Presidential Choice Signals Loss for MJF
July 20, 2008
Presidential Choice Signals Loss for MJF
by Dr. Sukhdev Shah
By siding with NC-UML alliance in election for President and Vice-President, MJF Chairman Mr. Upendra Yadav has turned the course of Nepal’s political history upside-down, moving it away from modernization and change toward the continuation of status-quo that offers no solution to Nepal’s multifaceted problems causing unending poverty, social disintegration, and loss of hope for most people trying for mere survival.
In exchange for NC-UML’s support for its vice-presidential candidate–former Judge Mr. Permanand Jha–MJF chose to throw its weight behind Dr. Ram Baran Yadav in the election for President, nominated by NC-UML Alliance. In the first round of voting, Dr. Yadav missed gaining majority vote by a narrow margin against CPI-M candidate, Mr. Ram Raja Prasad Singh, with the final outcome to be decided in a run-off.
The rumor is that Mr. Upendra Yadav made the decision to back up NC-UML candidate-changed from MJF’s earlier backing of Maoist candidate-without consultation with his party colleagues and other Madhesi parties-TMLP and Sadbhavna-about the change of alliance. In short, Mr. Yadav is convinced that his party as well as other Madhesi parties have faith in his leadership and will go along with his decision. This probably was true in the actual voting that took place for VP in which most, if not all, Madhesi parties voted for Dr. Yadav.
MJF’s change of position is inexplicable!
In a public statement justifying his switch of alliance for presidential election, Mr. Yadav said that Maoist Party had betrayed him by putting up its own vice-presidential candidate whereas the understanding reached earlier was for MJF backing Maoists’ choice for President in exchange for its (Maoist) pledge to support MJF candidate, a Madhesi, for vice-president.
The Maoist second-in-command Dr. Bhattarai did not deny this “betrayal” but explained that his party was looking for “inclusiveness” in the selection of President and Vice-President and, given their choice of a Madhesi candidate for President, it did not look right for his party to support MJF for vice-president. His party rather would have a pahade to balance the ticket.
Looking at both sides of the argument, Maoist stance appears more reasonable and consistent with MJF’s all-out campaign for inclusiveness and equality, targeted to benefit Madhesi population. On this count at least, Mr. Upendra Yadav is wrong and Mr. Bhattarai right, with Mr. Yadav’s stance seemingly intended for securing immediate gains for his party which, however, overlooks long-term consequences of the decision being taken.
Looking back, it appears that, by nominating Mr. Ram Raja for President, Maoists have extended favors to Madhesi parties by providing much needed support for the Madhesi cause, which is in more profound a manner than Madhesi parties ever perceived-that one of their own will become President of this country-much less a First President! In the earlier search for eligible candidates for presidency, there had been no serious talks-even mention–of a Madhesi filling-in this position and, more importantly, the new-found love of Mr. Yadav for the NC-UML alliance-which never considered this option until the very last minute–is some kind of a “retaliation” against the Maoists, who first thought of this possibility.
As is well-known now, until the break-up of UML-CPN-M parley on presidential selection, UML had pushed for its own party leader to become President, while NC had been steadfast in backing up Prime Minister Koirala for the job. It is reasonable to say that these two parties would have been opposed to even vice-president’s job going to a Madhesi, until the ice was broken by Maoists’ nomination of Ram Raja. Maoists’ magnanimity and generosity towards Madhesis-not ever a hallmark of UML-NC’s dealings with the region and its leadership-deserves appreciation and applaud from all those concerned about Madhes’ fate, not accusation of betrayal and deceit as wrongly perceived by Mr. Yadav.
MJF will face an uncertain future!
In the ascendancy of Dr. Ram Baran Yadav to become the country’s first President, MJF’s future looks grim and the worse case scenario is that the party will slowly wither away and swallowed-up by Nepali Congress (NC). This is likely for a number of reasons. First, MJF has essentially replaced NC in Madhes as the major party, for the sole reason that this region suffered neglect and exclusion by successive Governments during much of the period after Jan Andolan I-many of them headed by NC.
Second, Dr. Ram Baran had stuck to his NC identity throughout the Madhes movement and even decried it as a separatist movement and opposed Madhesi leaders’ demand for autonomy and self-government. With Dr. Yadav claiming the presidency, much of public disenchantment with NC will become a thing of the past, giving the Madhes people enough reasons for returning to and then voting for NC. Madhesi leaders will no longer be credible in their criticisms of past governments dominated by pahades, in view of the supreme honor bestowed upon Madhes by the pahade leadership led by NC–for choosing a Madhesi to be President.
And third, there is the caste factor. Many of Madhesi leaders and some of Mr. Upendra Yadav’s MJF colleagues believe that caste consideration has played a role in the sudden and drastic change in alliance for electing the President. Vice-presidency was not the bargaining point for this shift, as Mr. Upendra Yadav has claimed, since it is everyone’s knowledge that Mr. Jha, hitherto a little known retired Judge with no political background, had little to contribute to MJF’s image or its public acceptability. In other words, Maoist’s refusal to accept Mr. Jha’s candidacy was not worth MJF taking a row with them and aligning with NC-UML, especially in view of UML’s consistent opposition to autonomy for Madhes. It was the caste-solidarity that mattered-seeing a Yadav to become first President of Nepal-an unlikely opportunity for bestowing glory upon the Yadav community!
I will emphasize that this is just a conjecture but may have some substance by looking at the special circumstances for MJF tilt. Already, Mr. Yadav is being criticized for giving undue favors-in terms of allocation of electoral spots and party responsibilities-to Yadavs, in much a higher number than justified by the count of electorates. One estimate is that while Yadavs comprise just over 4 percent of region’s population, MJF’s elected officials make up some 35 of total available seats.
The danger to MJF–and to Mr. Yadav’s own credibility–is that the news of favoritism for Yadavs is going to spread through the population and will be opposed by other caste groups who may chose to re-align with NC or other parties having less sharper image of casteism. There is already much criticism from dalit, women, and indigenous Madhesi groups that Mr. Yadav’s rooting for his vice-presidential choice would have been more credible had he not nominated a member of the high-caste for the job, which benefited from the feudal system that prevailed as until now.
With the ascendancy of Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, and most likely NC claiming the executive power in alliance with UML, it is unlikely that MJF will continue to be a force in Madhes, especially if the new President acts wisely to win over Madhesi population to NC side. For sustaining the NC-UML alliance, these discredited parties will need MJF’s cooperation and support but much of the credit for any special favors given to Madhes will be claimed by NC and partly by UML, with MJF no longer in the driving seat looking after Madhes’ welfare. In other words, the raison d’ atre of Madhes movement will be diluted or lost if the new alliance is sustained and becomes successful.
 Dr. Shah, a former IMF staff member, is based in Washington DC. E-mail contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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