Kanak Mani Dixit, a well-known face in the South Asian media and human rights network, was arrested by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) recently on corruption charges. Dixit’s judicial custody sparked a row in Nepal, with local and international media and human rights organisations condemning the arrest as an “act of vendetta”.
Dixit is associated with NGOs and his receipt of foreign funding — which he has staunchly defended — has also landed him in controversy. The CIAA has arrested him for alleged irregularities in handling the property of Sajha Yatayat, a cooperate body he heads. The CIAA says Dixit declined to appear before it several times.
Dixit had led a street campaign to stop Lokman Singh Karki from being appointed the CIAA chief, calling him “corrupt and unfit” on grounds that a judicial commission, formed to investigate the abuse of state authority and resources to suppress the movement for democracy in April 2006, had found him guilty. Karki was the chief secretary during ex-King Gyanendra’s direct rule and the movement. So, is there vendetta behind Dixit’s arrest?
The arrest has divided the legal, rights and media communities — some questioning the need to take Dixit into custody, others disapproving of his refusal to cooperate. Nepal’s civil society, like its political parties, remains publicly discredited, especially after its silence on several cases of high-level corruption and state violation of human rights in post-monarchy Nepal.
At the same time, the judiciary faces a threat to its independence. With the change of regime and system in 2006, supreme court judges were asked to submit before a parliamentary committee for their confirmation. In March 2012, Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi took over as head of government as well, with the four major parties joining his cabinet. It was seen as an assault on the separation of powers, with a direct impact on the supreme court’s independence and credibility. The practice of appointing judges through political quotas has further eroded the judiciary’s image.
None of these issues, right from Regmi’s takeover as chief of the executive, faced resistance from civil society. After all, this was the prescription of the international community, Nepal’s key players and civil society for ensuring a free and fair election to elect the second Constituent Assembly. However, it brought the judiciary under further political influence. Incidentally, civil society leaders also chose not to attack the government for agreeing to appoint an allegedly corrupt person as the chief of the anti-
Thus, more than Dixit’s arrest, it’s the state of the judiciary that concerns Nepal’s citizens. Unfortunately, the erosion of judicial independence has been the gift of the country’s prolonged transition, which saw key parties capturing the judiciary, diplomatic missions, constitutional bodies, etc by placing their nominees. Civil society leaders that overwhelmingly aligned themselves with the parties that have come to power post-2006. Dixit himself was at the forefront of the democratic movement and, ever since, has been a staunch advocate of a secular and republican Nepal. What apparently hurts him most is being probed for alleged corruption by a “friendly” regime, and at a time when the judiciary’s own fairness is in question.
The CIAA has probed a corruption case against the managing director of Kantipur Publications, Nepal’s biggest media house earlier. But that was 13 years ago, when the judiciary had a different image. These days, the fact that 13 district judges rushed to the CPN-UML headquarters soon after they took their oath of office illustrates the plight of justice.
The debate now is whether the CIAA is within its rights to investigate assets and properties of the Dixits at home and abroad. It probably does, given its mandate. But many think Dixit is a test case, with many more to follow.
Nepal today has a culture of impunity and governance without accountability like never before. The CIAA will be judged by whether it can bring the “big fish”, especially in politics, to book.
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