With no signal from the government, Janata Party reconsiders merger with Samajbadi PartyJanata Party has preconditions to joining government but with talks stalled, an alliance with the Samajbadi party could preserve the coalition in Province 2.
Talks for unification between the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and the Samajbadi Party Nepal had taken a back seat after the former’s growing proximity with the ruling Nepal Communist Party. But with no concrete progress on a package deal, the Janata Party is once again considering moving merger talks forward with the Samajbadi Party.
The Janata Party’s closeness with the ruling party began after its alliance for the National Assembly election in December, days before the Samajbadi Party quit government. After that, there were some rapid developments in Kathmandu politics.
The decision to select Agni Sapkota for the post of Speaker meant that the Deputy Speaker post should go to any party other than the ruling Nepal Communist Party. Given the composition of the federal parliament, the Janata Party is the one political force that could get the post.
Janata Party leaders, however, do not wish to include the Deputy Speaker in their package deal with the ruling party. Talks were ongoing over joining the government and an understanding on constitutional amendments as well as on how to deal with issues related to Resham Chaudhary and cases against the Janata Party leaders. Chaudhary was elected to the federal parliament on the Janata Party ticket, but in March last year, a district court sentenced him to life in jail for masterminding the Tikapur violence in 2015 where nine people were killed. Chaudhary is currently in jail, and the Janata Party had withdrawn its support to the Oli government after his conviction.
“The Oli government appears reluctant to address our demands,” said Keshav Jha, general secretary of the Janata Party. “We may soon decide to join hands with the Samajbadi Party and launch a movement for constitutional amendments, on which we are on the same page.”
According to leaders, the party is under pressure from cadres and voters not to join the government.
Though some leaders are still in favour of joining the government if their concerns are addressed, the six-member praesidium is divided. Rajendra Mahato, Sharat Singh Bhandari, Anil Jha and Rajkishor Yadav are for joining the government while Mahantha Thakur and Mahendra Yadav are against the idea.
“I think the Janata Party could join the government only if there are some commitments from the ruling party regarding our demands,” said a Janata Party leader who requested anonymity. “Even just to save face, we need some kind of concrete agreement before we can join the government.”
On January 21, some party leaders, including a senior vice-chair, three vice-chairs and a general secretary, handed over a memorandum to party coordinator Mahendra Raya Yadav, demanding that the party take a decision on joining the government only after endorsing it through the party’s political and central committees.
However, the two-point agreement signed with Nepal Communist Party (NCP) co-chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal on December 20 for a National Assembly electoral alliance suggested that the Janata Party’s decision to join with the ruling party may also entail being part of the federal government and a change in the Province 2 government.
Though Janata Party leaders have tried to make it clear time and again that the agreement was only meant for the National Assembly elections, recent developments in Province 2 suggest otherwise.
Dimpal Jha, a state minister from the Janata Party in the Province 2 government, recently resigned, while some Janata Party leaders, including general secretary Manish Suman, have been critical of the Lal Babu Raut government. Many surmise that these developments are an outcome of a growing rift between the Janata Party and Samajbadi Party, which have a coalition government in Province 2.
“In every party, there are some people who wish to become ministers but joining the [federal government] is not the Janata Party’s primary agenda,” said Brikhesh Chandra Lal, the party vice-chair. “We should focus on pressure campaigns to have our demands met—and that is the people’s mandate to us.”
According to Janata Party leaders, the ruling party co-chairs are working on a package deal that includes the Deputy Speaker post and ministerial berths in the federal government and a coalition government in Province 2, besides a share in some constitutional bodies.
One ruling party leader said that the deadlock stems from the approaches the ruling party and the Janata Party have taken. Though the ruling party is trying to woo the Janata Party, it has not completely abandoned the Samajbadi Party, as support from any of these parties gives the Nepal Communist Party a two-thirds majority.
On the other hand, the Janata Party wants to be with the ruling party, provided that there is a commitment to addressing its demands. But it is also ready to join with the Samajbadi Party if the deal with the ruling party does not work out.
According to Mahantha Thakur, the seniormost leader in the party’s six-member praesidium, the party has already communicated to the ruling party leadership that the package deal should also include amendments to the constitution and withdrawal of “false cases” against party leaders and cadres.
“I have told the ruling party leadership that the Deputy Speaker issue should be dealt with separately and it does not need to be part of the package deal,” Thakur told the Post earlier this week.
The Samajbadi Party, which has yet to come up with a concrete plan of action after quitting the government, seems to be optimistic about joining with the Rastriya Janata Party, so as not only to make a push for constitutional amendments but also to preserve the coalition government in Province 2.
The Province 2 government is led by the Samajbadi Party’s Lal Babu Raut.
“The Janata Party seems to have changed its mind,” said Ganga Shrestha, general secretary of the Samajbadi Party. “It is not likely to join the Oli government, and we are considering taking our unity talks forward. But it might take some time.”