Politics Of Government Formation And Trajectory Of Violence In Province 2
Madhesi nationalism is very high in Province 2. Rastriya Janata Party (RJP) Nepal in its election manifesto presented the Madhesis (mostly the people who reside in Province 2 and speak Maithili, Bhojpuri, or Vajjika languages) as a separate nation. Such a proclamation has provided much needed energy to the separatist movements launched by the likes of C. K. Raut and Jay Krishna Goit. Province 2 is the most volatile in terms of political stability. It is not just one of the poorest provinces in terms of per capita income but also houses some of the highly underprivileged communities. Both poverty and social discrimination fuel social unrest, which provides a fertile ground for the extremist forces.
No single party won an outright majority in Province 2 Assembly, triggering a wave of political maneuvering to form a coalition government. But the politics of government formation at the provincial level is directly affected by the same efforts at the national level because the two largest parties in the province, the RJP and the Federal Socialist Forum (FSF) Nepal, might also play a crucial role in coalition formation in Kathmandu. This article attempts to shed light on the likely effect of the politics of government formation on the trajectory of violence unleashed by some extremist groups. As stated earlier, political coalition at the national level will directly influence government formation in Province 2, which will eventually determine how these extremist groups will operate.
But, first, let us take stock of the issues raised by the Madhes Movement which failed to reach its definitive conclusion. The Movement now appears to be dormant, if not completely dead, because it lost its legitimacy on several grounds. But the Madhesi issues linger on. Among other things, Madhesi demands include creation of two provinces in the Terai, the southern plains stretching from the east to west surrounded by India on all three sides; a constitutional amendment that would recognize as citizens the children of Nepali women married to foreigners; and provisions that electoral districts be based on population size rather than geography.
The politics of government formation hit a gridlock with parties disagreeing over the national assembly elections. Now that an ordinance from the President has cleared the way, the drama of governmental politics will unfold over the next couple of weeks. Nepal has a history of dramatic shifts on political positions overnight, and political parties are known to set aside their ethics and ideology for power.
No party won an absolute majority at the national parliament. If we could consider the Left Alliance as a single political entity (the UML and the Maoists forged a pre-election agreement to merge and form a new party), they may form a majority government, which would bring to an end any possibility of political instability as a result of a hung parliament. But given the current political development, it is not as straightforward as it sounds.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is reported to have offered Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to lead a new coalition government. The Maoist leader may not accept the offer outright. But he may use this as a leverage to bargain power sharing with the UML. He has already floated the idea of rotating the leadership with UML chief K. P. Oli and is also reported to have claimed leadership of either the government or the new party after merger.
The question is not whether Prachanda will accept Deuba’s offer. The question is what would be the likely scenario if he did. The current political maneuvering is likely to give rise to three scenarios of coalition formation: UML-Maoist alliance, UML-Maoist alliance with the FSF, and Congress-Maoist alliance with other smaller parties. The three scenarios will yield three possibilities of provincial government formation.
One, if the UML-Maoist alliance formed a government in Kathmandu, the RJP and the FSF might seek to form a coalition in Province 2 because both parties have similar agenda and have worked together during the Madhes Movement. But how would Raut and Goit react to the coalition?
The extremists want to ‘liberate’ the southern plains by ‘reclaiming’ it from the ‘Pahadiyas’, the hill people. Goit’s Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha has launched many violent attacks against the people of hill origin. Though relatively peaceful, Raut’s campaign is more vitriolic than the armed group, as he has been spreading hatred against the hill people who he blames to be responsible for all ills in the Terai. There are reports that he has been providing armed training to Madhesi youths.
The extremists believe that the Madhesi parties’ preoccupation with power will take them away from the genuine Madhesi issues and that their coalition is doomed to fail as evidenced by their checkered history. In order to prove their point, they are likely to intensify their violent activities.
Two, in order to vindicate their position on Madhesi issues, the UML-Maoist alliance may invite one of the Madhesi parties to join their government. The FSF is the most likely candidate in this regard because it is a party formed by former communists. This coalition will reflect in the provincial government as well. The three parties have enough seats in the provincial assembly to form a coalition government. How will the extremists react to the entry of a party branded as ‘anti-Madhesi’ (in this regard, the UML) into the state government? Their reaction will definitely be violent, in fact, more violent than if RJP-FSF alliance formed a coalition.
Three, as stated above, the Nepali Congress is trying to keep the UML from power by forging ties with the Maoists. To materialize this, they need support from all other smaller parties and independent members of parliament. This means both of the Madhesi parties will join the Congress-Maoist coalition. As a result, a similar coalition will form at the provincial level as well. The extremists’ response to such a coalition is likely to be no different from their reaction to RJP-FSF coalition. Even though the NC performed well during the local elections, the “Pahadiyas’ party” is unlikely to be accepted by the extremists as a Madhes-friendly party.
This article predicts that Raut and Goit will intensify their extremist campaigns once the election euphoria is over. They will use the politics of government formation as a pretext to launch their activities. From the analysis above, it is obvious that the level of violence may differ with various coalition configurations. They are likely to be more violent when a party they deem ‘anti-Madhesi’ is in power.
(Bhattarai, a former TRN Associate Editor, teaches politics at State University of New York at Geneseo.)