Testing times for the Janata Samajbadi Party, as a faction supporting Oli faces setbackThakur-Mahato group’s ministers lost their jobs after Tuesday’s court order, but division in the party is so deep that a formal split looks like just a matter of time.
Tuesday’s Supreme Court order quashing KP Sharma Oli’s two expansions of his Council of Ministers after the May 21 House dissolution has left the Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party stunned.
As many as 10 ministers and two ministers of state of the faction lost their jobs in less than three weeks.
But the setback is not just that the faction is not in the government anymore. The faction’s decision to support Oli has sowed the seeds of division in the party, and it looks like the Janata Samajbadi has reached the point of no return.
Analysts say the party was already headed for a split and the court order is not going to change anything. According to them, the Janata Samajbadi Party is going through a testing time just a little over a year after it came up as a united force.
Oli started to cultivate the Janata Samajbadi Party after his earlier House dissolution of December 20 was overturned by the Supreme Court. The Thakur-Mahato faction rose to Oli’s bait that he would address the party’s long-standing concerns, including constitutional amendments and the release of some of party members and cadres, including Resham Chaudhary.
The Upendra Yadav-Baburam Bhattarai faction, however, was suspicious.
When Oli went for a floor test on May 10, the division in Janata Samajbadi was clear. The Yadav-Bhattarai faction (15) voted against, the Thakur-Mahato group (17) stayed neutral.
On June 4, Mahato and eight others were appointed ministers and state ministers. On June 10, Raj Kishwor Yadhav was appointed a minister in the Oli Cabinet.
Tula Narayan Shah, a political observer who has followed Madhes politics for long, says Tuesday’s court order won’t narrow down the gap between the two factions of the Janata Samajbadi.
“A split is inevitable,” Shah told the Post.
For now, both factions are likely to try to consolidate strength, as they wait for the Supreme Court to pass a decision on the May 21 House dissolution. The Constitutional Bench started the final hearing on petitions against the House dissolution on Wednesday.
“Even if the House is reinstated, more maneuverings are likely, which would rather increase the possibility of a split in the Janata Samajbadi,” said Shah. “As national politics is completely polarised, it will definitely have an impact on small parties like Janata Samajbadi.”
There are many who believe the formation of the Janata Samajbadi itself was not organic. A merger between the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, led by Thakur and Mahato, and Samajbadi Party Nepal, led by Yadav and Bhattarai, was prompted by Oli’s decision to issue an ordinance in April last year.
The ordinance on Political Parties Act aimed at easing party splits and registration of new parties. The two parties decided to merge to pre-empt any split. Observers say Oli, who became the cause of the merger last year, has now become the cause of the split.
“Both factions now will fight at the Election Commission to claim theirs is the authentic party,” said Shah.
As both Rastriya Janata Party and Samajbadi Party had 17 seats each in Parliament, after their merger, the Janata Samajbadi Party was the third largest force in Parliament with 34 seats. However, one member from each constituent party remained suspended.
When the Supreme Court on March 7 invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the Janata Samajbadi became the fourth largest party in the House. But it emerged as the kingmaker.
While it could save Oli, it could also unseat Oli. Observers say Oli tricked a faction into supporting him, while also sowing the seeds of division in the Janata Samajbadi.
According to insiders, Yadav is currently taking an aggressive approach to consolidate his strength.
A leader close to Yadav said he is now trying to turn the tables on Thakur.
“We are in talks with some of those members who supported Thakur but were not happy,” the central member of the party told the Post. “If we can have 20 members on our side, we can have a majority in the Parliamentary Party [when the House is revived].”
Before the Thakur-Mahato faction joined the government, the Janata Samajbadi had a 50-member Central Committee, and Yadav commanded the majority.
But after June 4, the Thakur faction had removed Yadav and other leaders from the Central Committee and added 51 new faces to prove his faction’s majority. Yadav contested the move.
The dispute is currently at the Election Commission, which has asked both factions to submit their claims within 15 days from Monday.
Raj Kishwor Yadhav, one of the ministers to lose the job after the court order, said they [Thakur faction] have not thought of any future strategy yet.
“We will start holding consultations with all sides,” he told the Post. “We are also waiting for the Supreme Court’s verdict on House dissolution.”
Keshav Jha, another central member of the party, ruled out the possibility of any reconciliation between the two factions.
“All eyes are on the Supreme Court right now,” Jha, who is close to Thakur, told the Post. “I do not see the chances of any rapprochement, as we are not going to join the Yadav faction and Yadav is not going to come to us.”
The Thakur faction, according to insiders, is planning to call a meeting to chart out its future course.
Tuesday’s court order may have come as a blow to Oli, but analysts say it has put the Thakur-Mahato faction in a fix. Observers had told the Post that Thakur could face a tough time convincing his constituency why he decided to support Oli.
“Thakur’s position has definitely weakened in his constituency… the Tarai-Madhes,” said Vijay Kant Karna, a professor of political science at the Tribhuvan University who keenly follows national and Madhes politics.
“There is little likelihood of the Janata Samajbadi remaining a united party. For Thakur, it’s a major setback. As far as Upendra Yadav is concerned, he has more room to manoeuvre.”