The fake Bhutanese refugees scam has come as a test case for us.
Will Nepali society and politics pass this test and move forward or fail and be pushed further into despondency and restlessness?
The way this scam will be concluded will either raise the trust of people in the Nepali state and politics, albeit a little, or erode it further.
As tricky as this issue is, the time is trickier. Nepal currently is like a petrol tanker carrying ‘highly flammable materials’. Let’s not commit the mistake of shoving a flame on that, and understand the flammability of time.
Let no one display temerity in the fake Bhutanese refugees scam. That does not mean supporting the anarchist act of parading everyone naked on the streets. That also does not mean putting one’s trust in the street anarchy of ruling someone guilty merely due to accusation by someone.
The main mantra for ending this scam is the clichéd ‘no guilty be spared, no innocent punished!’
Nepal Police Inspector General (IGP) Basanta Kunwar needs to be investigated as per the spirit of this mantra. He will be acquitted if innocent, and punished if guilty.
He is seen to be obstructing investigation on the fake Bhutanese refugees scam for a long time as per our analysis. The role he has played in the scam until now says so. We feel he has committed three unpardonable mistakes until now.
The first, a complaint on behalf of 81 victims was registered when he was chief of the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office. They had claimed that the racket had collected Rs 130 million from them. They had submitted evidence of transferring money multiple times through the banking system. Members of the racket were arrested but were immediately released upon political pressure.
The second, contact of Kunwar with the members of the racket who were released after arrest is seen to have been established within a few days through the then home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey. So much so, that a member of the racket has even guaranteed financial support for him through Pandey.
The third, a member of the racket in his first statement after arrest accused former home minister and Nepali Congress (NC) leader Bal Krishna Khand of taking Rs 12.50 million from the racket. Recording of statement was stopped for 10 days after that. Khand sent an emissary to strike a deal with the racket members in police custody in those 10 days, and returned the bribe. Nobody took the name of Khand in the statements recorded duly after that.
Who got this unpardonable crime committed? IGP Kunwar or chief of Kathmandu Police SSP Dan Bahadur Karki or chief of the Kathmandu Valley Police Office (Metro) AIG Shyam Gyawali? If it was committed by officers under Kunwar’s command, he should hold them accountable or be ready to answer himself.
IGP Kunwar needs to be investigated on these three issues and must face the questions raised. Setopati has sought appointment with IGP Kunwar for interview to ask these questions. He has not provided time until now. He is trying to evade these questions, but he cannot.
The questions will walk into the Singha Durbar if IGP Kunwar does not answer these questions, and will stop only after reaching the Home Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office because the buck always stops with the prime minister (PM) in a parliamentary democracy.
Dear PM, dear home minister—did you stop the recording of statement for 10 days under pressure from coalition partners or for your own interest? Did the police make a mockery of the investigation process to save Khand on your instruction? If not, why have you not held IGP Kunwar accountable for that? Do you endorse the past maneuverings by IGP Kunwar to cover up the scam? Or do you believe that whatever IGP Kunwar has done in this scam until now was right? If yes, do defend him publicly, face all these questions and provide answers.
IGP Kunwar may remain silent now. He can remain silent as long as you protect him. But you don’t have the choice of remaining silent. Either defend him or suspend him and initiate investigation.
Investigation on IGP Kunwar now is important for both immediate and long-term reasons.
The immediate importance is due to the fact that investigation into the scam is yet to be completed. More complaints will be lodged, and are arriving. The curtain will be pulled back further in the scam, and more investigation will be necessary. IGP Kunwar will obstruct investigation as long as he remains at the Nepal Police Headquarters.
The role of police will be important not just in additional investigation, but also for creating an environment for impartial conclusion of the case being taken to the court now.
Several people are absconding even now. It is necessary to arrest them and produce them in court. Many witnesses who had testified to the police are absconding; they should also be produced. For example, racket member Sanu Bhandari’s elder brother Raju Bhandari has testified to the police that he had received Rs 3 million of the bribe that was returned. He will be a strong witness in court tomorrow. But he is currently out of contact.
Therefore Nepal Police needs a leadership that will move this investigation ahead in a strong and fair manner.
Its long-term significance is even greater.
Looking from a different perspective, IGP Kunwar’s guilt is less as he is only a product of this decadent system. Maybe he is indeed a good man. He could have been an amazing professional IGP.
But the corrupt and useless system that we have institutionalized in the name of democracy doesn’t want a professional IGP at all. Those in power want a servile IGP, an IGP who would obey their legitimate and illegitimate orders and who would be willing to cover up their sins and misdeeds when necessary.
Does Kunwar need to forsake his professional integrity and shield Congress leaders at any cost just because Bal Krishna Khand made him the top-ranked DIG and Congress made him IGP through its efforts?
In this sense, this useless system institutionalized by the political parties is more guilty than IGP Kunwar.
There is an outward appearance of democracy, but in essence this is such a system of bad governance that wants to install its own people in all key bodies of the state and expects them to play the role of servants. All key organs of the state – police, CIAA, court, Election Commission – have fallen prey to this bad governance.
Political parties and their present top leaders have a key role in institutionalizing and exploiting this system of bad governance in the guise of democracy.
This is what has been holding the Nepali society back now and raising people’s discontent to boiling point. And that is the thing that needs to be changed.
Leaders repeatedly say that things cannot continue as in the past, that they must correct and transform themselves.
It is now time to show whether they are merely speaking or will also change. It is time to become accountable and establish accountability in the main organs of the state.
It is time for departure from the practice of installing one’s men in the main organs of the state and using them as servants to cover up one’s mistakes.
Will you restrain the people, albeit a little, by embracing the different path of accountability from this episode, and instill some hope that things will change, or make them take to the streets with no hope of change?