Nepal minister with Indian passport, Tibetan ID, forced to quit

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s new government suffered a major diplomatic embarrassment with a newly appointed minister from Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal’s ruling party being forced to quit following a raging controversy about his possessing an Indian passport and ration card and an identity card issued as a Tibetan refugee.

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Minister of State for Finance Lharkyal Lama, a Buddhist monk who added colour to the cabinet in his maroon and yellow robes, had to resign Thursday after reports in the media that he also held an Indian passport issued from Guwahati and an identity card issued by the Indian authorities in Mysore city, which has a large number of Tibetan refugees, acknowledging him as a Tibetan refugee.

Lama, who had earlier headed a government body for the management of Buddhist monasteries, was also alleged to have been a sympathiser of the “Free Tibet” movement and at the same time, maintaining regular contacts with a senior Chinese army official at the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu.

The monk rebutted the reports, saying they were an attempt to assassinate his character. Submitting his resignation to the prime minister Thursday, he demanded an investigation into the scandal and said he was stepping down to facilitate the inquiries.

Lama has also been accused of financial fraud while running a monastery in the US. He, however, has said it was a misunderstanding about donations that had been resolved.

In 2008, Lama, who belongs to a minority community, was nominated to parliament by the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

The scandal leaves the Nepal government red-faced, especially after a local daily carried a photograph of Lama with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama.

In the past, at least on two separate occasions Beijing has objected to Nepali MPs visiting Dharamshala in India and meeting the Dalai Lama.

It also stopped President Ram Baran Yadav and ministers from attending an anniversary programme at a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu.

The resignation of the controversial minister was accepted with alacrity by the prime minister.

With Lama’s departure, the two-month-old Khanal government has lost its second wicket.

Earlier this month, the prime minister sacked another newly appointed minister, Radha Gyawali, for skipping the oath-taking ceremony.

Gyawali, an MP from the ruling party, refused to take oath after Khanal named her minister of state for education, saying it was too junior a portfolio.

The resignation over the passport scandal and questions about Lama’s true nationality came after two more MPs were arrested for having allowed two other people to travel abroad on their diplomatic passports.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])