Crime and politics have had a long relationship. India is witnessing some aspects of that dirty affair these days. Neighbouring Nepal is yet to set such high standards, but politicians here seem eager to match colleagues across the border.
The latest chapter involves senior Maoist leaders smuggling red sandalwood. At a time when the party is battling serious differences among top leaders, it would have preferred to keep this dirty linen under wraps.
But when there’s illicit money involved, things do get muddy and come to public view. The present episode came to light after Devi Khadka, a Maoist minister blamed another minister Agni Sapkota of incriminating her husband, Rajkumar Shrestha, a MP, in the smuggling racket to hide his own involvement.
The spat resulted after police seized nearly 1500 kg of red sandalwood at Tatopani in Sindhupalchowk (both Shrestha and Sapkota hail from this district) while they were being illegally transported to Tibet.
Once the matter came out in the open, the party leadership had no option but to form a three member committee to probe the allegations.
The move is seen as a diversionary tactic till the issue cools down.
Red sandalwood smuggling is not new to Nepal. The precious pieces of wood are transported from south India in trucks to Nepal and then further supplied illegally to Tibet where they fetch good money.
Trade of red sandalwood has been banned by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, signed by both Nepal and India. But with lax security measures, smuggling flourishes under political patronage.
The malaise is not limited to Maoists alone. Last week police nabbed notorious criminal Dinesh Adhikari aka Chari, a member of Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal’s party Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) for his involvement in smuggling rhino horns.
Adhikari was arrested two months ago for carrying weapons, but released under pressure from KP Sharma Oli, a CPN (UML) leader. Oli also came out in support of another UML cadre Parshuram Basnet, a noted criminal accused of ordering the murderous attack on journalist Khilanath Dhakal last month.
Lawmakers selling diplomatic passports to human traffickers involved in illegally sending Nepalis abroad is another case in point. The list can go on. Seems the gap between Nepali and Indian politicians at least on the issue of their proximity to criminals is fast narrowing.