RJP-N Finally Comes To Its Senses
The Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N), a grouping of six erstwhile Madhes-based parties, has decided to take part in the upcoming local poll in Province 2 slated for September 18, 2017.What made the party make such a volte-face is not inscrutable. The RJP-N boycotted the first and second phases of the local polls, citing that the amendment bill had not been endorsed. They were insisting on the endorsement of the bill in their favour, come hell or high water. They did not even agree to the proposal of the government of putting the bill to the vote, fearing that the bill would be defeated.
In fact, the amendment bill has been lingering in Parliament for months. The Prachanda-led government, which strongly assured the RJP-N that the bill would be endorsed, could not take effective measures to have the bill endorsed. The main stumbling block was lack of two-thirds majority in parliament, which is still the case. The main opposition party, the CPN-UML, has been diametrically opposed to the amendment bill since the very beginning. The main exception of the party as well as the general public is the agenda in the bill for separating the Terai from the hills, aiming to engender ethnic strife between the people living in these regions and using the Terai for the vested interests of the RJP-N. The RJP-N does not seem to have its own agendas. It frequently looks to the Indian establishment for suggestions on proceeding with its demands. More often than not, the leaders of the party visit the Indian Embassy to consult the Indian ambassador.
That the RJP-N is playing into the hands of India has been proved by the fact that it agreed to take part in the upcoming local poll when Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj advised it to when she was in Kathmandu in connection with the BIMSTEC meeting. At her behest, the party agreed to put the amendment bill to a vote and accept the results. They also agreed to take part in the poll whether the bill was passed or not. The other driving force that encouraged the RJP-N to take part in the poll is the verdict made by the Supreme Court on August 10, 2017 to uphold the decision of the government to increase local units. Accordingly, the government has now decided to add nine more local units to Province 2. The Election Commission has also decided to reprint the list of voters casting ballots in the election. However, ballot papers will not be reprinted.
The RJP-N has been demanding that it be given ‘umbrella’ as its election symbol. But the Election Commission has so far rejected its request as the ballot papers have already been printed. The Commission has, however, requested the party to use the election symbol of one of its constituent parties.
The dogmatic stand the RJP-N was holding regarding fulfillment of its demands was wrong. The party may also have realized this. Perhaps for this reason, it has not raised any exception to the amendment bill being put to the vote and is ready to accept the results of the voting. It is a democratic exercise to go for the vote and accept the results thereof. However, the RJP-N wants to have its other demands met. The demands include declaration of the remaining people killed in Madhes agitation (some have already been declared as such), free medical treatment for the injured, compensation to the victims of the agitation, withdrawal of cases against the cadres of the party and so on. The government is also positive about meeting these demands.
With the completion of the third phase of the local poll, the government should engage itself in preparing for the provincial and federal elections literally on a war footing as these elections should have been held by January of 2018. The RJP-N must have changed its tone and decided to take part in the poll in Province 2, considering the impending provincial and federal elections as well.
Further, the local elections have shown that the Madhesi people are in favour of the elections. They enthusiastically exercised their franchise in the local polls contrary to expectations of the leaders of the RJP-N that the Madhesi people would side with them in boycotting the polls. What is more, some leaders and cadres even surreptitiously contested the polls. The party has also panicked over the outcome of the polls; the CPN-UML, which is against the amendment bill, has won the hearts of the people by winning the largest number of seats in the polls. All these developments have played a vital role in making the party make a volte-face all of a sudden.
Whatever the driving force behind the about-turn of the RJP-N, the decision of the party to take part in the upcoming local poll is a welcome step, which is in conformity with the spirit of democracy. By boycotting the local polls, the party has incurred a huge loss, to recoup which it has to show good judgment not only in the upcoming poll but also in the provincial and federal elections. After all, the party has a long way to go in winning back its shattered image.