Janata Samajbadi’s birth was accidental and it may meet with an accident of splitFactions led by Upendra Yadav and Mahantha Thakur have drifted apart and reconciliation between them is unlikely in the current circumstances, observers say.
When the Janata Samajbadi Party was born out of a sudden midnight merger between the Samajbadi Party Nepal and the Rastriya Janata Party in April last year, many within the unified force themselves were not optimistic about its future.
There were too many leaders with too many aspirations, and analysts and even party insiders said everyone had egos, management of which was a tough task. Its unity process could never pick up pace, as it was believed to be an outcome of a reactive move rather than the one guided by a shared agenda. The merger was actually prompted by a sudden ordinance, aimed at easing party splits, introduced by then prime minister KP Sharma Oli.
A year after the birth of the Janata Samajbadi Party, Oli became the cause of a rift in the party. In May, the conflict became more apparent. The Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato faction, which came from the Rastriya Janata Party, decided to stand by Oli. The Upendra Yadav-Baburam Bhattarai faction, which came from the Samajbadi Party Nepal, announced its support to the Nepali Congress-led alliance.
Leaders of the Thakur-Mahato faction even joined the Oli government, only to have their appointments scrapped by the Supreme Court in less than two weeks.
When Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba decided to go for a floor test on Sunday, many thought the Thakur-Mahato faction might not vote for the Congress leader. But while addressing the House ahead of the vote, Thakur announced that his faction would vote for Deuba. And it did, making many wonder if Deuba could be the cause of unity in the party.
But it does not look like both factions will bury their hatchets anytime soon, as differences have grown.
“They [the Thakur-Mahato] faction must accept their mistakes and self-criticise,” Yadav told the Post. “They supported the same regressive forces against which we had fought together. I don’t think unity with them is a possibility, at least for now.”
Leaders from the Thakur-Mahato faction also said a reconciliation is not possible, as the Yadav-Bhattarai faction has filed a case at the Election Commission seeking to claim the party.
“I don’t think there could be a patch-up in the current situation, since our dispute has also reached the Election Commission,” said Sarvendra Nath Shukla, a leader close to Thakur.
Thakur’s decision to vote for Deuba came after at least five of his faction’s lawmakers defected to the Yadav-Bhattarai group.
With 17 seats each, when the Rastriya Janata Party and Samajbadi Party united, the total strength of the Janata Samajbadi Party in Parliament had become 34. Two lawmakers, however, remain suspended.
When the Thakur-Mahato faction was supporting Oli, it commanded 20 lawmakers, leaving the other group with 12 lawmakers. But after five lawmakers joined the Yadav-Bhattarai faction, the Thakur-Mahato faction slipped into a minority.
Insiders say Thakur decided to vote for Deuba because five lawmakers switched to the Yadav-Bhattarai camp and more were preparing to desert him.
Political analysts say the tussle between Thakur and Yadav has intensified and the likelihood of reconciliation is low.
“Just because both factions supported the government does not inspire hope of unity between them. The tussle among leaders has escalated,” said CK Lal, a political commentator and columnist for the Post. “Even if they unite, it would be an artificial union.”
The Thakur-Mahato faction had argued that it decided to support Oli because he addressed some of their longstanding demands. Oli had agreed to withdraw cases against the party’s leaders and cadres. Oli had also introduced an ordinance to amend the Nepal Citizenship Act-2006, one of the demands of the Thakur-Mahato faction. But it was scrapped by the Supreme Court. The faction was also in talks with Oli for the release of its lawmaker Resham Chaudhary, who has been handed a life sentence for masterminding the Tikapur violence in August 2015. At least nine people were killed in clashes during protests.
But the Yadav-Bhattarai faction had expressed serious reservations about the other group siding with Oli, who is seen as an anti-Madhesi leader.
Shukla, the leader close to Thakur, however, defended the decision to support Oli.
“There are a few demands which are yet to be addressed—resolving problems of citizenship, withdrawing cases against some of our leaders including Resham Chaudhary and amending the constitution,” said Shukla. “We had joined Oli’s government after he agreed to meet our demands. We will continue to ask the new government also to address our demands.”
According to Shukla, since there was no formal alliance with Oli, the Samajbadi Party has no obligation to continue supporting him.
Now that Deuba is set to govern for a year and a half until the periodic elections, this will make the two factions jostle for ministerial positions. The Yadav-Bhattarai faction hence is likely to keep the Thakur faction at bay.
Shukla, however, said they have not thought about joining the Deuba government yet.
A division in the only strong Madhes-based party, however, may not bode well for these leaders when they go to elections, as they themselves will be stealing each others’ votes.
But Lal, the political commentator, says these leaders are not concerned much about their constituencies.
“Caste, money and power matter more in electoral calculations in the region,” said Lal.
A formal split in the Janata Samajbadi Party also does not look very far as the Election Commission is set to hear the dispute on Wednesday.
After Yadav faction leaders’ demand that the Janata Samajbadi Party be awarded to them, the Election Commission has sought documents from both factions.
“Three legal professionals will get two hours each to plead in favour of each faction,” said Raj Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the Election Commission. “After Wednesday's hearing, the commission will pass a verdict within a few days.”
Chandrakishore, a journalist who keenly follows national and Madhes politics from the region, believes that the two factions of the Janata Samajbadi Party have walked too far from each other.
“The merger itself was not scientific and natural. Both the factions come from two different schools of thought,” Chandrakishore told the Post. “They have already started functioning separately. It would be in everyone’s interest if they pressure Deuba separately to address the demands of the Madhesi people.”