Police on Sunday evening arrested Krishna Bahadur Mahara who resigned as Speaker of Nepal’s Parliament last week for allegedly raping a female staff member.
Police arrived at the Speaker’s official residence in several pickup vans and took him into custody to investigate the case. The arrest has also effectively removed Mahara from his position as Member of Parliament for the ruling Nepal Communist Party from Rolpa district.
Mahara reportedly refused to ride in the police van, and a private car entered his official residence to take him away. He is being detained at the Singha Durbar police station.
The Parliament staffer had called police from her residence, saying she had been raped by Mahara on 29 September. Although Police arrived at the room almost immediately and inspected the premises, they said they could not start an investigation unless a formal complaint was filed.
On Tuesday, the woman retracted her earlier statement, saying Mahara had never come to her room, raising suspicions that she was either being offered money for her silence or being threatened.
However, the victim changed her mind again and filed an official complaint at the Baneswor Police Station on Friday night. On Saturday, the Court acted on it, ordering Police to arrest Mahara and begin an investigation.
The on-again, off-again saga of the rape allegation against the Speaker of Nepal’s Parliament lasted a week, and the arrest on Sunday showed that the ruling party was under tremendous public opinion pressure to abide by the rule of law. It probably expects the arrest to defuse the situation, and allay growing criticism of the state of impunity in Nepal.
On 29 September, the victim called Police, senior female member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) as well as reporters saying she had been roughed up and raped by Mahara who had come to her room with a bottle of whiskey.
After the news broke, Prime Minister K P Oli and NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal met hurriedly and advised Mahara to resign from his post as Speaker. Mahara did tender his resignation, but said it was ‘until the investigation is complete’, and he also did not resign from his parliamentary seat.
Police had collected the whiskey bottle glasses as well as Mahara’s spectacles which had broken during the scuffle. However, Police did not arrest Mahara saying no formal complaint had been filed, and did not provide the victim with any security.
By Friday, however, the woman was taken for a medical test and she was given two police bodyguards to prevent her from being harmed.
The Mahara case has been seen as a litmus test of the political leadership of the NCP, at a time when the party has been under fire for non-performance, corruption and impunity.
If convicted, Mahara can face up to ten years in jail. According to Nepal’s criminal law, rape of someone above 18 carries a jail sentence of 7-10 years for the perpetrator, and the sentence is half that if it is attempted rape.
Mahara, 61, has been a committed communist and in politics for the past four decades, starting out as a member of the radical Mashal group and was elected to Parliament from Rolpa at age 32. When a faction of the Communist Party launched an armed struggle, he joined Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai as a senior leader.
Known for being close to Dahal, Mahara was dragged into controversy in 2009 after a recording of a phone call he made with a Chinese contact asking for Rs500 million to buy MPs. No investigation was launched, and Mahara was never punished.
He played an important role in peace talks to end the war, and served as Finance Minister and Home Minister in successive Maoist-led governments after 2008. As Communication Minister he was once more tied to a scam related to telecom contracts, and even Maoist cadre accused him of siphoning off money meant for ex-guerrillas in Maoist cantonments. Again, there was no probe, and it was well established that he had Dahal’s protection.
This time, it looks like Dahal and other comrades cannot save Mahara. Public outrage was already growing over non-performance and corruption in the NCP government. The government has been ridiculed in social media for not being able to resolve the rape-murder of Nirmala Panta two years ago.
For many the Mahara rape allegation is emblematic of the impunity enjoyed by senior politicians in Nepal. The NCP may have no choice this time, but to cut and cut cleanly.