Ethnic parties losing grip in eastern Nepal

Phidim, Panchthar, November 21

Political parties with ethnic agenda seem to have lost their hold in the eastern part of the country.

These parties had expanded their influence during the first and second Constituent Assembly elections held in 2008 and 2013 respectively, demanding ‘Limbuwan State’ in the region.

So much so that the parties have lost their ground even in Panchthar, the epicentre of the Limbuwan movement that began in 2005-06. Most of these parties’s general assemblies and gatherings of their sister organisations used to be held in the district from where majority of their central committee leaders hailed.

During the first CA elections, Federal Limbuwan State Council and Limbuwan State Council, both affiliated to Democratic National Forum had launched a movement with the slogan ‘No Limbuwan, No Entry’ in the region, against the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, alleging that these parties did not pledge to form a Lumbuwan state comprising nine districts east of the Arun River in their poll manifestos. The districts included Terhathum, Dhankuta, Sankhuwasabha, Taplejung, Panchthar, Ilam, Jhapa, Sunsari and Morang. The groups had demanded Limbuwan state with the right to self-determination.

As part of their movement, the groups had made it mandatory for vehicles, schools, colleges, government and offices  in the region to mention ‘Limbuwan State’ in their address lines.

They also disrupted programmes organised by the NC and UML.

Pallo Kirat National Forum, one of the constituents of the Limbuwan party, had even barred CA members from collecting public opinion and suggestions for the new constitution in 2008. Though the Kumar Lingden-led Federal Limbuwan State Council participated in the first CA elections, the Limbuwan State Council headed by Sanjuhang Palungwa boycotted the polls. Two CA members were elected under the proportional representation electoral system from the Lingden-led party.

By the 2008 CA elections, the party disintegrated into four factions, and the mother party, Federal Limbuwan State Council did not take part in elections. However, the Palungwa-led Limbuwan State Council decided to contest elections. The party had fielded first-past-the-post candidates in 14 districts — from Taplejung to Siraha — but none of the candidates could garner more than 1,000 votes.

In 2014, five factions of the party were unified under Lingden’s leadership. The new party was named Federal Limbuwan Party Nepal. But the unity could not last more than a year. The party again split into four factions. Dissatisfied with the split, some leaders and cadres even quit the party. Of the five factions, only the Limbuwan Forum Nepal participated in the recently held local level elections but without any success.

By now, most of the influential Lumbuwan leaders had joined other parties such as NC and UML. Only Limbuwan Forum Nepal is taking part in parliamentary and provincial elections slated for November 26.

Earlier, the parties used to adopt aggressive election campaigns full of ethnic slogans. However, this time around, the party’s poll publicity programmes are restrained.

Local political analyst Nira Nanda Acharya attributed the situation to realisation among Limbuwan activists that a broader national goal couldn’t be achieved by getting mired in ethnic and regional agenda. “In this age of globalisation, no party can exist on ethnic and regional agenda,” he opined.

According to Acharya, another reason for ethnic and regional parties losing ground is the latest political development at the national level in which politics has polarised into left and democratic alliances. “These leaders may have understood that if they do not join mainstream politics and remain stuck with regional issues, they will cease to exist,” he observed.

However, Sagar Kerung, who is contesting parliamentary elections under the FPTP category representing Federal Limbuwan Forum, said their movement still continued and their participation in the election was part of their movement. “Who said we’ve lost support. If we do not feature in the media it does not mean we have lost public support. If you visit villages, you can see we still have a lot of supporters,” he said.

Kerung also said their major political demand was a model of 10 plus 1 provinces in Nepal, and they wanted an amendment to the constitution. The states they have proposed are Limbuwan, Kirat Khambuwan, Sherpaling, Tamsaling, Tharuhat, Newa, Magarat, Tamuwan, Khasan, Madhes, and one non-geographical state.

“Our movement will continue until we achieve our goal,” he said.

In the November 26 election the major contest in Panchthar is speculated to be between the left alliance and the NC-led democratic alliance. NC’s Bhisma Raj Angdangbe is contesting against UML’s Basanta Kumar Nembang for a parliamentary seat in the district.

Likewise, provincial constituency 1 ‘Ka’ is set to witness electoral battle between NC’s Narendra Kumar Kerung and UML’s Ganesh Kumar Kambang. Similarly, Surendra Kumar Dahal from NC and Indra Angbo ‘Mausam’ from CPN-Maoist Centre are also in the fray.