Shifting windsThe results of the elections to five legislative assemblies in India were recently announced.
The results of the elections to five legislative assemblies in India were recently announced. The five states are Uttar Pradesh, which has the largest population, Punjab, and three relatively small states, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa in the southwest. The poll results could indicate a trend which could affect parliamentary elections in India, due in 2019. As Nepal borders two of these states, the results could also have an impact on this country.
In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the parliamentary elections in Uttar Pradesh, winning 71 out of the 80 seats. It also swept the assembly elections, getting 324 out of the total 403 seats. Its nearest rival was the Samajbadi Party-Indian National Congress alliance which won only 54 seats. The alliance was led by the then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, son of former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. Rahul Gandhi, great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, grandson of Indira Gandhi and son of Rajiv Gandhi, was the junior partner who had joined the alliance to test his popularity. The coalition was no match for the BJP. The largest state in India has slipped out of the control of the Indian National Congress for more than three decades, and its revival there seems very unlikely.
The population of Uttar Pradesh is more than 200 million. If it were an independent country, it would be the fifth most populous country in the world. The next largest state in India in terms of population is Maharashtra (population 110 million) where the BJP emerged victorious in the state assembly elections held last year. Bihar, the third largest state in India with a population of 100 million, borders Nepal’s eastern Tarai. There, an alliance of non-BJP parties emerged victorious in the elections in 2015. Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) became chief minister of the state. The BJP also lost to the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. However, its win in the largest state in India has changed the political equation.
When Jana Andolan II was raging in Nepal, there was a United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in Delhi led by Manmohan Singh. It had the support of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) including such leaders as Sitaram Yechury. At that time, the state of West Bengal was ruled by leftist parties including the CPI (Marxist). Declaring Nepal a republic and a secular state was the agenda of the leftist parties in India. The 12-point accord between the Maoists and the seven political parties was signed in Delhi at that time. It’s unlikely that such a pact would be signed now when there’s a National Democratic Alliance government in Delhi led by Narendra Modi who has been described as a ‘Hindu nationalist’.
Kamal Thapa, president of Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, was recently re-inducted into the Cabinet by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda as deputy prime minister. He was deputy prime minister and also held the portfolio of foreign affairs in the KP Oli administration in 2016. Currently, the CPI (Marxist) is the ruling party only in Kerala in south India and the small state of Tripura. The number of CPI (Marxist) members in India’s Parliament is a fraction of what it was a decade earlier. The Indian government has only ‘noted’ and not welcomed Nepal’s first ever constitution drafted by an elected Constituent Assembly. Kerala and West Bengal are the only Indian states besides Tripura where communists have been chief ministers.
Although Nepal is a sovereign country, India mounted a blockade, ostensibly to make the constitution more inclusive by taking into account the concern of the Madhesi people. But the real reason behind the blockade could be India’s support for a Hindu Nepal even though it itself is secular. It is for the people of Nepal to decide what kind of constitution it should have and whether it should be a Hindu state or a secular one. It appears that Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, which advocates making Nepal a Hindu state and supports a ceremonial monarchy, would get more seats in the upcoming elections to the Legislature-Parliament that must be held before January 2018. Former king Gyanendra could be receptive to such a scenario in Nepal.
Raj is a former staff member of the United Nations Secretariat, former vice-president of the Nepal Council of World Affairs and secretary of the Nepal chapter of International PEN