Thakur’s party struggling for survival with poor poll presenceThe party of veteran leader Mahantha Thakur is unable to field candidates in many local units and wards of Madhesh Province.
Tufan Neupane & Ajit Tiwari
The Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LSP), a Madhesh-based party plagued by intra-party rifts, has been struggling to protect its political existence during the May 13 local elections. The party of Mahantha Thakur has undergone several mergers and splits over the years. It could not field candidates in many local units and wards of the Madhesh Province. And even in the local units where it has fielded its candidates, owing to its poor voter base, the party is planning to support other parties’ candidates and is currently negotiating deals.
Bardibas Municipality of Mahottari district is an example.
In the municipality, the party had fielded Chet Kumar Thapa and Ramgun Kumari Mahato for mayor and deputy mayor, respectively. But on April 29, Thapa and Mahato withdrew their candidacies and the party is in negotiations with other parties for an electoral partnership deal.
Thapa, who is also the Bardibas town committee chief of the party, said they withdrew their candidacies as per the party’s decision after holding talks with party leader Sarat Singh Bhandari. However, district in-charge Abhiram Sharma and district chairman Rambabu Sah said they had no knowledge the candidates had pulled out of the electoral race. The Bardibas’s incident shows how poorly the party organisation is being run.
The Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, which was formed after splitting from the Janata Samajbadi Party last year, has been unable to attract leaders and cadres of other parties to its fold. Party chief Thakur’s supporters who were elected as chiefs of several local units or who filed candidacies in the 2017 local polls have already defected to other Madhesi parties. Rajeshman Singh, the mayoral candidate of the party (then Rastriya Janata Party) for Madhesh’s only metropolitan city of Birgunj in 2017, recently defected to the Janata Samajbadi Party and has become the mayoral candidate of the ruling coalition for the city. The Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, meanwhile, has decided to support CPN-UML candidate Bijaya Sarawagi for mayor by keeping Birgunj deputy mayoral candidacy for itself.
The Rastriya Janata Party was formed after a merger of six Madhes-based parties in April 2017. The six parties included Mahantha Thakur-led Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party, Rajendra Mahato-led Sadbhawana Party, Sharat Singh Bhandari-led Rastriya Madhes Samajbadi Party, Mahendra Yadav-led Tarai Madhes Sadbhawana Party and Rajkishor Yadav-led Madhesi Janadhikar Forum- Ganatantrik and Anil Jha-led Nepal Sadbhawana Party.
The Rastriya Janata Party had won chiefs of 25 local units out of the total 136 in the eight districts of Madhesh Province in 2017. It won the chiefs of five local governments of the total 18 in Saptari district.
But the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party has no candidates for three local units—Saptakoshi Municipality, Hanumannagar Kankalini Municipality and Agnisair Krishnasabaran Rural Municipality—for the upcoming local polls. And four among five elected chiefs of the local units who were Thakur supporters, have already left the party.
The Rastriya Janata Party had also won the mayoral post in Janakpur Sub-Metropolitan City, the provincial headquarters of Madhes, in 2017. Janakpur’s mayor Lalkishor Sah, who had won the elections on a Rastriya Janata Party ticket, is not with the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party now. He is the common candidate of the ruling alliance from the Janata Samajbadi Party. Bibha Thakur, who was active in the then Rastriya Janata Party, is now a mayoral candidate of the Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party, which was formed recently after a split in the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party. Similarly, deputy mayor of Dhanusha’s Hansapur Municipality Renu Jha, who was elected on a Rastriya Janata Party ticket, is now with the Janata Samajbadi Party.
In Bara, the Loktantrik Samajbadi failed to file its candidates for mayor or chairperson and deputy mayor or vice-chairperson in three out of the 16 local units in the district. The party did file candidacies in Nijgadh and Mahagadhimai municipalities and Karaiyamai Rural Municipality for the upcoming local elections. Loktantrik Samajbadi district chairman Nabalkishor Singh said the party could not find candidates as it lacks a voter base there. “The party central leadership instructed its district committee to file candidacies in all the local units. But I myself decided not to field candidates in three local units. Our candidates won’t get a good number of votes and this will only tarnish the party’s image. So it is better to stay away from the race in such local units,” he said.
Similarly, the party’s presence in Rautahat is also weak. Its district chairman Lila Sah expressed similar views when asked why the party could not field its candidates for mayor and deputy mayor in all the local units in the district. The mayor of Gajara Municipality Santalal Chaudhary, who used to be a Thakur supporter, has already joined the Janata Samajbadi Party.
The party’s position in Sarlahi, the home district of the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party chiefs duo Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato, is equally poor. It could not find candidates for mayor and deputy mayor for Bagmati Municipality among the 20 local units in the district. Among 200 wards in the district, the party could not field candidates in several wards. In 2017, the Thakur-led Rastriya Janata Party had won chiefs in five local units, two federal parliament members and two provincial assembly members but not all of them are with him now.
Political analyst Tula Narayan Shah sees two main reasons why the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party has been weakened. “One cannot say whether a party is weak or strong until the final election results are out. But it is true that Thakur’s party looks weak now. One of the reasons is that some influential leaders of the then Rastriya Janata Party, who became members of the Janata Samajbadi after the unification, did not return to Thakur’s fold after the party’s split. It seems that the dominant faction of the party formed after the unification of two or more parties but split again becomes stronger and another group becomes weak. Not only the Loktantrik Samajbadi, which was split from the Janata Samajbadi Party, the situation of CPN (Maoist Centre) divided from the Nepal Communist Party is also the same,” he said.
The Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum and the Rastriya Janata Party won 17 and 18 seats, respectively, in the federal election of 2017. But the Loktantrik Samajbadi has just 14 federal lawmakers now. As many as 25 people were elected to the provincial assembly from Loktantrik Samajbadi but the party has only 15 provincial assembly members now.
Brisheshchandra Lal, another influential leader of the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party until recently, revived the Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party, which was once led by Mahantha Thakur. Lal claimed that Thakur’s party could not make a strong showing in national politics. “The party, when it was the Rastriya Janata Party, could not maintain its fundamental character, and has turned into a fief of a few. They have ignored key issues of Madhes.”
Lal also alleged that another constituent of the Rastriya Janata Party, the Janata Samajbadi Party is only concerned with gaining power and has joined the ruling alliance.