The Loktantrik Samajbadi party performed poorly in recent elections. The party lost almost 40% of the local units it won in the 2017 elections. It was the strongest force in Madhes province after the Nepalese Congress and the Janata Samajbadi party, winning 25 out of 136 local units.
The Mahantha Thakur-led party has now slipped to fourth position, winning only 14 local units in the province it claimed to be its stronghold. His poor performance in the polls prompted him to explore partnerships with other parties.
Three days after meeting Nepali Prime Minister and Congress Speaker Sher Bahadur Deuba, Thakur, along with some of his party leaders, submitted an 11-point charter of demands to Deuba on Tuesday.
The demands included the resolution of the citizenship issue and the release of those arrested during the Madhes and Tharu movements in the past. Other demands include the release of Resham Chaudhary, a suspended member of the House of Representatives, amendments to the constitution and laws to delineate the number of local units based on population, and the unveiling of a report of investigation into atrocities committed during protests in the prior to the promulgation of the constitution in 2015.
The party also demanded government action to curb inflation and the black market and keep marginalized communities a priority while distributing land to the landless.
Party leaders say engagement with the ruling coalition will depend on the government’s response to their demands. They say Deuba initiated a process to address their concerns immediately after the budget was approved.
“There will be a positive environment for engagement if our demands are genuinely addressed,” party whip Uma Shankar Argariya told The Post. “However, there has been no development on government membership yet.”
The party had participated in the local elections almost alone, with the exception of arrangements in a few places with the CPN-UML. On the other hand, five ruling coalition parties – Congress Nepal, CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha – have largely fought in local polls as part of an alliance .
At the recent party secretariat meeting, members discussed the need to run in federal and provincial elections by forming an electoral alliance.
“We will form an electoral alliance although it has not yet been decided with which parties,” Keshav Jha, a member of the party’s central executive, told the Post. “Our partnership with the ruling alliance will depend on how seriously the government takes our concerns.
He said Deuba had assured to start implementing their demands immediately after the adoption of the national budget by the Parliament.
The national budget bills will be put to the vote by mid-June, according to Gopal Nath Yogi, secretary at the House of Representatives.
Those who follow Madhes’ politics closely argue that the claims put forward by the party are genuine. However, rather than pressuring the ruling parties to implement the demands, the Loktantrik Samajbadi uses them as a tool to advance its interests.
Tula Narayan Shah, a political commentator who follows Madhes politics closely, said Deuba’s meeting with Thakur and Tuesday’s 11-point demand clearly show something is afoot.
According to him, the 11-point note aims to create the backdrop for the party to join the government.
“The problem with identity-based politics in our part of the world is that these parties are always desperate to join the government while claiming to show that they have kept the people’s issues alive,” Shah said. “The demands of the Loktantrik Samajbadi party are nothing but a strategy to confuse the Madhesi.”
As Shah claims, the party’s history shows that it has raised the issues of the Madhesi people whenever they want to join the government.
Then the Thakur-led faction of the Janata Samajbadi party in June last year joined the former KP Sharma Oli government after issuing an order amending the citizenship law. The order was, however, overturned by the Supreme Court. The party backed Deuba in the vote of confidence the following July.
Shah said that there are chances of concluding an agreement between the Deuba government and the Loktantrik Samajbadi party very soon and that the party will present the agreement in front of the public to affirm that it is committed to addressing their concerns.
Experts say the Loktantrik Samajbadi party needs support to contest elections due later this year.
The Congress, on the other hand, does not want the party to form an alliance with the CPN-UML which could create a problem for the party.
Chandra Kishore, a commentator who follows Madhes politics closely, said that not only the party led by Thakur, but Janata Samajbadi, led by Upendra Yadav, also uses the concerns of marginalized communities to gain power.
He says both parties had a clear mandate from the people in the 2017 general election to stay in opposition and pressure major parties to address issues related to citizenship and federalism, among others.
“However, both sides used the concerns of the Madhesi people as a ladder to ascend to power,” he told the Post. “The Loktantrik Samajbadi party desperately wants to join the government. If any of the concerns are resolved, it will save his face to be part of the Deuba administration.