Nepal’s Maoist minister faces arrest for Hindu leader’s murder

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Within hours of returning home from attending the UN General Assembly meet in New York, Nepal’s new Maoist Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai finds himself plunged into a crisis with police seeking to arrest a minister from his party for the murder of a Hindu leader.

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Bhattarai, an erudite scholar with a clean image, faces his first acid test with Land Management and Reforms Minister Prabhu Shah, who is an influential regional leader, being wanted by police for the murder of Kashinath Tiwari, the leader of a vigilante Hindu organisation Hindu Yuva Sangh.

Last year, when the Maoists had called an indefinite general strike nationwide, vigilantes led by Tiwari savagely attacked Maoist strikers in Birgunj town in southern Nepal in the name of breaking up the strike.

Shah and other Maoist leaders were seriously injured.

Tiwari was gunned down about a month later and though his organisation named the Maoist MP as one of the architects of the killing, no action was taken against him. A subsequent communist-led government appointed Shah law minister.

This year, when Bhattarai inducted a new cabinet, Shah was given the land reforms and management ministry.

Soon after his return to Kathmandu Monday, Bhattarai attended a public programme with Shah.

However, police in Parsa district, where Tiwari’s murder took place, began looking into the case again and arrested an aide of Shah who admitted having driven the two-wheeler for the assassin.

Though Shah has denied any involvement in the killing, Parsa police said they had issued a warrant for his arrest.

The communists, who had earlier allied with the Maoists but are in opposition now, pounced on the issue Tuesday, asking for Shah’s ouster from the cabinet.

In a statement, the former ruling party said there was serious doubt about a government that stopped investigations against a person accused of being involved in murder.

The opposition party said Shah should be sacked immediately and handed over to police.

However, the communist call seems more an opportunistic move to embarrass the new government than a real call for justice.

The earlier communist government had appointed another Maoist leader, named in the murder of a school teacher, as information and communications minister and dragged its feet on arresting a Maoist member of parliament accused of murder.

Besides the call to sack Shah, Bhattarai is also being asked to remove his Defence Minister Sharad Singh Bhandari.

Bhandari, another influential leader from the Terai plains, is under fire for reportedly saying that if the 22 districts in the Terai plains agreed, they could secede.

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