There have been attempts to foist authoritarianism on the people throughout Nepalâs recent history. But there was dissent even during the iron-fisted rule of the Rana oligarchy, and some were hanged for their trouble. A hush-hush and underground pro-democracy movement was gathering strength even during the Panchayat to erupt in street protests in 1980 and 1990. During the decade-long war for totalitarianism by the extreme left, or the royal-military coup of 2005, civil society fought tooth and nail to protect our freedom. It is the sacrifice of the martyrs, and the fortitude of Nepalâs pro-democracy warriors that we are able to enjoy the open society we have today.
Make that âhadâ. Ever since the pre-meditated appointment of Lok Man Singh Karki as the head of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) in 2013, we have been seeing a gradual erosion of the freedoms guaranteed by our constitution. A creeping counter-revolution is taking the country back to authoritarianism. This time it is not being done with the force of arms, or mass arrests, but by intimidation, threats and the blatant abuse of authority by the very institution created to curb such abuse.
In the three years since his appointment, Karki has made the CIAA an extra-constitutional source of political power that works hand-in-glove with business syndicates, political cartels and at the behest of outside powers and their agencies. The ultimate aim here seems to be to derail a democratically produced constitution and abrogate its implementation. Some donât like the secular provision and want Nepal to remain a Hindu state, others would like to see the monarchy back, there are those who think federalism doesnât go far enough and some who think itâs a bad idea. Rival forces in New Delhi have got embroiled in this power struggle, and are competing in Kathmandu through their proxies.
Kanak Mani Dixit is just the latest pawn in a game in which Karki sits at the chess board but there are larger geopolitical sources moving the pieces for him. By now, just about everyone who had run afoul of Karki in the past as the Royal Law and Order Enforcer, or those who opposed Indiaâs five-month blockade of Nepal, have been issued CIAA summons or been hauled over the coals.
On the pretext of investigating corruption, the CIAA has systematically targeted bureaucrats, police, politicians, professors, journalists, lawyers, civil society activists and pluralism campaigners. The intimidation and threats have instilled a culture of silence that is destroying our democracy and rule of law. And the latest proof of that is the inability or reluctance of the Kathmandu polity to speak out openly against the CIAAâs unlawful detentions.
Few spoke out when the CIAA violated Article 20 of the constitution by not allowing lawyers to see Dixit for a full 72 hours after his detention on 22 April. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists opted to stay quiet even when its global umbrella body, the International Federation of Journalists, spoke out against this attempt to silence a journalist. The Nepal Bar Association, which has always been at the forefront of the struggle for democracy in this country,Â has kept silent about Dixit, who himself is a member of the Kathmandu Bar.
To be sure, Nepalâs politicians, civil servants, legislators, and even heads of sports bodies are rotten to the core. The CIAA was set up precisely because various pillars of the state could be co-opted by organised criminals enjoying political protection. But today that very institution has been infiltrated by a persona epitomising the collective scourges his office is supposed to investigate. What do you do when an agency set up to stem the rot is itself rotten? Or when politicians whose closets rattle with skeletons keep mum? To counter abuse of authority by a constitutional body we canÂ only fall back on two other constitutional bodies: the judiciary and parliament. The danger is that these institutions themselves will be the next to be silenced by the conspirators.
Those who remain silent when they come for freedom fighters may like to remind themselves of this famous message: there may be no one left to speak out when they come for you.