Where are the anti-corruption crusaders?

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When Dr. Govinda KC declared his eighth hunger strike with demands including the impeachment of Lokman Singh Karki, the chief of anti-corruption watchdog in Nepal, there were voices for and against his planned protest.  A columnist commented like this: Lokman's appointment to the post was fallacious but his impeachment would set a bad precedent.

The implication being, now that a mistake has been committed while appointing Karki to the post, we should tolerate all his excesses irrespective of whether the country tops the list of most corrupt countries in the world, whether a brutal parallel government runs the show in the country or the environment of terror brings the development activities in the country to a halt.

It was a strange argument to make. As the constitution has clear provision to impeach anyone as delinquent as Karki, it is hard to justify his continued presence in the post especially after the barrage of evidences against him that were carried by the media last month. Among others, some grave evidences personally implicating Karki in serious wrongdoing have surfaced by now. They include his illicit control over the intelligence unit of Nepal Police, the impunity that the medical colleges owned by his relatives enjoy vis-a-vis the regulatory authorities, the black-marketing worth billions of rupees done with his blessing by the private medical colleges (including his own relatives'), the resulting rot in the quality of medical education, his shameful and illegal orders to transfer public land to individuals, his mediating role in an illegal transaction of shares between two parties and so on.

When the aforementioned columnist talked about setting a bad precedent with impeachment of Karki, all these evidences were yet to come to the public's attention and my sincere hope is that he's changed his stance on this matter by now.

This commentary, though, is directed to somebody else. They are a cohort of individuals and organizations that claim to be anti-corruption crusaders but have kept mum on this serious issue. To me, their silence is deafening given the stakes of the ongoing struggle.

As we live in a democracy, an individual has every right to support Dr. KC--wholeheartedly or with reservations--or oppose him/her. Indeed, the supporters of Dr. KC and worshipers of Mr Karki have been speaking their minds and (though in a lukewarm way) debating on the matter. That includes even the political leaders. And this difference of opinions should be taken as normal.

But the problem arises when someone claims to be an anti-corruption crusader but keeps mum during such a critical point in time. They seem yet to realize that silence at the time of heated discourse is the surest way to fail as an activist or crusader.

I want to make one thing clear before proceeding on the matter though: I am against any tendency to reduce every complex subject matter into the black-and-white binary. You cannot force people to take sides unless they are eager for it. A common citizen is free to take either side or to avoid taking sides in any discourse and that is the part of freedom of expression that we so strongly advocate.

Same attitude, though, is untenable for someone who claims to be a serious stakeholder in the debate and its implications. If you don't wish to be associated with either side of the debate, that is perfectly fine. But then, you are morally bound to express your nuanced position on the arguments of either side rather than keeping silent and looking like a mere spectator at the whole affair. I see no reason why one should be so restrained that no word comes out from his/her mouth.

To name one such institution, where is Transparency International and its Nepal chapter? If they find truth in our allegations (that have been accompanied by evidences) against the CIAA chief, how can they avoid muttering a word against him? If they find our movement against Karki as an hindrance to good governance and an impediment to the good works of the CIAA, why don't they dare criticize us? The other side may be running a parallel state but we are definitely not. If their assessment is that CIAA under Karki is doing its job fairly well, isn't it their duty to promote and encourage him?

We may be asking common citizens to join our movement and trying to convince them the merit of the movement but we are not doing the same with the colleagues in anti-corruption movement. Rather than convincing them to follow us, we expect an honest judgment and constructive criticism from them so that we can correct our mistakes. If they think that we are right in our fight, we warmly welcome them but still it is a collective attempt and not something that we dictate and others follow.

What vexes me the most is that while the people, including many illiterate among them, are irate with the corruption and parallel state promoted and coordinated by Karki by abusing his post, the "educated" and "sophisticated" crusaders against corruption seem to be standing on the sidelines with blank faces. This does not look pretty at all.

So, here is my advice to the undeserving spectators on this issue: the new and intense phase of struggle against the patrons of corruption and lawlessness is starting soon. Please come to public and say at least something; you need not even take sides on the struggle. If you find this whole movement and the discourse irrelevant to the cause of good governance, please say that. Even if you think the movement is needless or counterproductive, say that; we are committed democrats and we won't pounce upon you like the other side. If you think our movement has a huge potential but has been unable to gain momentum because of some factor, point to it and we'll try our best to rectify it. If you think a stronger CIAA under Karki is the only route to corruption-free Nepal, then accumulate strength and say that; and join the cause to undo the damage done to the credibility of Karki by our movement.

But please, please stop being a mere witness to a historic movement against corruption just because the corrupt-in-chief is powerful and unconscionable. Please don't kill your conscience fearing the safety of a job or a grant to your employers. Correct if I am wrong but someone who evades a war has no right to claim himself to be a warrior during the peacetime. With all anti-corruption activism that you have done in the past, you do not deserve that fate.