Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
At the Forum


The Forum saga has all the elements of a Bollywood potboiler: betrayal, anger, violence, money and revenge.

First things first. No one comes out looking clean following a messy party division. For all his self-righteousness and sudden discovery that this is an "anti federalism" alliance, Upendra Yadav has shown remarkable inconsistency.

He first sat out the entire army chief controversy by junketing around the globe. Returning a day after Prachanda's resignation, he immediately started aiming to become PM with Maoist support. When the numbers did not add up, he shifted allegiance to the UML-led coalition and signed the common minimum program. And though his heart was not in the arrangement, he wanted to lead the MJF in this set-up. When that did not happen, Yadav sacked Bijay Gachhedar & Co.

For his part, Gachhedar's aim throughout seemed to be to divide and weaken the party. He unilaterally decided to back the UML-NC combine and bargained a plum portfolio for himself. He got the other parties to make an announcement saying they would invite him to lead the MJF in government. He threw money around to get MPs on his side. And then using old friends like Khum Bahadur, Gachhedar got the NC patriarch to put pressure on the PM to swear him in without an official party decision.

Beyond the clash of ambitions, this is a deeper story here of how opportunism in the absence of ideology has a short life-span. The Forum was never a proper party. Just look at Bijay's far right antecedents and desire to turn the clock back to the 1990s, Upendra's radical left background and commitment to federalism and the inscrutable JP Gupta's shift from social democracy to ethnic separatism inspired by a jail stint and study of Sri Lankan Tamils. On the ground, activists who build the organisation for the Madhesi movement had to co-exist with late entrants who had opposed Madhesi issues through this period.

The party had its use when a broader Madhesi identity was sharpest before elections and Yadavs, Tharus and Muslims needed each other. It could remain united when the national parties were working in a relatively consensual framework and there was no need to make difficult choices. But as the polity became fractured at the top, and the Madhesi identity started fragmenting on the ground, MJF leaders had to find their own paths.

Also, we tend to ignore the inter-personal element which played a crucial role in even former Upendra loyalists veering away to the other side. In the last year after his electoral success, Yadav had become intolerably arrogant and felt invincible. He had little time for his MPs and rarely visited the Madhes. Gachhedar, on the other hand, closely wooed parliamentary party members.

It was in this internal vortex that external forces intervened. The NC wants to weaken the Madhesi groups to recover its Tarai base. Add to it GPK's personal grudge against Upendra for defeating his daughter in Sunsari and opposing his dream of presidency last year. India was also irritated with Yadav for his intransigence on multiple issues and felt that he needed a lesson.

With Gachhedar, NC, UML, India and the army ganged up against him, it is no surprise that Upendra Yadav and JP Gupta were reduced to a minority in the party.

This division will have two immediate implications. It makes national politics more unstable. There are now three key actors (Prachanda, Jhalanath Khanal, and Upendra Yadav) who want to see an end to this government.

It will also make Tarai politics more fragmented and radicalised. Yadav will try to engineer some kind of agitation in the plains to increase his bargaining power in the capital. He may also attempt to ratchet up the anti-India sentiment, but that could be self-destructive as India is not going to tolerate that rhetoric so close to the border. In case a political vacuum does develop, the Maoists or a new force is more likely to benefit from it than traditional parties.

When Upendra Yadav was asked last year why he was getting people like Bijay Gachhedar into the MJF even though they had no commitment to Madhes, he replied, " "I need their experience of power politics." Looks like the experience has boomeranged.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)