RAM KUMAR KAMAT
KATHMANDU: Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala, who seems to be enjoying the tacit backing of otherwise not-all-so-supportive party colleague Sher Bahadur Deuba, CPN-UML and other parties in the opposition for a consensus government under his leadership, has intensified parleys with Madhesi parties.
A day after he met Tarai Madhes Democratic Party Chairman Mahanth Thakur, Koirala today met Minister for Health and Population Rajendra Mahato, who is chairman of the Sadbhawana Party. TMDP and SP are major constituents of United Democratic Madhesi Front, a major partner in the coalition government.
Given the back-to-back meetings with two Madhesi parties in as many days, it is likely that Koirala will hold talks with all Madhesi ministers.
Koirala’s bid to seek support from all the constituents of UDMF seemingly stems from the realisation that the prime minister cannot be unseated constitutionally and that any Madhesi party walking out of the government at this stage could force Bhattarai to step down. Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, split in Bhattarai's Unified CPN-Maoist and formation of a new Madhesi party by Sharat Singh Bhandari, who was ousted from Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Democratic, have but piled moral pressure on the Bhattarai government. Any Madhesi party quitting the government now can deal a blow to Bhattarai.
Koirala wants the backing of all constituents of UDMF. But will UDMF constituents support NC President Koirala as the next prime minister of a unity government? With frequent parleys, Koirala's odds may improve but they will remain against him for the fact that UDMF constituents still see his party and UML as their political bete noire because of the two parties' ‘rigid stances on federalism.’
UDMF wants to carve out pradeshes as recommended by the dissolved CA’s thematic committee and the State Restructuring Commission. Reports of both these had suggested two pradeshes in Madhes, but NC and UML had remained adamant on carving out five pradeshes in the region which had led to the breakdown of final talks on May 27. Trust deficit between Madhesi parties and NC, UML is too high at present. NC fears that Madhesi forces will take over its vote bank in the Tarai, traditionally NC's stronghold. Its attempt to dissociate Madhesi parties from the government in the past had though failed. NC argues that Madhesi parties being a part of a democratic force should naturally join hands with the country's oldest democratic party, instead of paying court to the Maoist party, whose democratic credentials, according to NC, remain to be tested.
Koirala’s attempt to win over Madhesi parties will, therefore, depend largely on how his party reconciles with Madhesi parties on federalism. Madhesi leaders have already said they are not only for the change of guard; they are for the resolution on matters of constitution.
Koirala may be facing an uphill struggle to get odds in his favour, but politics is unpredictable; politics makes strange bedfellows.