Respect rule of law

Sunday’s incident at Charikot in which Maoist activists manhandled chief district officer (CDO) Uddhav Bahadur Thapa in his office premises only raises public doubts about the Maoists’ respect for the rule of law. Whatever may have been the genesis of the skirmish, the Maoists’ act constitutes an obstruction in the administrative and legal process. Physical assault is condemnable. First, it is illegal, and then, if such acts occurred against law-enforcers themselves, they would weaken public faith in the state’s capacity to keep the peace and also spread a psychology of fear. Moreover, now that the CPN-Maoist is a part of the interim government, its responsibility to respect the law has greatly increased. They are now a party to government decisions.

The home ministry and the Maoists have read the Dolakha incident differently. However, Maoist central command chief Ananta, on Monday, at least “regretted” the manhandling of the CDO. The Dolakha incident flared up after Maoist activists, probably including some other locals, blackened, the face of a local politico who had allegedly been handpicked as DDC president during the time of royal regression. The CDO is reported to have arrested a Maoist district level leader for that under the Public Offences Act. The Maoists protested and staged a sit-in at the CDO office, then occurred the skirmish, lathi-charge, some injuries, and more arrests. The administration clamped a curfew and the Maoists announced an indefinite Dolakha bandh. The Maoists are demanding that the charges against its district leader be withdrawn, all arrestees freed, and the vehicles seized by the administration during the incident returned.

The home ministry, on its part, termed the manhandling of the CDO as a “planned attack” by an “unruly” mob of the Young Communist League. Informing the parliament of the incident that day, home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula said that the local security agencies had been directed in writing to take tough action against those involved in breaking the law. His commitment on the law and order issue, on which the Koirala government has come under heavy fire, cannot be faulted. The security agencies should act with the same zeal throughout the country, including the disturbed parts of the Tarai. That said, however, all sides, including the Maoists and the home ministry, should bear in mind that the country’s political and security situation is not normal as yet. Any pretension on this score and acting merely on this premise on all occasions might prove costly to the peace process and to the country. If the Maoists are not satisfied with the arrangements, they are free to leave the government, but wherever the cases are not of very serious nature, the local administration would do well to give compromise and conciliation a try. In the light of this, the attempts to reach a compromise in Dolakha through an all-sided meeting, including the Maoists, is thankfully an admission of sorts that the situation is not really out of control.