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Moderating the moderates

Monday, June 19th, 2017
Pic: Bikram Rai

Pic: Bikram Rai

Chandra Kishore

Kathmandu’s rulers scrambled to find Upendra Yadav’s phone number only after he had burnt a copy of the Interim Constitution and launched the agitation in the Madhes in January 2007. He had sheltered in India during the war, and was unknown to his own Maoist cadre before that.

There have been two other movements in the Tarai since then, and rumours, speculation and distrust persists in Kathmandu about what the Madhes really wants: Why did Upendra Yadav suddenly agree to local elections without an amendment to the Constitution? Why is Mahanta Thakur still in the streets despite India’s pressure on the RJPN? Why are polls in Province 2 still uncertain even though two other Madhes-based parties led by Upendra Yadav and Bijaya Gachhadar are on board? Who is actually behind the RJPN?

Yadav looked like a Madhesi hardliner until recently. He insisted that polls would not be acceptable without amendments to the constitution. Now, he seems to want elections even more than some in the Kathmandu establishment. He has slammed the RJPN for depriving Madhesis of a chance to elect their own local representatives.

To those who know Yadav, his latest U-turn was sudden but not surprising. A shrewd strategist, he believes in the principle of utility. He carefully avoided being labeled an Indian lackey. While Mahant Thakur led the negotiation panel of the Madhesi Front, Yadav focused more on agitation.

His party emerged as the biggest Madhes-based one, relegating Rajendra Mahato’s Sadbhavna to third position. It is now Mahato who wants to prove himself to be more revolutionary than Yadav. And Mahant Thakur who always showed flexibility in the past is competing with Mahato to reject compromises.

Yadav realised early on that the Kathmandu establishment would not be ready to amend the Constitution the way Madhesi leaders wanted. So he decided to be part of the state and fight from the inside. He is not simply eying the post of Chief Minister in Province 2, he wants to be Prime Minister of Nepal. This is why he is trying to be a national party, removed the word ‘Madhes’ from the Federal Social Forum Nepal (FSFN).

Upendra Yadav is convinced that the FSFN will emerge as the biggest party in Madhes. He thinks the RJPN is on the wrong side of history, and is probably happy that his Madhesi rivals are constricted to Province 2 only. He has been on a roll ever since the RJPN refused to toe the new Indian line supporting elections.

New Delhi’s new Nepal policy has shifted, and this is why the RJPN is trying to project a not-just-Madhes image. But what Kathmandu needs to understand is that it must talk to both the FSFN and RJPN. The RJPN is a moderate force, but there are more radical groups in the offing.


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