apprehension among former rebels, such display of willingness to abide by the rule of law will strengthen its claim to being a democratic party that believes in peaceful politics and rule of law. During its two tenures at the head of the government, the party has given the exact opposite message: that it is still happy to operate by the laws of the jungle—in seeking pardon for human rights violators, in delaying justice for conflict-era victims.
The Maoists should understand that instead of aggravating old divisions, proper investigation of past crimes and adequate punishment for perpetrators will go a long way towards healing old wounds and starting the much-needed (but long delayed) process of reconciliation and establishment of durable peace