As Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party hem and haw, politics has stagnatedCongress leaders say Deuba must take a lead, but he is still reluctant with one eye on the polls. Maoist Centre’s indecision on withdrawing support complicates things.
When the Nepali Congress finally decided to take the lead in forming a new government by unseating Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Nepal’s politics, deadlocked since the restoration of the House of Representatives by the Supreme Court on February 23, was finally thought to be moving forward.
But three days since the decision, the tangle remains.
There has hardly been any meaningful dialogue between Nepali Congress and the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist Centre) and the Janata Samajbadi Party yet.
“Our President Sher Bahadur Deuba should hold talks with Janata Samajbadi Party leaders including [Mahanta] Thakur and another senior leader Rajendra Mahato in order to register a no-confidence motion against Oli,” Congress senior leader Ram Chnadra Poudel told the Post.
Deuba, however, is in Jhapa.
Despite Deuba’s reluctance to unseat Oli and take the lead in forming the government under the leadership of Nepali Congress, Poudel and other leaders of the party have been calling for the removal of Oli and providing an alternative by joining hands with the Maoist Centre and the Samajbadi Party.
Poudel had met Janata Samajbadi chair Mahantha Thakur on Sunday and sought his party’s support to remove Oli.
According to sources within the Nepali Congress, although Thakur sounded positive on Poudel’s proposal, he did not commit anything with respect to the formation of the new government under Deuba’s leadership.
“I found Thakurji positive on joining hands with Nepali Congress but our president should take an initiative on talks with opposition parties in order to register a no-confidence motion,” said Poudel.
Despite Poudel sounding upbeat about the Janata Samajbadi joining hands with Deuba, other leaders of the Nepali Congress are not as confident that an alternative government is possible.
“Deuba knows Oli is in the mood to dissolve the House and hold early elections. Therefore, he is not taking any steps,” said a Nepali Congress leader, who has been in talks with both the Deuba and Poudel factions of the party, on condition of anonymity.
The issue of early elections came up at the meeting between Poudel and Thakur too.
During the meeting with Poudel on Sunday, Thakur said that Prime Minister Oli has made his position clear that only the local or general elections would solve the current political deadlock, according to a source close to Thakur.
“Besides, Deuba knows very well that a section of the Janata Samajbadi will not support him under any circumstances. Therefore, he is not much interested in holding talks with leaders of the Samajbadi Party and the Maoist Centre,” the Congress leader who is close to Deuba and Poudel added.
Some Samajbadi leaders have hinted that in the course of heated political negotiations in the days ahead, it can forward its own claim for the post of prime minister.
“But we have not opened our cards yet,” two leaders of the party told the Post.
On the other hand, Oli has been cultivating the leaders of the Samajbadi Party since the restoration of the House.
With 120 seats in the House of Representatives, Oli’s UML needs only 16 additional votes to get to the magic number of 136 for a majority. The Samajbadi Party has 32 votes.
Of the 275 members in the lower house, four—two each from the Congress and the Janata Samajbadi—have been suspended and a UML member has died.
The Samajbadi Party has put forward a list of demands to the government, Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre but no side has given it a clear response to them, according to a Janata Samajbadi leader who did not want to be named.
“But the government is very keen to fulfil our demands, Thakur told Poudel,” the leader said.
Both Thakur and Mahato are regularly holding talks with Prime Minister Oli, according to another source inside Samajbadi Party.
A task force comprising representatives from the government and the party has already collected the list of pending cases against JSP leaders and cadres since the 2015 Madhes uprising against the constitution and it is examining their legal and administrative status.
The government and Janata Samajbadi Party formed a five-member task force last month with three from the former and two from the latter to resolve cases pending against several party leaders and cadres.
As of Monday, 292 pending cases have been forwarded from various districts with some pending in district courts and others in district administration offices, according to Samajbadi Party sources.
“There has been considerable progress in withdrawing cases against our leaders and cadres,” the Samajbadi Party leader said.
On the issue of releasing jailed JSP lawmaker Resham Chaudhary, the government has already initiated talks with Tharuhat Sangarsha Samiti.
“On the issue of constitution amendment, the government has promised to register a motion in Parliament for further discussion,” the Samajbadi Party leader said. “Therefore, our talks with the government, in order to extend support to Oli, have already reached an advanced stage.”
According to Mahato, the Congress made the mistake of deciding unilaterally to take the lead in forming a coalition by unseating Oli.
“Nepali Congress has taken its decision alone and we were not consulted beforehand. Therefore, we are under no obligation to support it. Second, there is no need for us to support Oli at a time when the government is enjoying a majority,” said Mahato. “Third, since Nepali Congress has not registered a no-confidence motion in Parliament, how can we make our position in advance about a potential no-confidence motion? We will take a decision only after it becomes part of the parliamentary process.”
The Maoist Centre, which had supported the UML when Oli became the prime minister in February 2018, has yet to withdraw its support despite the Supreme Court on March 7 invalidating the May 2018 merger of the the two parties to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and reviving the two constituent parties.
While Thakur and Mahato have been cozying up to Oli, there is another section in the Samajbadi Party, including another party chair Upendra Yadav and chair of the party’s federal council Baburam Bhattarai, that is against supporting Oli.
As soon as Oli dissolved the House, a vertical split had appeared within the party. While Thakur and Mahato were soft on Oli, Yadav and Bhattarai had called Oli’s decision to dissolve the House as “unconstitutional and undemocratic”.
Janta Samajbadi Party was formed following a merger on April 22, 2020 between Samajbadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party—largely prompted by an ordinance Oli had introduced to ease provisions related to the split and registration of parties. Both parties had 17 seats each in the House.
Yadav and Bhattarai want an alternative government led by Nepali Congress but Yadav too is confused by the lack of initiative from the Congress in this regard.
“It puzzles me why Deuba is reluctant to take the lead to hold talks with us and the Maoist Centre,” Yadav told the Post. “We are open to supporting Deuba.”
The Maoist Centre too wants an alternative before it withdraws support to the UML government, according to Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesperson for the Maoist Centre.
“The crux of the present political confusion is the Samajbadi Party. They are in a dilemma,” Shrestha told the Post. “We are in talks with both the Nepali Congress and the Samajbadi Party but we are yet to reach any conclusion.”
But the Janata Samajbadi Party blames the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre for the continuing deadlock.
“We have realised that Nepali Congress’s decision to seek Oli’s resignation and to take a lead to form a coalition government was just an eyewash and taken for public consumption,” said a Janata Samajbadi central committee member on condition of anonymity. “The Nepali Congress has not taken any initiative and the Maoist Centre is fully confused about the future political course.”