Madhesi Parties In Oli Govt!
Ritu Raj Subedi
Putting decades of transition to rest, Nepal has embarked on a federal journey with strongman KP Sharma Oli in the driving seat. Prime Minister Oli, who mustered three-fourths majority in the parliament, has shouldered the responsibility of steering the country to stability and peace. Enjoying over two-thirds support of the House is, of course, a big success of the Left Alliance government as this has emboldened the leadership to deal with unintended challenges arising from other powerful constitutional bodies that often butt heads with the elected executive. For that reason, Oli’s government has been touted as the strongest one in the country’s political history. Numerically, it appears to be so but it is still a coalition in nature. The CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist, the two constituents of the Left Alliance, are yet to be ideologically and emotionally unified. To fully depend on the fractious Madhesi parties for flexing the two-thirds muscles is not still a wise idea as it entails a lot of domestic and geopolitical factors.
There is a plausible question as to why Oli was tempted to rope the Madhes-based parties into the government despite the fact that the Left Alliance commands a comfortable majority in the parliament. By bringing the Madhes-based parties to his government, Oli wants to convey a message that the communist government is friendly and cooperative with the Madhesi constituency that the southern neighbour still sees as its ‘strategic asset’ to manipulate Nepal’s politics at the centre. Oli and his party, UML, were vilified as anti-Madhesi in the aftermath of the promulgation of the new constitution. The regional Madhesi parties denounced the statute framed by the elected Constituent Assembly and stoked bellicose ethno-centric movement to abort it. The UML that played a decisive role in writing the statute faced the ire of Madhesi parties. It was forbidden from carrying out the peaceful activities in the Madhesi hinterland, particularly in Province 2. As a result, the party fared very badly in the provincial and federal polls in the very province.
The Madhesi parties have finally voted for Oli, who was their sworn enemy just some time ago. By securing their support, Oli has proven that the new constitution is acceptable to all. In their anti-constitution protest, the Madhesi parties had even disrupted the supplies of fuel by backing the Indian blockade in 2015. But in a dramatic turn of events, they are forced to befriend Oli, giving credence to his political legacy. This has elevated Oli into a powerful figure entrusted to implement the new constitution. This enticing success eludes his contemporaries.
Behind the move to induct the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal (FSFN) in the government, Oli might have thought about meeting his two goals. One is to take the Madhes into confidence by making its leader Upendra Yadav as his junior partner in the government. Upendra’s party emerged as the largest force in Province 2 from the two-tier polls. It has formed the government in Province 2 with the backing of Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJPN). Unlike the divided RJPN, the FSFN is a one-man show of Upendra and, therefore, he can guarantee more predictability of government than RJPN. Besides, he comes from the communist background and his chemistry works relatively better with Oli and Prachanda. Upendra just wants a face-saving over statute amendment. In response, PM Oli has said that the statute can be amended based on the necessity of the country and its justification. Another reason for including Upendra in the government is to balance Prachanda, who can make a dramatic volte-face under the inimical geopolitical pressure. Upendra’s party has not joined the Oli cabinet that was expanded for the third time on Friday due to seeming disagreement over who should get the ministerial berths. Oli has kept two ministries with himself with a view to allocating them to FSFN later.
Critics also point to another reason behind Upendra’s participation in the government. It is also to address the concern of the southern neighbour that wants Madhesi parties in the government. India has woken up to its failure of neighbourhood policy so it does not want to further antagonise the left government that won an overwhelming mandate from the election. It is coaxing the Oli government to prevent its further tilt towards the northern neighour. Thus, the geopolitical factor also impelled Oli to include Upendra’s party in his government.
Oli wants to delete the anti-Madhesi tag by bringing the Madhesi parties on board the government. But this might come at an ideological price. Oli clinched a landslide victory on the planks of nationalism. It will be a daunting task to keep the flame of nationalism glowing, if Oli goes on to compromise with the regional forces hell-bent on amending the statute based on parochial ethnic identity. Oli must be aware of this fact. He may not hurt the sentiments of the bigger chunk of populace that handed him a thumping electoral victory. The people have pinned their hopes on the Left government that it will deliver stability and prosperity to them according to its poll promises. Sad to say, it has inherited an economy that is in shambles. It has to cough up a huge amount of budget to implement federalism that is in itself an expensive political system. The previous government had put unnecessary fiscal burden on it. To seek to increase the size of revenues and customs duties to meet soaring costs won’t be a rational choice. It must focus on investment and infrastructural development to inject impetus into the sluggish economy.
Balanced foreign policy
Maintaining a balanced and independent foreign policy is another challenge for Oli. While sticking to his patriotic stance, Oli must take the two giant neighbours into confidence. Nepal can’t afford to side with any neighbour owing to its sensitive geopolitical location; it should tap the development opportunities offered by both India and China. But the country must not shy away from reaping the economic benefits that come in form of investment and trade from China just because India does not like it.