Nepali Times Asian Paints
To the Forum

The word 'Forum' has entered the Nepali lexicon as the shorthand for a political party because of the spectacular rise of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum from a donor-funded NGO to the fourth largest party in the assembly in just two years.

It rode the wave of the Madhes Movement of the winter of 2007 to propel itself as the party that controlled the destiny of the people of the Madhes.

But this dramatic rise isn't matched by a commensurate institutionalisation of the party. The leadership is particularly faction- ridden (not that this is anything unusual among Nepal's fractious parties) because it a party of defectors. Concerns peripheral to the livelihood of majority of the poor in the Madhes (the status of Hindi, and the contested One Madhes proposal) have consumed most of Upendra Yadav's energy.

But if there is one spectacular failure of the MJF in government, it is in relief of Kosi flood victims and rehabilitation of the damaged embankment, the highway and transmission lines. Two of the MJF ministers in the coalition are from Sunsari and another is from Saptari, districts that lie on the east and west banks of the Kosi. Six months after the floods, these ministers have to little to show to their constituencies and the nation.

The MJF convention in Birganj is evidence why: the party is so obsessed with internal wrangling that it can't get anything done. It even failed to come up with a revised political blueprint to uphold the Madhes agenda.

Differences over strategy appear to have been papered over. But fundamental disagreements remain between MJF politicos who have defected from the NC, UML and Maoists.

Originally, the party was conceived as a forum of like-minded politicians from different parties, but now that it has succeeded in establishing itself as an important player in national politics. the MJF needs to grow out of the politics of brinkmanship and extremism.

The party will probably find that it fills the right-of-the-centre niche in the Nepali political spectrum and serves as a bulwark against Maoist influence in the Tarai. Its name notwithstanding, the MJF needs to transform itself into a party that is committed to protect the overall interests of all Nepalis, something that it is imminently capable of doing with its sizable presence in the CA as well as the government.

The Maoists will do what they have set out to do. The NC will try to stop the Maoists from doing whatever it is they want to do. The UML will be there to cheer the winner and share the prize. The games the Big Three play may end up delaying the framing of the constitution, so it's up to parties like the MJF, TMLD and others to rise above intra-Madhesi differences and keep the CA on track.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)