Independent candidates have made a presence in Nepali elections right from the first multiparty election in 1991, in which 3 candidates won in their independent capacity in the parliament. Realising that very little could be achieved as an independent, they would invariably join a political party of their ideological proximity
The victory of independent candidates in the last local election has opened a fertile avenue for the emergence of several such candidates in the forthcoming elections.
Consequently, an application has been filed for the registration of an Independent Party at the National Election Commission.
Another group of journalists, engineers, doctors and cinema producers have also formed a loose network of independent candidates to contest in the next election in a nonpartisan manner.
Independent characters have made a mark right from mythological times.
Though no one remained neutral in the Ramayana War, there are a few who chose to take such a stance in the Mahabharata War.
Bala Ram, an elder brother of Krishna, vowed to maintain neutrality in the war and remained just a spectator despite his incredible physical prowess. He had to tread this path as he did not believe in doing harm to anybody, which would be the case in the event of war. Rukmi, the brother-inlaw of Krishna also remained neutral by compulsion as he was rejected from both the sides – the Pandavas as well as the Kauravas.
Now coming to independent political parties, in India, Swatantra Party was the brainchild of C Rajgopalchari, which was formed in the early sixties.
The other members of this party were well-known personalities, like Minoo Masani, K M Munshi and several others. This party was formed against Jawahar Lal Nehru for his alleged over inclination to socialist and statist policies.
This party received 7.94 per cent of the total votes in the third Lok Sabha elections held in 1962, in which 18 of its candidates registered a victory. It enjoyed the status of the main opposition party in the four states of Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujrat and Orissa.
In the following election, it received still more, that is 8 per cent of the votes, with 44 of its candidates turning victorious. Its steadily increasing popularity, however, nosedived after the demise of its mentor Rajgopalchari in the year 1972. It started to go downhill as there was no space for a centrist party in India. With the emergence of the Old Congress after the split in the Indian Congress in 1969, its relevance paled in comparison to the Old Congress as it appeared more potent as a rightwing party.
Far across the Pacific in the United States also, the American Independent Party emerged on the political scene in 1967 as a far right political party. It witnessed a split into the American Independent Party and the American Party in 1976. Now, it enjoys support in states like California, but it is far behind the Democrats and the Republicans in terms of voter support.
The Independent Party made a mark in the birthplace of Parliamentary Democracy, Britain in 1993 with its Eurosceptic stand, which is more known for its right-wing policy. It reached its pinnacle in 2010, when it grew to a status of an opposition party in the European Parliament.
It, however, started to decline from 2016, following which it lost its only seat in the 2017 election.
Independent candidates have made a presence in Nepali elections right from the first multiparty election in 1991, in which 3 candidates won in their independent capacity out of the available 205 seats in the parliament. Realising that very little could be achieved as an independent, they would invariably join a political party of their ideological proximity. Accordingly, rumours are rife that the mayors of Kathmandu and Dharan municipalities will one day join one of the frontline political parties.
The victory of the independent candidates in the last election and the rising interest of people to stand in the forthcoming elections as independents have been widely recognised as the failure of the main parties in the government as well as the opposition. This can be glaringly seen at the present not only because of the spiralling rise in prices of day-to-day commodities but also the failure of the government to even make fertiliser available in the time of the monsoon to the farmers.
Such a fiasco on the part of the government has been going on since the last few years, implicating all the political parties of Nepal in this abject failure.
The frailty of the government can be seen in the deteriorating national economy marked by falling remittances on one hand compounded by the ever-increasing imports and negligible exports, which many believe may take Nepal along the lines of bankruptcy as in Sri Lanka.
In a similar manner, the government has not been able to spend all the development budget despite it being far less than the current budget.
Any party thus stands a chance of winning at a time when the parties have been whitewashed by dismal performance. The people are looking for a viable alternative.
In India in Delhi, the Aam Admi Party, led by a Magsaysay Award winner and engineer Arbinda Kejriwal, could provide such an option. It came to power by unseating the Indian Congress, which had its roots deep down the political stratum. However, its deep roots had already been rendered weak by corruption, and it was easier for the Aam Admi Party to demolish the Indian Congress at one stroke. It later gained such a stronghold that even the Bharatiya Janata Party could not defeat it despite its political clout around the country.
Now it has spread its roots to nearby Haryana also. It is only a matter of time before it makes a nationwide presence.
Do the newly declared Independent Party of Nepal have the wherewithal to create such an upturn? The Sajha and Bibeksheel parties failed miserably alone and at times together.
It thus remains to be seen whether the new independents are like new wine or are like old wine but in a new bottle.
A version of this article appears in the print on June 28, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.