After the promulgation of the political party-related ordinance, any faction of a party represented in the House of Representatives can register a new party if it has 20 percent members in either the mother outfit’s Central Committee or the Parliamentary Party. This has not only changed the dynamics in CPN-UML but also Janta Samajbadi Party Nepal (JSPN). Although the ordinance now faces a legal challenge, a split in JSPN could invite an unexpected situation in Madhesi politics as well as the government. Also, Madhes now has other emerging political forces which, to some extent, could affect the results of upcoming elections. Pratik Ghimire of ApEx interviewed political analyst and expert on Madhes issues Tula Narayan Shah.
How do you assess the relation between JSPN and the Deuba government?
Although there are two distinct factions in JSPN, both have officially supported the Deuba government by voting in favor of his confidence motion. But to date, the coalition formally includes only the Upendra Yadav faction. So, this side will, for sure, join the government with a respectable number of ministries.
Regarding Mahanta Thakur’s faction, it is fine to support the government from outside, but accepting ministerial berths could be seen as adopting double standards and acting opportunistically. Yet, I can't deny the possibility of their joining the government. We need to wait for further political developments as nothing in politics is impossible. So, JSPN as a whole has a pretty decent relationship with the Deuba government.
What is more beneficial for Madhes? A united JSPN or two or more parties?
Before 2008, the Madhesi parties were in the periphery. They later formed an alliance and emerged as a potent force in national politics. Until these parties make their presence felt, their issues won’t get national attention. So I would prefer a unified JSPN as it will benefit the party and somehow the society, and their agenda is almost the same. But the current political timeline does not suggest a reconciliation between the factions. We should not forget the schooling, orientation, and culture of the two factions. Yadav’s side is like a ‘mini-Maoist’ party whereas Thakur’s has a ‘mini-Congress’ feel.
Politics is always envisioned in the presence of political parties, but if we look at them through the lens of caste, we often see that be it in the Madhes or the hills, the elite caste rules over lower ones. And the presence of two castes in JSPN leadership suggested a split was inevitable. In 2008, when Yadav’s party was emerging, Thakur showed up because the upper caste population did not accept Yadav’s leadership. This angle might be unpopular nonetheless it’s a vital one.
How does a split affect the electoral prospects of Tarai-Madhes?
If you look at figures from past elections, whenever alliances have been formed ahead of elections, the Nepali Congress has been in trouble. For instance, in the last election, Congress performed well at the local level because no alliance existed, but in the parliamentary election, Congress lost out.
Many people saw the recent political party-related ordinance issued only for the benefit of Madhav Kumar Nepal, but Deuba for sure understood the situation in JSPN. He knows that the more the Madhesi parties split, the more the NC can gain electorally, and so he hit two birds with one stone.
Is CK Raut’s party still relevant in Madhes?
CK Raut’s Janamat Party is a supplementary force in Madhesi politics—it has a different political culture to other existing parties. He is establishing good relations between voters, cadets, and leaders. He has been pushing himself in an organized way with specific roadmaps for reforms in politics, society, and the government. Almost all current political leaders of the Madhesi parties are aged. They will be in mainstream politics for a maximum of two or three elections, but CK is working to establish himself in the long run—he could be in the game for the next six to seven elections. Madhesi people have glamourized Raut for two reasons: his academic degree and his devotion—he left his job in the US to come to Nepal. So he represents a new hope for Madhes. He is capable and qualified too.
But demographics work against him—he is supported by the young blood (those born in the 90s) who are out of the country and working in the Gulf. The older and larger voting population still has faith in existing parties. Generally speaking, parties not born of large struggles get involved in their first election just to make themselves visible. In the second election, they divide the votes and make others lose. Only in the third election do they really do well.
What if Raut’s party wins a respectable number of seats in upcoming elections? Would he revive his separatist idea?
Although his party winning many seats is an unlikely prospect, it would be a progressive thing if it happened. Regarding the political agenda, he brought both hope and threat, at the same time, but he has already accepted the legal political course of Nepal. But Kathmandu sees every Madhesi political party as a separatist. The reality is: His previous agenda was never a discussion point in Madhes. He was young, and everyone knew he did this to gain visibility. There was a situation in which the Madhesi people ignored Raut’s agenda and enjoyed his personality, but the hill population ignored his personality and talked about his agenda. My view is that Raut is now a proper politician and an important and needed figure in the mainstream politics of Madhes.