There has been an uptick on social media debate (what we can call the modern day’s public sphere) since 21st May, 2024 – the day Kantipur Media Group’s Kailash Sirohiya was taken into custody on charges of alleged citizenship discrepancies. While rights groups assert abuse of state power to target an individual and undermining of press freedom, on the other side of the coin people believe Sirohiya’s arrest is justified as allegations considering misappropriation of citizenship is a legitimate cause for arrest. Just so we are clear, we asked Advocate Rastra Bimochan Timalsena on the legal grounding of the case, and he has said that “while the arrest may appear political, it has been done as per the law, and follows court orders”.

While many are of the belief that Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane may have bent the rules slightly to enable Sirohiya’s arrest, for a large proportion of the public it is justified considering he is going after one of the most powerful persons in the country. Some are also enraged about the amount of wealth and power Sirohiya has amassed, and in many ways KMG’s own mistreatment of its workers has also come haunting Sirohiya from the past.

KMG, the media fraternity and several organisations maintain that Sirohiya’s arrest goes against press freedom of the country. Considering the timing, as Kantipur had been publishing a series of news reports covering cooperative frauds in the country, including Home Minister Lamichhane and his collaboration with GB Rai to establish the Gorkha Media Network, the timing of Sirohiya’s arrest does allow scope for speculations.

As a response to allegations of undermining press freedom, Rastriya Swatantra Party issued a press release stating that “a person who runs a profitable private business and a hard-working journalist are not the same”. While issuing the press release, RSP perhaps forgot the transition its own chairman made when transitioning from a “hard-working journalist” to own a 15% stake in the Gorkha Media Network for his “sweat”.

Similarly, Nepali Congress has been mounting pressure in the parliament and outside, demanding the resignation of Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane while the cooperative scams are being investigated. We wonder who they are fooling, for it can be said with absolute certainty that Nepali Congress’s intentions are not motivated by justice of those whose hard-earned money has been lost. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and K P Sharma Oli have both maintained that Sirohiya’s arrest was not politically motivated, asking the public to have faith in the justice system of the country. One cannot help but wonder what if the tables were turned – and CPN UML and CPN MC were in the opposition instead of the ruling coalition. These of course are speculations based on the disrepute the infamous trio (NC, CPN UML and CPN MC) have earned in the past. Their disrepute is important to mention here as it is relevant later – for Lamichhane and Rastriya Swatantra Party both cashed heavily, and continue to bank on the disrepute the trio have earned over decades.

Similarly, recently the public pressured the famous MaHa pair (Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya) to retract their earlier support for Sirohiya. Shrestha and Acharya are currently touring Australia, and were forced to issue an apology after the “public threatened they would cancel tickets to the pair’s show”. Dipendra Lama, film director and former senior sub-editor at Naya Patrika has rightly highlighted how the MaHa pair in the past has spoken on numerous social issues and called out on politicians, but when it comes to Lamichhane, public tolerance is low.

Despite the above debates on press freedom and legal proceedings, however, the most worrisome is the stunning silence of other members within the Rastriya Swatantra Party. These members who rose to power stating that they would change the country today of course are reluctant to call out a direct abuse of it. Is loyalty to their chairman more important than the hopes of millions? Weren’t they somehow supposed to surpass these petty differences? How are they any different than other politicians who express unwavering support to their parties despite individual differences? One cannot help but wonder what the silence means for the future of national politics, one who cashed on the inefficiencies and corruption surrounding other mainstream parties?

The sudden decision to investigate and arrest Sirohiya cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence, especially given KMG’s extensive reporting on critical national issues. While it is essential that the law applies equally to everyone, and anyone found to have obtained citizenship illegally should face appropriate consequences, the timing and manner of this investigation raise serious concerns about the misuse of state power.

Finally, since it is Republic Day, allow us to leave with this thought: Does Nepal need to change its political leaders, or assess its own political culture?