KATHMANDU - It is perhaps too much to say that Lady Luck had never smiled on
Gagan Kumar Thapa, a 28-year-old charismatic Nepali student leader at the forefront
pro-democracy protests. But luck indeed never seemed to favor him.
Charged with sedition for shouting republican slogans and held in prison for
more than two weeks by King Gyanendra's government in late 2003, Thapa also
had the bad luck of being fired from his position as general secretary of one
of the biggest students union in Nepal by none other than his party elders.
His crime: vocally pushing for a republican line when the Nepali Congress was
still trying to reconcile with King Gyanendra during the heady protests in summer
Early on Tuesday, luck once again ran out for Thapa. In the wee morning hours,
jeep-loads of police surrounded the tiny house at the Sorhakhutte neighborhood
in the heart of Kathmandu, a house that had served as his hiding place after
Gyanendra seized power and imposed emergency rule on Feb. 1. The police swiftly
arrested Thapa and two other colleagues. They are now imprisoned at a police
station barely 450 meters from the Royal Palace.
Thapa's arrest comes as a big victory for the royal regime. But it could well
turn out to be a Pyrrhic one.
As former secretary general of the Nepal Students' Union, Thapa is widely known
across Nepal and commands a solid following among the youth of the Nepali Congress
party. Even rivals from opposing parties acknowledge his popular appeal.
Minutes after his arrest became public through a secret grapevine, human rights
networks kicked into high gear in an effort to get the news out.
"We fear that he could be disappeared just like so many others," said a rights
defender who refused to give her name. "It is important for the world to know
that he has been arrested by the regime."
That is a valid fear. Nepal has been termed as the country with the highest
number of disappearances by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Government security forces, fighting a vicious Maoist rebellion since 1996,
have been alleged to be behind most of these disappearances, a charge the security
forces deny. But local and international human rights groups say rights abuses
by security forces have intensified since Feb. 1.
Because of his organizational skills, unrelenting demand for a republic, and
charismatic speeches, which often held crowds enthralled, he was high on the
list of politicians and students wanted by the royal regime.
But as soon as King Gyanendra announced his royal coup in a television address
on Feb. 1, Thapa went underground. A frustrated regime harassed his family members
and cut of the phone lines in his house, all in an attempt to coerce them into
giving Thapa's whereabouts. None of this worked.
From his safe hiding place, Thapa regularly put out press releases and statements
calling for the international community's support in the fight for the restoration
One of his appeals in March reads as such: "There is no solution to the
present political crisis in Nepal without the involvement of the democratic-progressive
forces, that represent well over 90 percent of the Nepali people.
are just too many people in Nepal who are neither royalists nor with the Maoists."
"To deny their existence, and to imagine a political solution without
their decisive role, merely because they do not carry guns, and [they] believe
in peaceful politics, is utter foolishness and arrogance," added Thapa.
He represented a danger to the regime due to his unrelenting criticism of King
Gyanendra and frequent calls for a republican setup.
In a recent public statement, Thapa had harsh words for Gyanendra.
"The king has repeatedly shown that he wants to use the pretext of the Maoist
threat to usurp power for himself; he has no intention of resolving the crisis.
It is high time that the Maoists and the international community realize this,"
"If the king believes that even in the 21st century, Nepal is his private
property, that he can rule through intimidation and terror, that he can hold
the country hostage for his raw greed for power and wealth; that he has the
authority to silence dissent and to deny the inalienable and universal human
rights of the sovereign citizens, then we the people of Nepal have every right
to trash this king in the dustbin of history," added Thapa vehemently.
Though such words have excited the youth, they are admittedly still at fringe
of mainstream politics. Many in Nepal still hold the monarchy in high esteem,
but they also want to see true constitutional monarchy rather than a royal dictatorship.
And several recent polls have borne that out.
But the king's actions have wiped out democracy and constitutional monarchy.
This impoverished Himalayan Kingdom was a functional though chaotic democracy
and constitutional monarchy till Oct. 4, 2002 when King Gyanendra made his first
strike. On Feb. 1, he completed the process by dismissing a party-based coalition
government, imposing emergency rule, and severely constricting political parties,
civil society, and the media.
Thapa's arrest could have a galvanizing effect on the pro-democracy movement.
Some analysts note that since he is a popular figure, any physical harm to him
will act as a trigger for more intense protests against the regime.
(Inter Press Service)