Changed context catapults Janata Samajbadi Party into the spotlightBoth UML and Maoist Centre are in a bid to woo fourth largest party, for its 32 members in Parliament now hold the key.
Until the House of Representatives was dissolved by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on December 20, the Janata Samajbadi Party was the third largest force. But after the House was reinstated by the Supreme Court on February 23, and it held its first meeting accordingly on Sunday, the Janata Samajbadi Party became the fourth largest party. Hours before the House convened, the Supreme Court had reinstated CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), scrapping the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) they had formed in May 2018.
The Janata Samajbadi Party, however, does not seem to be disappointed to become the fourth force, as the fast-changing pace of the political landscape has catapulted it into the spotlight. And it has now become the kingmaker, the enviable position held by the Nepali Congress until a few days ago.
Both the UML and the Maoist Centre are now trying to woo the Janata Samajbadi Party–the former to stay in power and the latter to unseat Oli.
“We have formed a team in order to hold talks with all three major political parties, the CPN-UML, the Maoist Centre as well as the Nepali Congress, the main opposition,” Upendra Yadav, the party chair, said after Tuesday’s Parliamentary Party meeting.
Yadav, Baburam Bhattarai, Mahantha Thakur, Rajendra Mahato and Sharat Singh Bhandari are in the talks team.
This was the first Parliamentary Party meeting of the Janata Samajbadi Party which was born out of the merger between Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and Samajbadi Party Nepal in April last year.
The party has 34 lawmakers, 17 each from the two constituents, in Parliament. Two, however, remain suspended.
With the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) scrapped by the court, the Maoist Centre is likely to withdraw its support to Oli. With 120 members in Parliament, Oli’s UML will need the support of 16 lawmakers to win the confidence of the House.
The Janata Samajbadi Party leaders said they will hold internal discussions as well as talks with other parties including the UML before taking a decision.
On Tuesday, the Maoist Centre too decided to hold talks with the Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party to explore the possibility of forming a coalition government of the three parties.
The Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre are seeking to unseat Oli, but they lack the numbers unless the Janata Samajbadi Party joins hands with them.
“There are some leaders who are not averse to supporting the UML and join the government, but it’s not that easy,” a Janata Samajbadi Party leader told the Post. “Discussions are going on at multiple levels, but our party has formed a team comprising senior leaders to hold talks with other parties.”
There are two distinct lines in the Janata Samajbadi Party. While Bhattarai and Yadav are against supporting Oli, Thakur and Mahato do not have much reservations about joining the government.
“The majority of lawmakers at Tuesday’s meeting urged the leadership not to join the Oli government,” Mahato told the Post after the meeting. “We have set some criteria to join the government so whoever commits to fulfilling our demands will get our support.”
Mahato said the party has outright rejected the offer to join the Oli government.
“We want a commitment on making public the Lal Commission report on the suppression of the Madhesi people during the Madhes uprising of 2105-16, withdrawing cases against Resham Chaudhary and addressing our demand of amendments to the constitution,” said Mahato. “We cannot even imagine any power sharing deal with Oli. Our priority for now is joining hands with the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre.”
Formed to probe atrocities committed during the Madhes movement of 2015 as demanded by the Madhes-based parties, the Lal Commission had handed over its report to then prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in December 2017. But the report has not been made public yet.
Similarly, releasing Chaudhary, who is serving a life sentence at Dillibazar Prison in connection with the 2015 Tikapur incident in which nine people were killed in violent clashes, is another key demand of the Samajbadi Party. Chaudhary had won the parliamentary elections in 2017 on the ticket of then Rastriya Janata Party Nepal.
According to insiders, Thakur told party leaders at Tuesday’s meeting that Oli is positive about releasing Chaudhary despite some legal hurdles.
“But freeing Chaudhary from jail is not enough for us to join the Oli government,” a leader told the Post who did not wish to be identified. “We want all our issues to be addressed as we have been betrayed by various parties in the past.”
There are also concerns among Samajbadi leaders that Oli could try to split the party.
According to the leader who spoke on condition of anonymity, lawmakers at Tuesday’s meeting had also brought up the recent meeting between Oli and Thakur and another meeting of Laxman Lal Karna, Sarbendra Nath Shukla, Mohamnad Ishtiaq Rai with Oli’s aides–Ishwar Pokhrel, Rajan Bhattarai and Subas Chandra Nembang on Tuesday morning.
Thakur told the meeting that he had held talks with Oli to inform the latter about the party’s demands, according to the leader.
Party insiders say Oli appears ready to offer deputy Speaker post to Samajbadi Party, give some important portfolios in the Cabinet and is positive about releasing lawmaker Chaudhary and withdrawing cases against some other party leaders.
Bhattarai, Oli’s foreign relations adviser, said that he and his colleagues had met with some Samajbadi leaders but talks revolved around withdrawing cases against Chaudhary. “Besides that, we discussed nothing else,” said Bhattarai.
Meanwhile, the Maoist Centre, which has not taken any decision yet on withdrawing support to Oli, on Tuesday decided to hold consultations with the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party.
Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Tuesday met with Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and Samajbadi Party federal council chair Bhattarai.
“Our plan to withdraw support to Oli is still intact. We just want to expedite the process of government formation by taking both the Congress and Samajbadi Party into confidence,” said Janardan Sharma, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre after the party’s Standing Committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon. “We have heard that some Samajbadi leaders are holding talks with Oli but I don’t think the Samajbadi Party that took to the streets to protest Oli’s regressive move will join hands with him.”
The Janata Samajbadi Party though looks in a comfortable position now in the changed political equations, as it can now make a hard bargain when it comes to getting its demands addressed, the party is hemming and hawing, given the past betrayals it has faced.
Both the constituents of the Janata Samajbadi Party had supported the Oli government when it was formed in February 2018 in hopes that their demands would be addressed. But the Oli administration never showed interest in fulfilling its promise.
As of now, Samajbadi leaders appear firm on not joining hands with Oli, but options too are limited. If the party were to join hands with the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre to form a coalition government, its leaders are not sure if it would have the wherewithal, given its size, to push them to fulfil their demands.
“There’s no possibility of joining hands with Oli,” said Yadav, the Janata Samajbadi Party chair. “We can form an alliance with only those forces who agree to address our demands as well as demonstrate commitment to democracy, federalism, secularism and inclusiveness.”
Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.