Province 2 Election Stage Set For One-upmanship
Ritu Raj Subedi
Province No 2 in the southern plains has been once again thrust into the political limelight with major and minor parties jockeying for more seats from the local level election slated for September 18. The province that covers eight districts of core Terai has been in agitation for a decade. It has been a flashpoint of contested political discourse and an instrument of geopolitical agenda of foreign powers to keep the country in a state of ‘controlled instability.’ And now that the region is set to go to poll to choose the representatives of empowered local government, the wider expectation is that election will finally restore stability and good governance there, giving the needed impetus to overarching goal of economic development that it has been yearning for years.
The top leaders of major parties - Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-UML and Maoist Centre - have put all their energy in canvassing for their respective parties in the province. Every party has its own strategy to project itself as capable and pro-people force before the eyes of Madhesi masses. The NC has been considering the Terai as its traditional stronghold as well as vote bank. But, the UML, riding on the wave of thumping victory in two phases of polls, is straining every nerve to stop the NC from taking the lion’s share of top posts of the local units. The UML’s roaring success in the first and second phase of the local polls, held in six provinces, has given the NC, the largest force from the second Constituent Assembly election, sleepless nights. It wants to compensate the loss of previous elections from the election in Province 2.
So, the NC is dead set to play its ace to depict the UML as anti-Madhesi force. In its recent internal meeting, NC stalwart and former deputy prime minister Bimalendra Nidhi asked the party cadres to vilify the UML by employing all necessary tactics. For the NC, the proposed statute amendment proposal has been the biggest ammunition to hammer the UML that is standing against it. It seems to kill two birds with one stone. The NC is for putting the statute amendment to a vote in the parliament without the guarantee of support of two-thirds number of lawmakers. In either case - the endorsement or rejection of the bill- the NC stands to make political gains. If the parliament approves the Bill, the NC will attempt to steal a march on the agitating Madhesi parties that thinks the entire process of amendment resulted from their past movements. The two parties will jostle to claim credit for the passage of bill and cash in on it during the poll
But, this scenario is unlikely to occur given that UML will do everything in its capacity to vote down the bill. And as Rastriya Prajatantra Party feels humiliated after the NC refused to invite it into the government, it is doubtful that the fourth largest force in the parliament will vote for the amendment. It is also sharply divided over the amendment proposal with over a dozen lawmakers lobbying against it. The RPP chair has claimed that it is now engaged in course-correction initiatives and wants to remove a bad tag of power-mongering party labeled by the opponents. Given this, it may not go for courting trouble by giving the nod to the statute amendment that is not liked by a large section of the populace.
In case the House rejects the controversial bill owing to the UML’s stand, the NC will jump to accuse the main opposition of being the enemy of Madhes. The NC and Maoist Centre will compete to vilify the UML so as to garner votes as much as possible. This sort of one-upmanship will preclude the UML from clarifying its position among the voters. The NC has another gambit, too. According to the UML, the NC has harboured surreptitious design to keep the agitating Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal away from election so that its votes are not split. It has been believed that both the parties have the same constituency and the RJP-Nepal’s staying away from the election increases the NC’s chance of gaining more seats in the polls.
Meanwhile, Maoist Centre and Madhesi parties have still been tempted to play the ethnic card in the election. MC and RJP-Nepal appear to be on the same page as both have invoked ‘multi-nation’ state and One Madhes One Province. The MC’s strategy is intended to recoup the electoral loss it suffered in the two phases of local polls. But, this is a dangerous proposition floated under Indo-European design to destabilize Nepal by creating ethnic, religious and geographical rifts. This also carries geopolitical implications. For India and the West, Nepal is the gateway to Tibet. With Nepal reeling under permanent transition, the foreign powers have a field day to fish in troubled waters here as well as in China’s autonomous province, Tibet.
In his recent hustings, MC chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had accused the UML of promoting parochial nationalism in a bizarre attempt to denigrate the main opposition in the eyes of Madhesi voters. Prachanda’s invective does not ring true as the UML government had earmarked the largest amount of budget for the development of Terai in its history. It had defeated the Indian embargo and opened a route to China via Kerung of Tibet. How can it be a narrow nationalism when the country’s over-dependency on India is reduced? It is extremely preposterous to put the national integrity at stake for the sake of petty electoral benefit.