A Madhesi president!
A Madhesi president!
By Dr Sukhdev Shah
I have known Dr Ram Baran Yadav-just elected President of the Republic of Nepal-since the mid-1980s, for the first time in Janakpur, a place both of us share. I recall him wearing a stethoscope around his neck (him being a certified medical doctor), while canvassing for Bhrikesh Lal for his (Lal’s) Mayoral bid as a candidate of the Nepali Congress (NC), which was then banned. Dr Yadav expressed his delight at seeing me in person, since he was familiar with my name for many years because of my association with late BP Koirala.I do not exactly recall what we talked during our first meeting a quarter century ago but what I felt was that he was a committed NC cadre, not afraid of talking against the Panchayat-a practice that carried immense risk, especially for a Madhesi Congress supporter. Dr Yadav knew this well but was not afraid of it.
I met Dr Yadav during my next visit to Janakpur in December of 1990, some months after the people’s movement. There he came to see me at a hotel, and asked me if I would seek Congress party ticket for the forthcoming election. I said I cannot join politics as of now but would like to serve a Congress government in some professional capacity. He then suggested that maybe I should become Rastra Bank governor or ambassador. I thanked him for the compliment and said that I would let the NC leadership know if I decided to take up such positions.
After returning to Washington one month later, in January of 1991, I renewed my effort at galvanizing support for NC in the general election set for May 1991. Among the Nepalis residing in areas around DC, and also elsewhere in the US, I observed a continued reluctance to support NC. A few of those who were politically-minded appeared left-leaning.
Looking back home to Dhanusha, I somehow felt that all five parliamentary seats being contested there can go to Congress if nomination went to deserving candidates, of whom NC leadership had no personal knowledge.
After much thinking and research, and with help from contacts in Janakpur, I selected five names for NC to consider giving tickets, none of whom except one had political experience. The list included Dr Ram Baran Yadav, which I faxed to Kisun Babu-then prime minister-and to Girija Babu. To my satisfaction and delight, NC approved all those five candidates for the election and all of them won, some with huge margins, including Dr Yadav.
This was the beginning of Dr Yadav’s active political journey-from May of 1991-culminating in his win for presidency some 17 years later. Of course, politics is not a straight game, unpredictable to the boot, which meant that there will be ups and downs, many twists and turns, rejections and losses of face, on the way up and, in fact, Dr Yadav faced all such roadblocks during his time in politics.
However, he never gave up, and remained a staunch NC worker and supporter despite, at times, very adverse circumstances, most notably during the Madhesi movement, which he never supported but faced extreme pressures to switch sides or quit politics. Dr Yadav stood firm in his allegiance to NC and retained his seat in the CA election held in April this year, despite NC being routed from many places in Madhes.
An unprecedented honor for Madhes
The nation-wide euphoria for the election Dr Yadav as First President of Nepal is a rare occurrence, not possible without, I would say, some divine intervention. The push for such divine intervention can be attributed to the Maoist leadership and, in all fairness, to Chairman Puspa Kamal Dahal, who played a catalytic role in Dr Yadav’s elevation for him to become first citizen of the new republic. Until the Maoist leadership made it clear that Ram Raja Prasad Singh will be its candidate for president (for whatever reason is not yet clear), no one had considered a Madhesi for president, even vice-president, although Prime Minister Koirala mentioned this to me in a private conversation two weeks ago that he would like VP to be from the tarai.
Until just last week, NC had pushed for Prime Minister Koirala, while UML had no one else in mind except Madav Kumar Nepal, while the Maoists remained non-committal about its choice for president.
However, when UML could not prevail on Puspa Kamal Dahal to back-up Madhav Kumar Nepal’s nomination — who then would have contested Prime Minister Koirala in a two-man race, with MPRF’s role no more than of a curious on-looker-UML’s game plan suddenly changed for an alignment with NC, probably to avoid PM Koirala claiming the job denied to Madhav Kumar Nepal.
However, both the NC and UML faced unprecedented challenges from the candidacy of Ram Raja, behind whom Madhesi parties, including MPRF, would have thrown their full support-for nothing else than the fact that Ram Raja is a Madhesi. To counter the advantage of “madhesiness” of Ram Raja, NC put up Dr Yadav, while UML went for Paswan, the latter having an additional advantage of hailing from Dalit community.
If there is any event that can qualify for divine intervention, Dr Ram Baran becoming the first president of Nepal will be the one.
After the initial euphoria generated by Dr Yadav’s victory (which is being marked by wild celebrations all over Madhes) dies down, he will face gigantic problems in stabilizing the country’s chaotic politics, restoring law and order, and, most importantly, seeing that economic conditions get improved quickly in a way that benefit reaches the grassroots.
One can appreciate the fact that, under the new constitution, president will have no executive authority, which will be the domain of prime minister and his cabinet. A further limitation on president’s maneuverability will be that prime minister will most likely be from a different party, probably with starkly different views about the country’s problems and solution strategies. Nonetheless, as president, Dr Yadav will carry substantial moral authority by projecting an image of impartiality, good judgment, and uncorruptable leadership. Most importantly, he will have to convince the political parties and powerful interest groups in the country of independence from his old mentors, transparency of decision-making, personal integrity, and ensuring that decisions are made in the best interests of the nation.
Finally, I would like to end this tribute to Dr Yadav with a personal note. As noted above, his ascendancy to presidency has been a chancy affair, not the outcome of a bonafied claim. As such, he carries no mandate to help lift the Madhesi population suffering from discrimination and exclusion. For example, looking back at my own experience in Washington DC of over 35 years, not a single Madhesi at the Nepal Embassy there has served even as peon or cook, much less an attaché’ or ambassador-a shameful evidence of the pahade “ownership” of this country. I would hope that Dr Yadav’s performance at his job will help soften pahade resistance to integration and inclusion.
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