The Madhes connectionOn the surface of things, the entry of the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal (SSFN) into the government does not seem like an event that will have massive political importance. Only two SSFN leaders have been granted ministerial portfolios—Upendra Yadav as Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Health Minister, and Mohammad Istiyaq Raya as Minister for Urban Development.
On the surface of things, the entry of the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal (SSFN) into the government does not seem like an event that will have massive political importance. Only two SSFN leaders have been granted ministerial portfolios—Upendra Yadav as Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Health Minister, and Mohammad Istiyaq Raya as Minister for Urban Development. Furthermore, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) already has a majority in government, so doesn’t necessarily require the SSFN’s support. Still, there are reasons to believe that the entry of the Madhes-based party into the government will have a significant political impact.
First and foremost, this is a step that will surely strengthen the government. From a majority, it now possesses a supermajority. By bringing the SSFN to its side, the NCP has effectively preempted the development of a broad oppositional coalition led by the Nepali Congress. It is also likely that this step will help improve relations between the Madhesi population and the government. There have been signs of emerging tensions between the government in Province 2 and the Centre. With Yadav now the Deputy Prime Minister, the channels of communication between the two will likely improve. The government might become more receptive to Madhesi concerns.
Second, the new realignment may have a significant impact on the relations between the two major Madhesi parties and the government in Province 2. The SSFN and the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) have long been both allies and rivals. They are working together in the provincial government. Now that the SSFN has access to Central state power, this might arouse resentments within the RJPN. There is a possibility that RJPN leaders might revaluate their strategy and decide that it is in their best interest to ally more closely with the Nepali Congress. In the medium term, this might undermine the coherence of the Province 2 government. A major task for the SSFN is now to strengthen cooperation with the RJPN and prevent tensions from arising.
SSFN Chairman Upendra Yadav has said that he decided to join the government after receiving assurances that the NCP would take steps to amend the constitution so as to address long-standing Madhesi grievances. This might be a point of contention for some time to come. Despite its assurances, the NCP does not seem prepared to amend the constitution in any significant way. It also remains to be seen whether the SSFN and the RJPN can reach consensus on the types of amendments they would like to see. If the SSFN is seen to compromise on weak amendments, the RJPN can make this an issue against their rivals. In the larger scheme of things, the Madhesi population will wait to see whether Upendra Yadav uses his newfound power to work for their interests or water down their demands to cohabit with the NCP. His success in this area will determine his popularity and political relevance for the Madhesi population, his core constituency, in the future. To a large extent, this will also decide the tone and tenor of Prime Minister Oli’s tenure towards Madhes.