All in the same vote

  • To make the third phase of local polls a success, big parties should go to the interior of Province 2
- DEEPAK CHAUDHARY

Jul 19, 2017-

The recently concluded first and second phases of local elections can be analysed from various perspectives. The major political parties secured the most posts as in the past. People gave a chance to the big political parties believing that they would address their grievances and dissatisfactions. This is because all big parties have been expressing their commitment to prosperity and peace, which are directly or indirectly linked with the political economy. 

Questionable decision

However, who won or who lost is a meaningless question in the present situation. The conclusion of local elections in itself is a great achievement and joy for the country. But whispers can be heard among the people and party cadres regarding the candidates who have been selected—choosing cadres from one’s own group instead of good cadres. A question emerges: Will elected candidates be able to handle local bodies? There is no doubt that the present constitution has given enormous authority and funding to the local level. Local bodies seem to be powerful institutions to deliver development and social services to the people. Obviously, there are both challenges and opportunities for them. If they fail to handle local bodies on behalf of the people, complexities may be created by the traditional bureaucracy. 

There is no doubt that the radical movement of the Rastriya Janata Party (RJP) against local elections has been completely ignored by the people. The RJP’s stance against local polls was unilateral and arrogant. Its demand for an amendment to the constitution may be right, but the technique of exerting pressure may not be justified. Many cadres of the RJP were also nominated for the election as independent candidates. For instance, in Rupandehi district, its top leader Sarwendra Nath Sukla actively took part in the election campaign for an independent candidate. In terms of numbers, the RJP’s boycott campaign ultimately benefitted the major political parties, particularly the UML. The Nepali Congress had greater chances than other parties to gain an advantage. But it could not perform well and it blamed a weak leadership and indiscipline among the leaders. 

The impact of the RJP’s boycott was negligible in Province 1 after Biratnagar was declared a metropolitan city. Bijaya Gachchhadar’s last-hour effort to make Biratnagar a metropolitan city created a favourable environment among Madhesis and Tharus. Nevertheless, his party could not gain any political benefit. The Nepali Congress has been blamed for not being inclusive when selecting candidates in Biratnagar. The Sanghiya Forum had a good opportunity, but it was wasted as it ignored suitable candidates. In the future, the stability of Province 1 will undoubtedly depend on Biratnagar. Ignoring Biratnagar will ignite protests and violence. Surprisingly, the UML performed well in Tarai/Madhes as it won in Susta, Nawalparasi and Janaki, Banke which have large Madhesi populations and are located near the Nepal-India border.

Genuine Madhesi issues

The RJP made a wrong decision. It’s hard-line movement could not go ahead. Only pragmatic and diplomatic endeavours can save the RJP. Historically, the Nepal Sadhbhawana Party (NSP) asserted itself as a regional party following the advent of democracy in 1990. The ruling elites and ultra-nationalists in Kathmandu started accusing the NSP of being an Indian tout, and simultaneously Madhesi grievances and issues were forgotten. 

As a result, the Madhes revolt erupted unpredictably in 2007, and new political forces emerged. The RJP is a product of the 2007 Madhes revolt. Meanwhile, Madhes-based parties are on the verge of losing trust among the people. Does this mean that genuine issues of Madhes like proportional representation, inclusion and poverty alleviation have died completely? Theoretically, such issues are believed to remain alive as long as dissatisfaction and state-backed discrimination persist. The identity issue can get more complicated if it is not tackled properly and in a timely manner. 

At the present political juncture, mainstream parties should be more pragmatic and serious towards the sensitivities of Province 2. During the second phase of local elections, high ranking leaders of major parties showed reluctance to go to Marchawar in Rupandehi district which is populated by Madhesis. The Marchawar region is known as the Humla-Jumla of Madhes in terms of connectivity and negligence. Negligence and allowing isolation to continue can ultimately foment separatist movements.

Elections in Province 2 are scheduled to be held on September 20. Politically, there is a vacuum in Province 2, and filling it in favour of ordinary people will determine victory in the upcoming local polls. People in Province 2 are eagerly waiting to vote. To make the elections a success, all major parties should not act as they did in Marchawar. They should go to the interior part of the province. The RJP also has a good chance to get closer with the people and regain political strength. It won’t be surprising if the election results in Province 2 come as a mix-up.   

 

Chaudhary is the author of Tarai Madhesh of Nepal, Nepalako Madhesi Samaj and Rupantaran

Published: 19-07-2017 07:16

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