Dr. Geeta Kochhar Jaiswal & Sipu Tiwari. As Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli threw the nationalist card of raising anti-India sentiments by invoking the issue of Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura in Nepal, leaders across parties became busy to prove themselves as the most patriotic leader representing the masses and nation. It was as if a tornado was unleashed on Nepal, where each leader needed to shield themselves with a double-pennon red color flag to save their existence. Without doubt the color red was not just symbolic, but carried lure of materialistic wealth and party position to sustain their personal objectives. The affect of the thunderstorm was marked in Terai region as the Sugauli treaty of 1816 brought in the issue of entire Madhes and its allegiance in question.
Often seen as pro-India parties in Nepal, Madhes based Party leaders were at the defensive to counter the narrative; rather than to stand firm on their ideology and issues of domestic discrimination embedded in the constitution. Was it the Madhesi leaders insecure of their position in Nepal? Were the leaders calculative of the future elections, where nationalist sentiments may rule the ballet? What about the core issues of Madhesi people where Andolans were launched and people martyred? What happened to the issues of caste, colour, regional, Janjatis, and gender discrimination under the rhetoric of Nepali nationalism? Did the cohesion of voices suppress Madhesi voices due to individual objectives of leaders? Or were there larger ambitions of looking towards North that lured the Madhes-based leaders too? These are issues that form the present and future of Madhes and that of Nepal, which needs to be discussed at length.
The Rise of JSP as a Coalition
Janta Samajwadi Party (People’s Socialist Party, PSP/JSP) was formed on April 22, 2020 with the merger of two main Madhesi Parties: the Samajwadi Party (SP) led by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav; and the Rashtriya Janta Party (RJP) led by six key Presidents namely Mahantha Thakur, Rajendra Mahato, Sarad Singh Bhandari, Anil Kumar Jha, Mahendra Raya Yadav, and Rajkishor Yadav. The merger was a result of night-long high drama abetted by Prime Minister Oli attempting to split the Samajwadi party and to weaken the prospects of challenges to his long term State control. Interestingly, RJP in itself was a coalition of six parties with six different leaders who were taking turn as President; while SP was mainly led by Upendra Yadav even after the merger with Dr. Bhattaria’s Naya Shakti Party.
With the merger and formation of JSP, a new hope emerged as the newly formed party became the third largest party in the Federal parliament of Nepal occupying 34 out of 275 seats in the lower house of the House of Representatives and 3 out of the 59 seats in the National Assembly. The majority in House of Representatives remains of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by PM Oli having 174 seats; while the Nepali Congress headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba holds 63 seats, apart from four independent candidates.
The merger was a big jolt to PM Oli who had to withdraw the unilaterally introduced two ordinances (Political Parties Act and Constitutional Council), which were initially approved with due support of the President; and was almost at the verge of losing his position due to revelation of corrupt practice to lure members of SP and break the party. However, the haste in merging the party was fraught with tussles over power sharing and positions, which led to delay even in the registration process. After few rounds of meetings that spanned for four to five days, there still was lack of consensus over the top posts and their hierarchies within the party; while few of its leaders reached the EC to register the party. In early July 2020, the new party was formally registered at the Election Commission office in Nepal with two co-Chairpersons: Mahantha Thakur and Upendra Yadav; Ashok Kumar Rai, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, Rajendra Mahato, as senior leaders, forming five main office bearers of the party, along with 46 members of the Executive Committee.
The sudden twist of events and unification led many analysts and political commentators to speculate the break up sooner than later, as they saw the friction and clash of interests unfolding in due course. However, there was a conviction shown with accommodations to make the merger stronger than the merger of Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
JSP for Bahurashtriya Rajya or Interest Based Coalition?
The formation of JSP was based on a common understanding among leaders that they will work towards establishing “multinational state” (Bahurashtriya Rajya), which meant to reinforce the notion of ethnic identity and demand real unification of Madhes in sovereign state of Nepal. This reflected the centuries old discrimination of Madhesi people in Nepal and the lack of proper representation at all positions without any bias. However, as soon as the issue of Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura was raised by PM Oli, frictions re-emerged within JSP. Ms. Sarita Giri, a representative of JSP and the then Member of Constituent Assembly who raised voice against the issue of passing of map incorporating the disputed areas, was made the scapegoat. The leaders of JSP united to prove their allegiance to Nepali state forgetting the core issues of discrimination of Madhesis and the lambasting of Madhes under the ambit of nationalist fervor. The hyper-sentiment of Nepali unity saw many voices demanding dissection of Madhes from Nepal; while none of the Madhesi leaders countered the narrative vociferously, except Rajendra Mahato strongly advocating non-discrimination based on color or region on the issue of nationalism.
The suppression of core issues of discrimination and the attack on territory of Madhes as per the Saugauli treaty of 1816 was never discussed or brought in the parliament for debate. It became obvious that the leaders of JSP had many insecurities relating to raising genuine concerns of Madhesi people at the national level. The entire unfolding of events from PM Oli raising the political rhetoric to the rise of nationalist sentiments against India, and the latter attack on Madhesi people was as if stage-managed to destroy the religious-cultural milieu of two countries – India and Nepal. The JSP merger that could have been a failure of the NCP and Oli in particular, is now turning out as a success due to the divisions created within the JSP on various issues.
As JSP is now to face the litmus test to prove the greater unity and sustainability of the Party, the cracks are widening. It is planned to revamp the overall structure of the party, whereby it might terminate the membership of around 300 central members of original parties – SP and RJP. If the members will not get due recognition in the party and proper position, there will inevitably be some members who will leave the Party, or there will be feeling of dejection, and eventually some may revolt against the Party. The issue will not be limited to the Central members, but will have trickling effect at the Provincial level, district level, as well as at the local levels. Lack of coordination at the highest level will lead to emergence of groups and sub-groups, as was speculated by C.K Lal in his initial remarks over the merger.
Already mass dissatisfaction is visible in Province No. 2 due to the activities of the Provincial government as well as some early signs of unhappiness brewing among the Party workers. Issues of caste, religion, and gender have all come to limelight. During the recent activities of Black Day to mark respect to the martyrs of Madhesi people who stood against the promulgation of 2015 Constitution, many sub groups were formed as an alternative protests without the banner of JSP. Ms. Sarita Giri led formation was one such protest program against the state as well as a strong dissent to the newly formed Party – JSP, which was seen supported by many other political activists, especially women. It seems in order to prove patriotism, JSP leaders are also silent on issues of Nepal-China closeness and are opening doors to material wealth for the sake of individual interests. If JSP will fall in the trap of NCP’s whirlpool of nationalist discourse, Madhesi leaders will just be riding two horses with no stability. In future elections, not only will they face the challenge of NCP, but will have to deal with alternative forces rising within Madhes. It is high time that the leaders of Madhes make sensible and rationale choice to break the invisible Chakravyuh before it gets too late.
By:-Dr. Geeta Kochhar Jaiswal & Sipu Tiwari