Slicing the Madhesi pieRaut’s Janmat Party is elbowing its way into an already crowded political landscape
Madhesi leader CK Raut floated a political party named Janmat Party after signing an agreement with the Oli administration to give up his demand for an independent Madhes and enter mainstream politics. The Janmat Party enters an already crowded political landscape in Madhes. The Nepal Communist Party and the Nepali Congress have a significant grassroots organisation and cadre base in Madhes. Then there are Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal, both of whose support base is primarily Madhes. The Janmat Party will be targeting the support base of these two parties if it is to contest the next elections based on the issue of identity and inclusion.
Out of the 32 federal parliamentary seats in Province 2, Yadav candidates won 10 seats; Madhesi upper castes five; Bahun, Chhetri and Newar five; Tharu three; Muslim two and other caste groups seven seats. Due to this disproportionate number of Yadav and upper caste parliamentarians, many in Province 2 don’t see an inclusive political representation, and there is room for Janmat to tap into this dissatisfaction. Yadavs account for 30 percent of the directly elected representatives in the federal Parliament and Provincial Assembly, mayors of rural and urban municipalities and members of the provincial cabinet in Province 2, and other caste groups in the state view them as the new ruling elite. There is increasing anti-Yadav and anti-upper caste sentiments in Province 2 which the Janmat Party would want to convert into votes in its favour.
It is also important to look at the impact the new party will have on the electoral prospects of Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal. Unlike Federal Socialist Forum Nepal which has a huge Yadav voter base (17 percent of the population as per the 2011 census), Rastriya Janata Party Nepal has no single caste base with a significant voting population behind it, thus it is more vulnerable to losing its voter base if its non-Yadav and non-upper caste voters decide to switch to the new Janmat Party.
Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal fought the 2017 provincial and federal elections as the Madhesi Alliance. This was the single most important factor that enabled them to win 19 out of the 32 in the federal Parliament as well as 35 seats in the Province 2 assembly as the pro-inclusion and identity vote did not split. The picture is similar in the Provincial Assembly election where the Madhesi Alliance won 11 out of the 35 first-past-the-post seats.
If the Janmat Party manages to split the Madhesi vote, both Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal may pay a heavy electoral price. No wonder talk about a merger between the two parties has resurfaced. It is also important to point out that this alliance lost five first-past-the-post seats in the federal Parliament and eight first-past-the-post seats in the Provincial Assembly in Province 2 in the 2017 elections.
The Janmat Party’s mother organisation, the Alliance for Independent Madhesh, had asked its supporters to stamp their ballots outside the box allocated to parties called ‘Kothli ke Bahar’ in order to symbolically record their agenda of an Independent Madhes. There are no official figures of these invalid votes cast across Madhes, but some critics of CK Raut have started saying that, in light of recent developments, this could have been a conspiracy to ensure the defeat of the Madhesi Alliance and victory of the Communist Alliance. Conspiracy or not, the ‘Kothli ke Bahar’ campaign did result in many votes that would have otherwise gone to the Madhesi Alliance becoming invalid.
CK Raut’s major appeal among young Madhesi voters had been the revolutionary idea of secession, and now that he has officially given up that idea, it remains to be seen how much support he can retain. There have been reports in the media (refuted by CK Raut) that he will be joining the Nepal Communist Party or forming an alliance with them. This will be a short cut to political success for CK Raut, but neither the Nepal Communist Party nor the Janmat Party will gain much in electoral terms. It is more beneficial to the Nepal Communist Party if Janmat splits the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal/Federal Socialist Forum Nepal vote acting as a ‘vote katwa’ and enables it to gain the missing votes for victory.
Common local enemy
If the Janmat Party is not the Team B of the Nepal Communist Party and wants a long-term role in Madhes politics, it makes more sense for it to ally with Rastriya Janata Party Nepal as there is some overlapping of their support base and they have Federal Socialist Forum Nepal as a common local enemy. The Rastriya Janata Party Nepal leadership has always been fearful of Upendra Yadav and his Federal Socialist Forum Nepal as the huge electoral weight he brings (because of his caste base) enables him to act more than an equal to them.
Only the future will reveal the story of the Janmat Party and its founder CK Raut’s success or failure; but for me, a lot will depend on his answer to the question I had asked him during a meeting. “Tell me what your plans are for Madhes after your revolution succeeds. Everyone talks of revolution, but no one tells us about the work they start on the day after the revolution.” But he gave no clear answer. I hope now that he has formally given up his demand for secession so he can focus more on issues like social and gender inequality in Madhes, unemployment among Madhesi youths and lack of proper healthcare and education infrastructure and services.
Thakur is a co-founder of the Nepal Policy Centre.