Bhattarai faction frets as Yadav goes solo with Cabinet reshuffle proposalDeuba calls for consensus proposal. Observers say JSP dispute could impact the coalition.
On Monday night, Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav held a meeting of the party’s central executive committee and decided to change the current set of ministers in the Sher Bahadur Deuba government. Party’s federal council chair Baburam Bhattarai and senior leader Ashok Rai, among others, were not invited.
With the decision of the majority members of the party central executive committee, Yadav informed Prime Minister Deuba about his intent to recall the ministers and send new faces.
The Bhattarai faction has rejected the unilateral decision taken by Yadav.
The development comes as a clear indication of deepening crisis in the Janata Samajbadi with Yadav and Bhattarai, who joined hands three years ago, drifting apart.
Amid growing rift in the JSP, a constituent in the current coalition, Prime Minister Deuba, according to party leaders, has conveyed to Yadav to reach an understanding with Bhattarai before recommending the names of the ministers.
With this, a Cabinet reshuffle has been stalled for now. The JSP wanted to change its ministers on the heels of a similar decision by the CPN (Unified Socialist), another partner in the ruling coalition, on Sunday.
Out of the 33 members in the central executive committee, Yadav has a majority with 22 members, and in the 503-strong central committee also, he commands a majority. The party has 19 lawmakers in the House of Representatives.
A few days ago, sensing that Yadav could decide on changing the ministers, Bhattarai had urged Deuba not to act on any unilateral decision by the party chair. On June 15, Bhattarai met with Deuba and asked him not to consider any unilateral decision taken by Yadav. But Deuba did not commit much at that meeting with Bhattarai, according to leaders.
Bhattarai and Rai have been demanding a formal meeting of the central executive committee to take a decision on changing the ministers. Yadav has ignored their demand.
The party has four ministers in the Deuba Cabinet—Mahendra Rai Yadav as agriculture minister, Renu Kumari Yadav as physical infrastructure and transport minister, Rajendra Shrestha as federal affairs and general administration minister and Ramsahay Prasad Yadav as forest and environment minister.
Of them, only Agriculture Minister Yadav is close to Bhattarai.
On Wednesday, Yadav called a meeting of the Parliamentary Party to discuss ways of settling the dispute in the party. Bhattarai, Agriculture Minister Yadav and lawmaker Raj Kishore Yadav were not present at the meeting.
Some party leaders told the Post that unity between Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti and Yadav’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal in 2019 was “technical and not organic,” hence there always was a “crisis of confidence.”
Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti and Yadav’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal had merged in May 2019 to form the Samajbadi Party Nepal.
A year later, the Samajbadi Party merged with the Rastriya Janata Party in April 2020 to form the Janata Samajbadi Party. It, however, split in August last year, after a dispute. After the Election Commission decided to hand over the party to Yadav and Bhattarai, Mahantha Thakur formed the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party.
“Three ministers, except Agriculture Minister Yadav, have given their consent to step down,” said Arjun Thapa, a leader close to Yadav. “The chairman took the decision to send new ministers after taking the consent of the prime minister.”
Time is running out for the JSP to change its ministers.
Prime Minister Deuba is under pressure to announce general and provincial elections, which are due later this year. But the way the crisis is deepening in the JSP, it may take some more time for the party to replace its ministers. And, if the Yadav faction takes a decision in a unilateral way, the Bhattarai group will oppose it and will object to the prime minister, said a leader close to Bhattarai. Such a situation could lead the party towards a vertical split.
In principle, the prime minister cannot have a view on the internal matter of a party, according to Bishwa Prakash Sharma, general secretary of the prime minister’s party Nepali Congress.
“If [JSP] ministers are changed now, just days after changing the ministers from the Unified Socialist, there will be pressure [on the prime minister] to make more reshuffles,” said Sharma. “Such moves could impact the coalition.”
Some Congress lawmakers also have been showing interest to join the government after the recent change made by the Unified Socalist, according to Sharma.
The crisis in the Unified Socialist recently over changing the ministers had also taken the party close to an implosion, which could have imperilled the current coalition.
Prime Minister and Nepali Congress President Deuba has been playing his cards carefully so as not to let the coalition break. The Unified Socialist, however, managed to avoid the crisis, even though seeds of discord remain.
The crisis in the JSP now has come as a new headache for the coalition.
Until a few days ago, the Bhattarai camp was in a comfortable position to build pressure on Yadav, as it had a majority of lawmakers on its side. But now Yadav appears to have turned the table on the Bhattarai camp.
“The informal meeting of the party’s central executive committee has entrusted the party chairman with the task of taking a decision on changing the ministers,” said Pramod Sah, a JSP lawmaker.
Yadav’s plans have put the Bhattarai faction on the back foot. Some lawmakers like Mohammad Ishtiyaq Rayi and Pradip Yadav who were with the Bhattarai faction appear to have switched sides.
A party split, however, is not likely in the immediate future because of the existing law that says any faction wishing to split the party must have the backing of 40 percent members of the Parliamentary Party and 40 percent members of the central committee.
“Currently some leaders who aspire to become ministers are sitting on the fence, even though they were earlier in our faction,” said a leader close to Bhattarai. “Once the decision on changing ministers is taken, it will become clear who stands where.”
Those who are closely following JSP politics said that it is Yadav’s working style that has created trouble in the party. Tussle between Bhattarai and Yadav was brewing long before the local polls.
“One of the major reasons behind the present tussle inside the JSP is Upendra Yadav and his working style,” said Tula Narayan Shah, a commentator who closely follows Madhes politics.
According to Shah, since Yadav is a senior political figure, he should be open and liberal.
“He should have used the social capital of Baburam Bhattarai who is a former prime minister and is known as a public intellectual due to his academic credentials,” said Shah. “If the ongoing crisis in the JSP is not addressed on time, JSP will head for a disaster.”
(Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.)