The fluidity in post-election national politics is mirrored in the Madhes. All key actors are analysing the results and what it means in terms of influence in Kathmandu. Most parties are on wait-and-watch mode and only have a hazy idea of what lies ahead.
The MJF is relishing its victory with ruthlessly ambitious Upendra Yadav getting another boost. But the incoherence and competing ambitions within the top Forum brass is already visible. Yadav sounds reconciliatory and completely willing to work with Maoists one day, the very next day J P Gupta takes a belligerent line asking for immediate implementation of agreements before any co-operation.
The Forum needs to decide how it understands this mandate. Is it to represent the Madhes in government? Is it to continue the agitational politics of the past year? Will it do both (be inside, while continuing to be radical) like the Maoists in the past year? The third option seems the most likely: many in the Forum are keen to be a part of the Kathmandu establishment to recoup their huge campaign investments. At the same time, they know distance from and opposition to Kathmandu is politically beneficial on the ground. If they cosy up too much with the Maoists, the other Madhesi parties will pounce on the MJF base.
The defeat of the TMLP's Mahant Thakur was a blow to his party, Madhesi upper castes and local elites in Tarai towns. Some within TMLP are learnt to be happy, for this provides them an opportunity to wrest control of the new party. But most know that the party's credibility stemmed largely from Thakur's image. His defeat means that future defectors from NC will think hard and prefer the MJF over TMLP.
Given that Thakur is not among the most energetic leaders around, he may pull back from day-to-day politics. But if he has thought of the TMLP as a long-term political project and is motivated enough, the defeat may actually be a blessing in disguise and allow him to focus on party-building. There is no other leader in the party who will be willing to spend time on the ground. The Tripathis and Shuklas are too addicted to power politics in Kathmandu.
Sadbhabana (Mahato) is clearly the real inheritor of the mother party with the Shyam Sundar Gupta and Anandi Devi faction almost decimated. But it is also the weakest of the three key Madhesi parties. With 10 seats, they can play a bit in the CA but the maneuvering space will be limited. Like TMLP, Rajendra Mahato and Anil Jha face a difficult choice. Do they want to work with the MJF, albeit as junior partners? Will they project themselves as the opposition to MJF in Madhesi politics?
Madhes units of the NC are in complete disarray and the blame game has started. There are more defections in the offing. The reason for the dismal showing was the party's arrogant and insensitive handling of Madhes over the past year, and disastrous ticket distribution. For NC leaders to now say they lost out because voting happened along ethnic lines is foolish.
With a decline in the party's patronage dispensation, the NC faces a real threat in the Tarai. A party that does not respect and reward as popular a leader as Gagan Thapa cannot be expected to come up with imaginative solutions to win the support of Madhesi youth.
The armed groups in Madhes do not know what hit them. The massive turnout in polls, the Maoist victory, and a respectable performance by the Madhesi parties are not happy signs for the militants. As confrontation with the Maoist government increases, and Madhesi parties engage in competitive radicalism, they can make a comeback. The militants are also hoping that some domestic or international power centre -if it wants to give the Maoists a tough time -will support their armed activities.
In the entire intra-party discussions hovering around these calculations, the Madhes agenda is only peripheral: to be used as a cover to push personal and institutional goals. Indeed, the Madhesi parties right now neither have a roadmap for Madhesi representation or a clear vision of federalism. As important as the immediate power games may be, the Madhesi leaders should begin their homework on substantive issues if they want to make a real difference and change the system.