Alternative politics continues to be a chimera in NepalAnalysts say conservatism and regressive ideas still prevail with no parties or leaders, despite promises, able to inject hopes in a society that yearns for a change.
When the Janata Samajbadi Party was formed in April last year, after a merger between the Rastriya Janata Party and Janata Samajbadi Party, its leaders proclaimed that their goal would be creating an alternative force, as “traditional parties” had failed to address the country’s entrenched problems.
But on Monday, an Election Commission decision to award the party to the Upendra Yadav-Baburam Bhattarai faction came as a harbinger of a split in the party. The Mahatha Thakur faction has an option to register a new party or remain within the Janata Samajbadi, but it has become apparent that the alternative force idea has fallen apart.
Rajendra Mahato, who is close to Thakur, admitted that the plan did not work.
“We became a united force with an aim to create an alternative force, but we didn’t succeed,” Mahato told the media at the Election Commission on Monday after the party was awarded to the Yadav-Bhattarai faction.
But long before the formation of the Janata Samajbadi Party, Bibeksheel Sajha Party had made a foray into politics, claiming to form an alternative force.
Coincidentally, on Monday, just as the the year-long unity efforts of the Janata Samajbadi Party unravelled, Rabindra Mishra, Bibeksheel Sajha’s president, created quite some ripples by calling for the abolition of federalism and a referendum on secularism, both guaranteed by the constitution promulgated in September 2015.
Making public a proposal on his personal website, Mishra, the journalist-turned-politician, claimed that neither federalism nor secularism was the original agenda of the Nepali people. He went on to argue that “foreign forces” had a hand in making secularism a political agenda in Nepal. His proposal, which he calls his personal opinion, has met with objections from members of his own party.
Political analysts say the two events on Monday once again have driven home at least two essential facts: an alternative force is an idea that some individuals float for some immediate attention and that there is hardly any commitment to the cause.
There, however, are some distinctions. The divisions in the Janata Samajbadi show that it was not actually prepared to create an alternative force. As far as Mishra is concerned, many say, through his statement on Monday he simply spoke his mind, as he always carried a rightist agenda in the garb of introducing “welfare politics'' in Nepal.
In an interview with Bijay Kumar in May 2017, Mishra said his party is “centre right” ideology, only to correct it seconds later, when he was asked again.
Convincing political programmes, backed by a strong political ideology, are a must to form a strong political party, according to analysts.
“Neither the Janata Samajbadi Party nor Bibeksheel Sajha, nor Mishra’s original party, had such programmes and ideologies,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator. “Just branding one’s party as an alternative force doesn’t mean that anyone can bring about changes. They should be able to provide an alternative ideology and programme and they should have a certain working style.”
While the Janata Samajbadi Party failed to provide any substantive reason for the people to believe that they can be an alternative to the mainstream politics, Mishra’s credentials were always in doubt.
The Janata Samajbadi Party had the same set of leaders, mostly from the Madhes region barring a few like Bhattarai and Rajendra Shrestha, who had earned notoriety for running behind power and positions.
Mishra, who left a BBC job, had initially started with Sajha Party. Bibeksheel Party, launched by Ujwal Thapa who died on June 1, of Covid-19, was another party that was trying to create a space of its own in the name of alternative politics.
On Monday, by seeking the abolition of federalism and a referendum on secularism, Mishra aligned himself with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, led by Kamal Thapa, which has consistently opposed the abolition of the monarchy and adoption of federalism and secularism.
Hari Roka, a political economist and commentator, says liberalism and Marxism- based ideology have dominated Nepal’s politics for a long time but of late, nationalism is taking over.
“Existing parties have failed to come up with new ideologies and programmes that suit the context of Nepal,” Roka told the Post. “For instance, it was Yadav, the chairperson of the Janata Samajbadi Party, who brought the agenda of the Madhesi community to the mainstream, even though he couldn’t come up with any fresh idea or programme to transform Madhes.”
According to Roka, a long-term vision is necessary to form an alternative force with the goal of catering to people’s aspirations in line with the changing times.
In Nepal, an alternative force is an idea largely inspired from India’s Aam Admi Party (AAP)—or Common Man Party—which made a historic win in Delhi Assembly elections three times starting in 2013. The Aam Admi Party started as an idea of Arvind Kejriwal, a former tax official who launched a crusade against corruption, blaming the existing forces for creating all the ills in the Indian society.
When Bhattarai, a former Maoist leader, started his own party, naming it Naya Shakti, or new force, in June 2016, he also wanted to create an alternative force. The Naya Shakti Party made a foray into Nepali politics with a bang—advertisements were splashed on almost every daily newspaper (except the Post) published out of Kathmandu. He launched his party with great pomp, organising a huge gathering at the Dasharath Stadium in Kathmandu. However, it faced a debacle in the 2017 general elections. Bhattarai was the only one to make it to Parliament.
Bhattarai had quit the Maoist party, which launched the “people’s war” demanding a constitution through the Constitution Assembly, 11 days after the promulgation of the constitution.
Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti in 2019 merged it with Yadav’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum.
When Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum merged with the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal last year, it was basically Bhattarai’s pitch that the Janata Samajbadi Party should be transformed into an alternative force to counter the “traditional parties.”
Roka said the parties trying to become the Aam Admi Party must know it didn’t come to power overnight.
Kerjiwal and his team were involved in the India Against Corruption, a movement which campaigned for the Jan Lokpal Bill, under the leadership of Anna Hazare. They also campaigned for the Right to Information before forming the party.
AAP was formed in November 2012 and contested the Delhi Assembly elections a year later. Kejriwal became chief minister only for 49 days as his party didn’t have a majority. But the party swept the elections in the next assembly polls in 2015, winning 67 seats in the 70-strong assembly. In 2019, it won 62 seats making it a hat-trick.
Maharjan said it has become evident that the Janata Samajbadi Party and Bibeksheel Sajha Party failed to emerge as alternative forces. But he strongly feels that there is still some space for alternative politics.
“There is a frustration among the people about the working style of the traditional parties,” said Maharjan. “There is suppression and discrimination in society. Corruption is rampant. There is room for a new force that can inspire hopes”
Even the return of Sher Bahadur Deuba, the Nepali Congress president, to power, for the fifth time, has made people wonder if Nepalis will continue to make do with the same set of old faces who have been tried and tested.
Deuba as prime minister, many believe, does not inspire any hope, but his appointment at the cost of KP Sharma Oli, who was bent on damaging the constitution, has been described by many as something that can at least save the constitution.
But Mishra’s statement on Monday, raising questions against the fundamental tenets of the constitution, and the traction it garnered have made many raise quite an eyebrow.
It came as a massive turnabout from 2017 when Mishra expressed his commitment to the constitution.
“We have full commitment to the current constitution,” Mishra said in an interview with the news website Nepallive in November 2017. “We don’t have any intention to undo this constitution.”
After Rastriya Prajatantra Party’s Thapa, it was CPN-UML chair Oli who appeared to be trying to promote Hinduism and making statements against federalism. And Mishra joined the league.
Political analysts say some individuals’ statements do not matter but when it comes to forming an alternative force, someone visionary is required to translate the idea into reality.
“I see a fertile ground for an alternative party,” Lokraj Baral, a professor of political science, told the Post. “But I haven't seen leaders and parties who can really connect to the people with such an idea.”