Rabi Lamichhane reclaimed his Nepali citizenship, but not before going through enormous embarrassment. After a momentous Supreme Court judgment removed him as a lawmaker that saw him quitting as deputy prime minister and home minister, he restored his citizenship, which he had earlier relinquished. He is now eager to be re-appointed as Home Minister. He has put pressure on the Prime Minister to nominate him, but the PM is hesitant because various difficulties, such as possessing two passports from different nations, must be settled first. Records revealed he held two passports, and one of two passports, the Nepali one even when he was not a genuine citizen under our laws.
The apex court on January 27 had ruled that Lamichhane could not have served as a lawmaker since he was not a genuine Nepali citizen when he ran in and won the November 20, 2022 parliamentary elections. Despite his immense popularity, the ruling has threatened to wreck his political career, which he began only eight months ago by establishing his political party, the Rastriya Swatantra Party. During these eight months, he rose quickly up the political ranks, becoming the country's deputy prime minister and home minister after winning the election with a wide margin.
With the rise in fame through his television programme, he started confronting troubles due mainly to his own acts. In 2018, at the height of his popularity, he had a showdown with the Nepal Press Council. The Council's then-chief admonished him for being an American citizen but unlawfully working as a journalist in Nepal. Both sides had engaged in a mudslinging game then. Lamichhane became a US citizen by giving up his Nepali citizenship in 2014. After the American citizenship threatened to ruin his television career, he relinquished it in 2018. However, he appears to have ignored the necessity of getting Nepali citizenship, which has now cost him dearly.
Some may see his refusal to restore his citizenship as a minor slip, while others see it as a massive blunder on his part. Minor error since he may have wrongly assumed that after relinquishing his US citizenship, his Nepali citizenship would revive automatically. According to our constitution and the Citizenship Act, one must apply for recovering relinquished citizenship and only after receiving approval from the relevant government department can s/he become a Nepali citizen again. Our Citizenship Act clearly stipulates that if a Nepali person becomes a citizen of another country, he loses his Nepali citizenship instantly. One must duly apply to recover the renounced citizenship, which he did after facing a massive gaffe.
Because of this provision, many non-resident Nepalis prefer not to give up their Nepali citizenship in order to become legitimate citizens of other nations. Many of them are satisfied with their permanent resident status, often known as a "Green Card," which permits them to remain Nepali nationals. Failure to reclaim his citizenship at the relevant government department proved to be a huge miscalculation. Apart from losing his four crucial roles — party chair, lawmaker, deputy prime minister, and home minister — he would now have to win an election. For him, though, this is easier said than done.
The scenario of the nation's politics could change by the time he goes to by-election, which the Election Commission stated may take place in three months. In the meantime, a disagreement on electing a new president has arisen between the two major ruling coalition parties, the CPN-Maoist Centre and the CPN-UML. The situation for him may take an undesired turn as this alliance has started showing cracks. Meanwhile, he could face legal action for obtaining a Nepali passport while not having a recognised citizenship of the country, according to many citizenship experts. They consider it a criminal offence, which could land him in hot water. As more serious under Nepali law, others may move the court for his punishment.
Following his fall from grace, Lamichhane is likely to face a moral quandary: Should a popular personality like him, who rose to fame owing to his style of presenting burning issues on his famous TV show, which won him huge fan followings, lead his party and become a minister after being found guilty of ignoring the country’s citizenship laws? The constitutional bench's decision plainly finds him guilty of not being a genuine citizen when he ran for and won elections, as well as of failing to reclaim citizenship via due procedure. Throughout his citizenship row, he chose to become the Home Minister, putting him in a conflict of interest. These matters call into question his moral worth.
Finally, the stature of a popular person like Lamichhane should not have courted controversy over the sensitive issue of citizenship, which determines a person's legal status and can affect her/his ability to exercise civil rights, such as voting, electing representatives, forming parties, and running for office, as well as accessing state-provided services and benefits. The same issue can impact on who has the right to live in a nation and who does not. Citizenship regulations can affect people's capacity to engage in state-run activities, making this a complicated and sensitive matter.
These examples demonstrate that citizenship is a highly delicate matter, and no one should take advantage of it for selfish gains. Because the issue related to citizenship is always of constitutional importance, a citizen must properly follow citizenship laws and regulations. People in positions of prominence, like Lamichhane, must be more observant of these laws because people like him can never escape the scrutiny of the people, and especially those who are opponents and are prepared to demonstrate that these important figures are at fault.
(Upadhyay is Managing Editor of this daily.)