The Supreme Court’s recent decision on annulling citizenship of Rabi Lamichhane, the president of the newly emerged political party Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) and the powerful deputy prime minister and home minister of the seven-party coalition government has caused a serious setback not only to the political journey of Lamichhane, but also the future of RSP. Lamichhane’s party RSP made a miraculous victory in Chitwan as well as the capital winning seven seats in the direct and 20 seats in total including proportional seats in the parliament. His party, in five months of its founding, had come fourth in the 275-member parliament keeping other old parties RPP, JSP and CPN (Unified Socialist) behind it.
Rabi lost four powerful posts, Member of Parliament, deputy prime minister and home minister, president of RSP and leader of the parliamentary party of his party. Rabi was accused of not retaking Nepali citizenship with due process after relinquishing US citizenship after he returned from USA. However, with a very swift move, Rabi got his Nepali citizenship maintained after he reached the District Administration Office, Kathmandu, Sunday, merely two days of the court decision of annulling the old citizenship.
Conflict of interest
Then he was reinstated as the president of the party itself. Becoming the legitimate president of the party once again, Rabi again claimed for the earlier post of home minister which he had lost with the court decision. But the prime minister who had himself possessed the home portfolio for the time being was reluctant to hand it over to him once again as pressure was on him from his party CPN-Maoist Centre to keep the portfolio with itself. On the other hand, there was criticism on giving the home portfolio to Rabi as he was being investigated over his dual passport at the same time, which could pose conflict of interest once again.
However, Rabi has told the prime minister that the home ministry belonged to his party as per the December 25, 2022 agreement reached while forming the coalition, and his party would rather opt out of the government, if the portfolio was not given to it. If this happens, the seven-party alliance would face a crisis causing instability to the government.
Whether in government or out of it, the RSP is sure to draw criticism because of a serious mistake which he made as an emerging leader of a new political party whose intention was nothing other than to improving the condition of the country. But in politics, your opponents always try to find faults, and this time, Rabi and his party were the victims of his own harping of rule of law and good governance when he was a journalist.
Rabi rose to limelight when he powerfully presented the Janata Sanga Sidha Kura programme in News24 Television putting forth grievances of the general public regarding foreign employment and other anomalies in the country.
He always voiced for good governance and rule of law and vented anger over the leaders of traditional political parties, advocating for youths in leadership. He was one of the favorites of the 'no not again' campaign when the campaign was launched to eliminate the old leadership in all parties. Rabi has also been engaged in various social works while running the TV programme in News24 and later in Galaxy 4K.
The Supreme Court decision put a break on not only his miraculous political journey, but also on the future of his party. His party had mainly won in Kathmandu and Chitwan constituencies and garnered competitive votes in many districts mainly in town areas. The party faces some setback now and it is still uncertain how will the home ministry portfolio issue settled within the coalition, and what portfolio will RSP accept in place of the home ministry.
Although Rabi acquired the new citizenship and became the president of the party once again, he is not a member of parliament now. It is assumed that he can win the by-election for MP lying vacant from annulment of his earlier citizenship in constituency no. 2 in Chitwan in a few months. However, even before being elected, he can once again regain the post of a minister, but has to be elected MP within six months of being appointed as minister. He can face criticism even if he returned to the post of a minister not to talk of the home minister once again, as his popularity has dwindled and can be questioned on morality grounds.
But working in other ministerial portfolios except for the home ministry will draw less criticism for him and his party. But critics also opine that he can be charged and investigated on keeping two passports at a time, both US and Nepali. If this happens, it will be difficult for him to return to normal politics once again. This episode has taught Rabi and his party a great lesson that it is easy to talk or to accuse others of inaction than to do something by oneself. Rabi, who advocated good governance, himself became the victim, when he himself did not follow the law, and the principles of good governance.
(Bhattarai is a former Chief Reporter and Senior Executive Editor of National News Agency.)