The Supreme Court (SC) has given a historic verdict on the citizenship case of popular television anchor-turned-politician Rabi Lamichhane. The apex court’s constitutional bench on Friday (January 28) issued the verdict, annulling Lamichhane’s position as the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, member of the House of Representatives and president of the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP). After having conducted a series of hearings on Lamichhane’s citizenship case, the court found that he was not a bona-fide Nepali citizen. In 1994, he had obtained the Nepali citizenship from Kathmandu by descent while he acquired the US citizenship in 2014.
With the acquisition of the American citizenship, Lamichhane inevitably lost the Nepali citizenship in accordance with the Citizenship Act. After having returned to Nepal, Lamichhane got a Nepali passport issued in May 2015 using the citizenship he had acquired nearly 21 years back.
Though he informed the concerned district administration office in Nepal in 2018 that he relinquished the US citizenship, he did not think it was necessary for him to reclaim the Nepali citizenship. His failure to go through due processes to revive his Nepali citizenship was the blunder he had made.
The five-member constitutional bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Hari Krishna Karki included justices Ishwar Khatiwada, Ananda Mohan Bhattarai, Bishwambhar Shrestha and Anil Sinha. All the members of the bench were unanimous in their decision.
"Having renouncing the US citizenship, Lamichhane was not found adhering to the legal process to acquire the Nepali citizenship again. So, he did not deserve to be a candidate of the member of House of Representatives nor could he hold the lawmaker's post. With this, a certiorari order is issued as per Article 133 (b and c) and Article 137 of Constitution of Nepal by scrapping all activities as making Lamichhane an election candidate, announcing his election victory, and conferring him the certificate," the verdict read.
Though the verdict was a huge setback for his political career, Lamichhane respected it. Immediately after the issuance of the court’s decision, he resigned as the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister. However, his supporters and well-wishers in Kathmandu resorted to staging protests against the SC’s judgment on January 29. Such demonstrations only show disregard to the free, fair and independent judiciary.
He had been elected from Chitwan Constituency-2 with a wide margin of 34,162 votes. He had received a total of 49,262 votes while his nearest rival Umesh Shrestha of Nepali Congress (NC) secured only 15,099 votes. Lamichhane will most probably contest the upcoming by-election from the same constituency.
Meanwhile, Lamichhane reclaimed his Nepali citizenship on Sunday itself. The RSP is also in the process of entrusting him with the responsibility of its president again. With a large number of followers, he can come back to politics after having the citizenship. However, the SC’s judgment has paved the way for the relevant government bodies to initiate necessary investigations into his misuse of the lost Nepali citizenship and illegally obtained Nepali passport. Legal experts point out sufficient grounds for authorities to probe into his citizenship and passport. The content of the verdict also indicates that he has stayed and worked in the country illegally over the past several years.
Because Lamichhane was able to gain a lot of popularity among people, he decided to join politics. Nearly eight months ago, he formed the RSP as a new political force. Since people were not satisfied with the established political parties and their leaders owing to their poor performance, his party emerged as the fourth largest party and got recognition as a national party, winning 20 seats in the Lower House of federal parliament. Despite having no ideological clarity, the RSP still holds much significance in the national politics at a time when no political force enjoys its clear majority in federal as well as provincial legislatures. However, he has lost his reputation due to his own negligence.
The swift rise of Lamichhane and the party he led appears to have made him more ambitious. Even when his citizenship issue was raised before the federal and provincial elections held in November 20 last year, he seems to have neglected the matter. No sooner had the final poll results been out than he started showing his keen interest in joining the government. The present seven-party ruling alliance led by the CPN-UML made a lucrative offer of the Home Ministry portfolio to him.
Some sections raised voices that there would be a clash of interest if Lamichhane or any other lawmaker of his party was assigned to work as Home Minister as the Nepal Police was supposed to begin carrying out investigations into his citizenship issue. But snubbing such concerns, he took up that portfolio. All this was a clear indication of the fact that he wanted to influence the investigation process in one way or the other. However, the SC’s verdict has proved that justice still prevails in the country. This has also signaled that the judiciary is capable of settling even complicated cases in an efficient manner. Some leaders belonging to the ruling parties say that the fresh SC verdict will not affect the alliance. However, this is likely to have some ripple effects on the coalition politics.
(Dahal is a deputy executive editor of this daily.)