Kathmandu: On April 29, the government of Gandaki Province led by ruling CPN-UML, appointed Rajiv Gurung, known by his criminal alias Deepak Manange, the minister of Youth and Sports. The photo of his swearing in—where Manange stands legs apart in a stand at ease position, without mask, while the officials who administer oath of office on him are seen standing at attention position, with masks—went viral on social media. It was as if the officials were intimidated by the presence of the man in the room.
In another photo that went viral, police personnel is seen saluting the newly sworn-in minister. When these photos went viral on social media, they became the subject of outrage. People decried his appointment on Facebook and Twitter.
Manange, a notorious criminal arrested a number of times—even a red corner notice was issued against him—in charge of various criminal cases including murder attempt has long enjoyed political protection. So he never had to face long jail terms, he would be released soon after the arrest.
He had tried to obtain an election ticket from UML for 2017 general elections. When the party refused to give him the ticket, because of public criticism, he decided to contest first-past-the-post election from Manang ‘B’ as an independent candidate. UML helped him by having its candidate Khanda Lama Gurung withdraw her nomination.
Manange won the election, principally as an independent candidate but with backing and support from UML.
Crime and politics
Deepak Manange’s rise to the post of minister is only one case of candidates with criminal backgrounds being protected and promoted by the political parties. There are many incidents of leaders facing criminal charges rising to powerful posts. The political parties they belong to always defend them.
In January 2020, Agni Prasad Sapkota was elected the Speaker of the House of Representatives, despite huge public objection. Sapkota faces a kidnapping and murder charge according to a case filed at the Supreme Court on March 3, 2008. None of the political parties ever cared to challenge his appointment.
Thursday’s incident in Gandaki province reflects that the leadership can go to any extent to gain and stay in power, no matter if it is illegitimate and immoral
Instead, top leaders openly defend their leaders or cadres facing criminal charges, even the convicts. On March 3, 2021, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba said he had been making efforts to free Mohammad Aftab Alam, who is facing jail terms on a charge of killing over a dozen people.
Anyone affiliated with a political organization is likely to get away or secure an early release from prison even if they are arrested on charge of serious crimes. In an apparent bid to secure the support of Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal, the federal government on April 28 withdrew cases of 120 people accused of violent activities during the Madhesh Movement.
The rampant crime-politics and politics-crime nexus is the root cause of criminalization of politics and politicization of crime in Nepal.
Mockery of republic
Experts and observers term Manange’s appointment as a sports minister a fresh reiteration of how hooliganism and crime are dominant in politics. Dhanaraj Gurung, prominent Nepali Congress leader and a vocal critic, said the way Deepak Manange was made the minister in Gandaki has proved that Donbaad (muscle power) and Dhanabaad (money) have been dominant in Nepali politics. “Gundatantra (the rule by goons) is dominant over Ganatantra, (republic)” he said.
Dhanaraj Gurung said this has generated frustration among Nepali people toward the entire parliamentary system.
Dr Bhimarjun Acharya, a constitutional expert and political analyst, said the incident of Gandaki province depicts how the whole political culture is being immoral and unsocial. “Thursday’s incident in Gandaki province reflects that the leadership can go to any extent to gain and stay in power, no matter if it is illegitimate and immoral,” he added. Acharya termed the incident an insensitive and shameful move taken during the times of pandemic when people are struggling for life.
“Selfish interest is dominant in the leadership and the government is insensitive to the public,” he said, adding that such a step won’t help the future of the political system in Nepal. “The act of breaking the public trust as happened in Gandaki province impacts the whole political system,” he said.
Congress leader Dhanaraj Gurung argues that such conducts by the political parties pose a threat to the republic. The government is polluting the republic and if it continues to do so, we might soon lose all our achievements, Gurung said.