The rise and fall of Rabi Lamichhane

Nepal’s Home Minister resigns after the Supreme Court rules he is not a Nepali citizen

Supporters of the RSP shout slogans in support of Rabi Lamichhane outside the Supreme Court on Friday evening. Photo: RSS

Rabi Lamichhane and his independent party had a meteoric rise — just five months after he launched the RSP, it became the fourth largest party in Parliament after the 22 November elections.

But on Friday, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that Lamichhane was not a Nepali citizen, which means he has automatically lost his post as Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, his MP seat, as well as the leadership of his party.

The Court’s Constitutional Bench decided that although Lamichhane had given up his American citizenship in 2017, he had not finished the process of reapplying for a Nepali citizenship. He is therefore citizenless.

Lamichhane, who was in his office at the Home Ministry in Singha Darbar when the verdict was reached, told reporters he accepted the Supreme Court decision.

But he gave an enigmatic reaction to reporters' questions about what he would do next: “I am a non-citizen, a nobody. I have no answers.” He then submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

The rise and fall of Rabi Lamichhane puts his RSP party into considerable uncertainty, since he was the popular founder of the party and it was on his coat-tails that many RSP candidates won the elections, securing 20 seats in Parliament.

A weakened RSP will also put the future of the already-shaky 7-party coalition government of Prime Minister Dahal in jeopardy. The coalition is made up of the Maoists and the UML which are the second and third largest parties as well as the RSP, and smaller parties.

But the largest party in Parliament, the Nepali Congress (NC) led by Sher Bahadur Deuba is in the opposition, and has been trying to create a rift within the coalition by exploiting the mistrust between Maoist leader Dahal and the UML’s K P Oli.

It was Oli who had brought Lamichhane and the RSP into the coalition to muster the numbers for Dahal to form the government. But the Prime Minister seems to be having second thoughts about letting the UML decide who becomes the next President.

Lamichane’s exit puts all those deals in doubt. It is not clear if he will appeal the verdict and try to get himself re-elected in a by-election from Chitwan 2.

The former anchor shot to fame with his populist tv show in which he tried to redress government wrongs on behalf of citizens in distress, and converted his popularity with clever use of social media into election victory for himself and his party.

But the question about his citizenship was always lurking in the background, and many commentators found it unethical that he demanded and got to be Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to head the very agency that was investigating his citizenship question.

The RSP will exist even without Lamichhane, as he will still be the force behind the scenes within it, but it will have lost its captain. How the remaining MPs of the RSP, as well as its ministers in the Cabinet, will now conduct themselves in the secret ballot for presidency in the coming weeks remains open.

But that question may be moot if the 7-party coalition itself collapses, and that would happen if the UML decided that it is not getting the presidency to succeed Bidya Devi Bhandari.