The fire-breathing Madhesi leader CK Raut abandoned his secessionist campaign last year following an 11-point agreement with Prime Minister KP Sharma. He is now busy building his party organization in Tarai-Madhes.
Raut has a PhD in computer science from Cambridge University and has worked in various private firms in the US. He had returned to Nepal in 2011 to launch a Madhes independence movement. The Madhesi youths were instantly attracted to this youthful leader who had seemingly given up a comfortable life in the West for the cause of Madhes. His unrestrained diatribes against the ‘racist’ government in Kathmandu, leading to his repeated arrests, further fueled his popularity.
But the common consensus in Madhes is that Raut is gradually losing his ground after the agreement with Oli. The recent unification between the two largest Madhesi forces—the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and the Federal Socialist Part—has added to the challenges of Raut’s Janamat Party. The Janamat party is now busy laying the ground for the next round of local, provincial, and federal elections.
On 8 March 2019, Raut had signed an 11-point agreement with the federal government, pledging to honor the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Immediately after, Raut registered his party at the Election Commission and gave up the secessionist agenda. Political analyst Surendra Labh says CK Raut’s attraction in Madhes has gone down drastically after the compromise with PM Oli. “People now think he is no different to other Madhes-based politicians,” he says.
Labh does not think Raut’s party will be able to compete against the likes of the new Janata Samajbadi Party, the Nepal Communist Party, and the Nepali Congress in Madhes. “He has built some organizational bases but they are not viable,” Labh says. “The key problem is that Raut’s party has failed to establish a distinct identity,” he added. Another constraint for the party in Madhes, according to Labh, is the paucity of known faces in it besides Raut.
In a local by-election on 30 November 2019, Janamat Party leader Anju Devi Mandal had filed a nomination from Pipara Rural Municipality of Mahottari district. She suffered a humiliating defeat. The ruling NCP won in the rural municipality, while Raut’s candidate failed to secure even the fourth position. The party had also filed its candidacy in the elections for ward chairs but failed to secure even a single seat.
Raut’s party has almost the same agenda that other Madhes-based parties have had for a long time. They all reckon the 2015 constitution is not democratic and inclusive enough. As the Janamat party’s official document puts it, “It has failed to address the demands of women, Madhesi, Dalit, Tharu, Adhibasi, marginalized, and other backward communities.”
The party is demanding bulk entry of 30,000 Madhesis in Nepal Army as per the earlier agreement between the government and then Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha on 28 February 2008. It is also asking for a ‘referendum on key issues’ but is yet to point out what those issues might be. The other agendas of Raut’s party are corruption control and good governance, right of self-determination, and various citizenship-related issues.
The party is striving to strengthen its base in Madhes. During the lockdown, party cadres have been busy providing relief to the poor people. “Even now we are busy building party organizations and launching awareness campaigns,” says Central Committee member Kailash Mahato. The party has also started distributing online memberships since the start of the lockdown.
Before the lockdown, the party organized mass rallies in various parts of Madhes. Since the party’s registration, 63 mass rallies have already been held. Similarly, the party has built professional organizations of engineers, teachers, barbers, and Muslims. It is planning on establishing more such sister bodies. Likewise, according to Mahato, the party is expanding its organization abroad, and already has a presence in Dubai and Qatar.
Leaders of other Madhes-based parties see Raut’s emergence as a threat. So there is little cordiality between the two. Other parties accuse Raut of being Oli’s puppet. Says general secretary of then Rastriya Janata Party and leader of the new Janata Samajbadi Party Rajib Jha, “CK Raut was mobilized to cheat the Madhesi people and hatch conspiracy against us,” he says. Jha argues the earlier public fascination with Raut has largely died down.
In Province 2, the sole Madhes-only province, Raut party leaders and cadres have been on a campaign to expose the corruption and weaknesses of the provincial government.
If cornered, Raut’s outfit is likely to play on the ambiguity in the 11-point agreement with the Oli government. Its second point says: “They [the government and Raut] will follow democratic means to address people’s dissatisfaction, including those of Tarai-Madhes.” Janamat party leaders define the ‘democratic means’ as a referendum. But the ruling NCP argues that they refer only to regular elections.