Samajbadi Party looks set to support Oli even as some of its leaders oppose the ideaThose holding talks with the prime minister say no harm in joining the government if their demands, including freeing Resham Chaudhary, are met.
Prime Minister and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli appears to have taken his plan to rope in the Janata Samajbadi Party one step forward so as to continue in power.
On Friday morning, Mahesh Basnet, a Central Committee member considered Oli’s trusted lieutenant, met with Resham Chaudhary, the Samajbadi Party lawmaker who is doing time in Dillibazar prison on charges of masterminding the 2015 Tikapur incident.
The release of Chaudhary, who currently remains suspended as a lawmaker, from jail is one of the preconditions of the Samajbadi Party if it were to support Oli.
“I conveyed to Chaudhary that there has been an agreement between the government and the Janata Samajbadi Party to begin the process of releasing him,” Basnet told the Post.
Apart from Chaudhary’s release, the Janata Samajbadi Party has also demanded that the government withdraw court cases against its leaders and cadres and make a commitment to constitutional amendments.
Two weeks after the Constitutional Bench overturned Oli’s House dissolution decision, the Supreme Court on March 7, the day a meeting of the reinstated House had been called, passed a dramatic verdict, scrapping the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), and revived the constituent forces—Oli’s UML and Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre).
The two parties had merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
The Janata Samajbadi Party, which was the third force in the House, suddenly became the fourth force. But to its own surprise, it became the kingmaker.
It had the option to either support the Nepali Congress, the primary opposition, and the Maoist Centre, which became the third largest force, and become part of the government or join hands with Oli.
As the Congress and Maoist Centre hemmed and hawed, Oli saw an opportunity.
On Tuesday earlier this week, Oli invited top Samajbadi Party leaders including Mahantha Thakur, Rajendra Mahato, Sarbendra Nath Shukla and Laxman Lal Karna to Baluwatar to discuss how they could move ahead jointly.
“At that meeting, task force members from the government side briefed on the recent developments. We told them to come up with something concrete,” Mahato told the Post.
But two top leaders of the Samajbadi Party—Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav—were conspicuous by their absence at the Baluwatar meeting.
Bhattarai is the chair of the party’s federal council while Yadav is another chair of the party, along with Thakur.
Bhattarai and Yadav maintain that the Samajbadi Party in no way should join hands with Oli.
Bhattarai, who has long demanded that Chaudhary must be released, however, said that the party joining the Oli government is unthinkable.
“Some leaders may have been thinking of joining hands with Oli, but the party has not taken any decision yet,” Bhattarai told the Post. “Oli has been trying to seek favour ever since the House was reinstated. So far, whatever talks have taken place are aimed at securing the release of our leaders and cadres including Chaudhary.”
Bhattarai is one of the most vocal critics of Oli, his government and his ways of functioning.
Over the past few months, especially after Oli dissolved the House, Bhattarai in a series of tweets has criticised Oli, at times even comparing the UML chair with Hitler.
According to Bhattarai, Oli has been trying for quite some time to rope in his party to stay in power.
“But our party has formed a five-member talks team comprising top leaders to discuss power sharing,” Bhattarai told the Post. “The party has not given the mandate to any other task force. There is no point in discussing what individuals say.”
On March 10, the government and Janata Samajbadi Party had formed a task force.
Shukla and Karna from the Samajbadi Party and Rajan Bhattarai, Oli’s foreign affairs adviser, Subas Nembang, deputy leader of the UML Parliamentary Party, and Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel from the government were in the task force.
After Yadav and Bhattarai raised questions at the Parliamentary Party meeting on March 12, the two leaders along with Thakur, Mahato and Ashok Rai were entrusted with the task of carrying out political dealings with other political parties—the UML, the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre.
Karna, a member of the task force, however, said his party is hopeful that Chaudhary would be released and cases against party members and cadres withdrawn.
“We are clear on our roadmap,” Karna told the Post. “If our preconditions are met, we will support the government.”
The Janata Samajbadi Party has also demanded that the government make the Lal Commission’s report public and endorse the Citizenship Bill.
The Lal Commission, formed in September 2016 to investigate a deadly violence in the Tarai in 2015, was submitted to the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government in December 2017, but it has not been made public yet.
With Bhattarai and Yadav opposed to joining the Oli government, there are speculations that the Janata Samajbadi Party could see a rift and a split ultimately.
Bhattarai and Yadav’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janata Party of Thakur, Mahato and other Madhes-based leaders had merged in April last year to form the Janata Samajbadi Party.
The union, however, was, in a way, prompted by Oli.
On April 20, last year, Oli had introduced an ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act-2017 so as to ease a party split and registration of a new party. Sensing that some leaders could defect, the Sanghiya Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janata had announced a hasty midnight merger. Both constituent parties share 17 members (two suspended) each.
The ordinance, however, was withdrawn within days.
But politics ever since has moved ahead and political equations have changed dramatically.
It all started with growing infighting in the then Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which prompted Oli to dissolve the House. He refused to step down even after the top court overturned his decision and reinstated the House.
After the court revived his UML and the Maoist Centre, Oli started cultivating the Janata Samajbadi Party.
And now the party may split if disagreements among leaders continue in the Samajbadi Party over joining the Oli government.
But even if Bhattarai and Yadav continue to stick to their stance, they might not have enough members on their side to split the party.
What if the majority of leaders decide to join hands with Oli?
“That’s a hypothetical question,” said Bhattarai.
According to Bhattarai, chances of the party joining the Oli government are very low.
When the Oli government was formed in February 2018, both Yadav’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal and the Rastriya Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal supported it.
The Rastriya Janata Party Nepal withdrew support to the Oli government in March 2019 after Resham Chaudhary, its lawmaker from Kailali-1, was sent to jail for life over the deadly Tikapur violence.
Yadav’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal and Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti Party had formed the Sanghiya Samajbadi Party in May 2019.
Yadav until December 2019 was a minister in the Oli government. His ouster was a bit unceremonious, hence chances of him agreeing to support Oli don’t look plausible.
In an interview to the Post’s sister paper Kantipur on Thursday, Yadav said Oli still appears to be in a mood to dissolve the House again.
“We must give an alternative to this [Oli-led] government,” Yadav told Kantipur. “Our party has said Oli’s move was regressive.”
Insiders, however, say politics is a strange game and anything can happen.
Mahato, a senior Samajbadi Party leader who comes from the Rastriya Janata Party, a few days ago was opposed to supporting Oli. But lately, he has been making a push for joining the Oli government.
Mahato, as well as some other leaders from the former Rastriya Janata Party, says the Oli led government is serious about addressing their demands this time.
“Oli seems to have realised the gravity of the situation,” said Mahato. “If he addresses our demands, we will extend our support with thanks. The party, however, will decide if such a support will be from outside or it will join the government.”