We have supported government for Constitution amendment: Bhandari
Then central leader of the Nepali Congress and former minister Sharat Singh Bhandari entered the regional politics by joining the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Nepal, along with his party fellowmen Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar and Jay Prakash Gupta after the first Madhes-movement in 2007. Around one and a half years later, Bhandari and others split the Forum-Nepal under Gachchhadar to join the Madhav Nepal-led government. Before the second Constituent Assembly elections, Bhandari formed a new political party, National Madhes Socialist Party under his leadership differing with Gachchhadar. He lost the second CA elections, but his party obtained three seats in the CA under the PR system. Last year on April 20, his party and other five Madhes-based parties merged with each other to form Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal. Later, the RJP-Nepal participated in the third phase of the local level elections held in September 2017 and subsequently in the federal and provincial elections and emerged as the fourth largest party. Bhandari, a member of the presidium of the party, spoke to Amarendra Yadav of The Rising Nepal about various contemporary issues ranging from one-year actions and accomplishments of the party and to the party’s support to the present government from outside. He was also included in the team of PM Oli during his recent India visit.
How do you assess the one-year actions and accomplishments of the RJP-Nepal following its formation on April 20, 2017?
First of all, formation of the RJP-Nepal by merging six Madhes-based parties last year was itself a big achievement. The people had never thought that the six different small splinters could come together to pursue the shared political objectives.
Running the unified party under a collective leadership for the last one year is another successful event in the Nepali politics as such model of party leadership in Nepal and even South Asia is not less challenging. We have set a rare example of collective leadership in the party politics.
Third, our unification increased spectacular enthusiasm and optimism among the Madhesis and other marginalised communities that were almost frustrated and pessimistic before the announcement of the unification.
Furthermore, our six-party unification compelled the major three parties to put the long-awaited Constitution amendment bill to vote in the previous parliament. Although the parliament did not endorse the bill due to the opposition of the CPN-UML and other fringe parties, putting the bill to the vote in the parliament proved its justification nationally. More than 65 per cent lawmakers voted in favour of the bill and that became possible solely because of the unification of the six Madhes-based parties.
Last but not the least, the electoral victory that we received in the federal and provincial elections is the result of our unification. In spite of short period and limited resources for the elections, we emerged as the fourth largest party at the national level.
The RJP-Nepal has an all-powerful party presidium of six leaders. But many said that due to the internal fighting and differences among the six leaders, the party could not take any decision in time. They also claimed that the top party leaders are confused and clueless regarding their political agendas and future direction.
Every leader has naturally their own views on any issue and event. As far as our party and its activities are concerned, we are concretely and smoothly moving ahead by institutionalising collective leadership in the party and accepting respected leader Mahanth Thakur as the coordinator of the party presidium.
Before the federal and provincial elections, the RJP-Nepal was solely playing its political role as a protesting political force in the country. But the role has changed now. Our party has formed a coalition government with the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal in Province-2 and nominated federal ministers. Thus, in the post-election situation, we have become a major ruling party in Province -2, where we had stirred another whirlwind of movement two years back at the time of the Constitution promulgation. The two ruling Madhes-based parties in Province-2 have to prove themselves by fulfilling the desires of development and prosperity of the province. We are sincerely working for it as it is not only new but also challenging for us.
On the other hand, the people through their electoral mandate have directed us to play an interfering role at the centre. They have also instructed to amend the Constitution with the help of the ruling parties. That is why we voted for Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in the parliament to coordinate with the ruling parties and the government for the amendment of the Constitution and the development of Province-2.
Thus, the top leaders of the RJP-Nepal are very clear in their strategy and future direction. In Province-2, we will work as a ruling party to address the desires of the common people through good governance and development works. At the centre, we will struggle in the parliament to amend the Constitution to fulfil the remaining demands of the Madhesi, Janjati and Dalit communities.
At the time of the party unification, it was said that the convention of the unified party would be held within a year. When is the party going to convene its national convention? And why the party has not yet elected its parliamentary party leader?
We legally formed the RJP-Nepal a year ago. It is absolutely true that at the time of the party unification, we had announced that we would go to the general convention of the party. To unite the six merging parties into one organisationally and structurally there is no alternative to convening a unity convention of the unified party. We recently called a meeting of the political committee of the party to fix date and venue for the convention. However, we were compelled to postpone the meeting due to the sudden deterioration in the health condition of Mahantha Thakur. We will hold the unity convention soon. We will go to the general convention as soon as possible and thereafter the unified party will run as per the new party statute endorsed by the convention.
As far as the question of electing the parliamentary party leader is concerned, it is being delayed not because of the alleged internal fighting in the party but because of some other reasons. We could not take oath as members of the parliament three months after the elections. After the oath taking event, we collectively and institutionally engaged with the campaign to press the government to administer oath to our elected member of parliament Resham Chaudhary. Due to these reasons, we did not even find time to formulate statute pertaining to the electoral procedure of the parliamentary party leader. For the past few days, our convener Mahantha Thakur is undergoing treatment in India. We will pick up our parliamentary leader of the party soon after Thakur returns home from New Delhi. Besides, we will also finalise the date and venue of the general convention.
Your party has supported the Oli government from outside. What are the preconditions that your party has put forth before the ruling parties to join the government?
Joining the government is not the primary but secondary priority of our party. The RJP-Nepal and FSF-Nepal have the same political agenda to support the Oli government from inside or outside that is to garner the backing of the ruling parties for the amendment to the Constitution. The government and the ruling parties should first come up with their views on the issue. We have already made our stand crystal clear about joining the government. We have urged the ruling parties to open the door for coordination between the government and the Madhes-based parties by moving the Constitution amendment process forward. The leaders of the ruling parties told us that they were ready to amend the Constitution in order to coordinate with the Madhes-based parties. However, they have not it made clear about the ways of amending the Constitution. Now the ball is in the court of the government. If the government officially expresses its commitment to amend the Constitution within a scheduled timeframe, it will pave the way for us to join the government. Otherwise, we don’t have the people’s mandate to join the government.
Prime Minister Oli was also accompanied by you on behalf of your party during his state visit to India. The government said that the visit was very successful. How do you review the PM’s recent visit to the southern neighbour?
In the past few years there were some misunderstandings between the two countries due to a few parties and their leaders. Prime Minister Oli’s recent visit became successful to erase such misunderstandings. Especially, Oli and his party had some misunderstandings with the Indian government. The PM’s visit has been effective to remove the misunderstandings and lay a new foundation of mutual trust between the two sides. Now the relations between the two neighbours have moved ahead comfortably and positively. If the two governments handle it properly, it will definitely open ways for new coordination and cooperation between the two countries.