Can two regional parties stay true to their agenda?Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party should learn from the failures of big Madhesh parties, experts advise.
Two new regional forces have emerged in parliamentary politics from the recently concluded polls. The Janamat Party established itself in the Madhesh region while the Nagarik Unmukti Party made it to the federal parliament and provincial assembly from the western and far-western Tarai.
Both the parties are keen on joining the government, but they have some preconditions. The Janamat Party has asked for several ministries in the Madhesh Province including the chief minister. On the other hand, the Nagarik Unmukti Party has said it will join the government only if its jailed leaders and cadres, including Resham Chaudhary, are freed.
If they join the government, they will have challenges galore to carry forward the regional agenda and the issues they used to win the elections, experts say.
Rajanikant Jha, a Madhesh analyst, said Nepali politicians lust for power, when in fact leaders and parties with long-term vision should not be giving priority to power and position. According to him, the Janamat and Nagarik Unmukti parties seem to believe that they would be powerless and unable to deliver on their electoral promises if they stayed out of government.
“Unsure of whether the public would trust them again, the parties might have seen it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hold positions of power and have their names recorded in history,” Jha said. “So far, whoever has joined power politics has become corrupt. So it is a big challenge for them to come out clean.”
The ruling alliance of the Congress, the Maoist Centre, the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, and the Rastriya Janamorcha is two seats shy of a majority in the House. So it has been trying to woo the Janamat Party and the Nagarik Unmukti Party to make up the shortfall.
Janamat Party chair CK Raut defeated veteran Madhesh politician Upendra Yadav—who spearheaded the Madhesh movement and rose to national politics. Another prominent Madheshi leader Rajendra Mahato was also defeated in the last month’s polls.
Two major Madhesh-based parties, the Janata Samajbadi and the Loktantrik Samajbadi, had a lacklustre performance in the polls. Voters were apparently disenchanted as the parties failed to live up to their promises and ignored key Madhesh issues.
“The electoral losses of Madhesh veterans may make the new regional parties worried that they too don’t have long to enjoy the perks of power,” said Jha. “Politics of reason and vision is rare these days and everyone is after power, which is worrying.”
CK Raut, a leader from Madhesh, launched the Janamat Party on March 18, 2019 after quitting his secessionist and radical agendas. The party fared well in its foray into parliamentary elections. It won five seats in the House of Representatives—one under the FPTP and four under the proportional representation category in last month’s polls. The party has also agreed to cooperate with the ruling coalition at the provincial and federal levels.
The Nagarik Unmukti Party, led by Ranjita Shrestha, was launched in January this year, and won four local units in the May elections. The party won three House of Representatives seats under the FPTP category in last month’s elections.
Shrestha’s husband Resham Chaudhary is currently in jail after being convicted of orchestrating the 2015 Tikapur killings that saw the deaths of eight people including a senior police official and a toddler.
In the lead-up to the 2015 constitution promulgation, ethnic Janajati groups were disenchanted at the demarcation of provincial boundaries and the number of provinces. The Tharu community in western Nepal organised under the Tharuhat Tharuwan banner demanded a separate Tharu-dominated province.
At the same time, in the farwestern Nepal, another political movement named Akhanda Sudurpaschim was launched demanding a separate province in the farwestern region, which has a sizable Tharu population. After politicians in Kathmandu agreed to the demands of Akhanda Sudurpaschim to add one more province, for a total of seven provinces, Tharu people gathered to protest in Tikapur, Kailali where the incident took place.
Political analyst Pitambar Bhandari said identity agendas entered national politics prominently after the 2008 movement. “As major political forces were engaged in larger national agendas after 2008, some parties got space in regional agendas. Their existence was accepted, and many regional leaders emerged,” he said.
The problem, added Bhandari, is that these agendas will not remain theirs forever—soon big political parties will also embrace such agendas. “The Janamat Party and the Nagarik Unmukti Party have emerged on the planks of language, ethnicity, and other regional issues, but as soon as they join national politics, that will not remain their exclusive agendas. For example, the farmers’ issues will be raised by other big parties as well, and this will gradually weaken the regional parties,” he said.
The two new parties have turned out to be more person-centric, said observers.
CK Lal, a political commentator, said parties such as the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party would hold group discussions on regional issues even though the decisions were taken by the leadership. “But the Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party are like private firms; they are more person-centric. Raut’s activities seem to be aimed at serving his personal interest. He wants to go to power to make it easier for him to get established in society,” Lal told the Post.
Jha, the analyst, foresees the new parties meeting the same fate as the JSP and the LSP if they ignore regional agendas. “The regional forces should be acquainted with the issues and problems in their regions better than national forces. Whether they join the provincial or the central government, addressing their regions’ agendas and issues must be their first priority,” he said. “Otherwise, there is no guarantee that CK Raut will not lose future elections, just like Upendra Yadav did this time.”
Leaders of the new parties, however, vow not to abandon their agendas and electoral promises.
A Janamat Party leader, Mamata Jha, says it does not take long for a party to be irrelevant; the moment they forget their agendas, people will punish them.
The party has put forward some important issues in Madhesh such as the citizenship, problems faced by farmers, and rampant corruption in the region, its leaders claim. “Our party will join the government prioritising agendas and issues, not power and positions. We will regularly monitor and follow up on whether the big parties are positive about our demands and on track to meet our demands,” Jha, the leader, said.
“We need to learn from the failures of the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party that rose to power riding on Madhesh issues—but look where they are today,” added Jha.