On a path of de-democratization

CK Raut and Madhes Politics

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Hours after the Supreme Court released Chandra Kanta Raut, an emerging radical leader, he spent the evening in Baluwatar drafting an agreement saying he would abandon secessionist politics and abide by the constitution. The next day, PM K P Oli declared the agreement with a fanfare,[1] clearly designed to attain political mileage. Until the day Supreme Court released him, Chandra Kanta Raut had been moved from one place to another, suffering five-months of humiliations designed to make him malleable. It seemed to work. Civil society members close to him say Raut was becoming desperate in recent weeks. At first, he explored possibilities of launching a movement in partnership with conventional Madhesi political parties, and when that failed, he cut a deal with the government.

The initial confusion and criticism about whether Raut would abide by the agreement or not,[2] forced PM Oli to clarify.[3] Since then, Raut has taken concrete steps to tone down radicalism. For example, he asked his party workers to bring citizenship certificates and started the national council meeting in Lahan by asking five women to sing the national anthem.[4] The next day, on March 18, Raut changed the party’s name from Alliance for Independent Madhes to Janmat Party and announced it would soon register the party at the Election Commission.[5] The name of the party resembles the term “Jana Abhimat” used in the

11-point agreement, which many reported was an ambiguous term that could be interpreted as “referendum.”[6]

The play on the term “Jana Abhimat” and referendum is not a coincidence. It is an integral part of Raut’s political strategy and modus operandi. Janmat party leaders didn’t want to comment on what it meant. “People’s opinion can also mean referendum and even more than that,” the media reported him as saying.[7]

However, the idea of popular will and international recognition are two of the most significant pillars in Raut’s political project. For example, in a letter to Mahantha Thakur before the local elections, he urged the Madhesi leader to go for active boycott of the elections by asking Madhesis to deliberately invalidate ballots as a sign of popular will.

C K Raut’s turnaround has generated questions about his future political course and whether he will be able to generate a significant support base in Madhes.

Raut did not take part in the Madhes movement during and after the promulgation of the constitution, losing opportunity to connect to a larger base. So far, C K Raut appealed to a large number of Madhesi youth disillusioned by conventional political parties and the Nepali state.

After the failure of the Madhes movement to fulfill its political aspirations, Madhes has witnessed an eerie quiescence and silence. Even the diaspora community has so far remained silent.

Elections to the local and provincial levels have, at least for the time being, reduced the threat of radicalisation by engaging a large number of political actors based in Madhes and taking the government closer to the people. However, a significant number of Madhesis say they have lost trust in the existing political parties; the Madhes diaspora does not see them as part of a future solution.[8] The Madhes movement created a division between the people of hill-origin and the Madhesi in 2015-16, which has significantly subsided. However, although there is a stronger cultural cohesion, political differences persist; people can get along only as long as political issues are avoided.

At the political level, issues of Madhes are framed in at least three distinct ways by emphasising three different agendas: economic development/prosperity, caste divisions, and political and cultural rights. The frame of development/prosperity, and citizenship helps depoliticize Madhes and has been used by the ruling. In order for the Madhesi communities or parties to work with the ruling regime, they need to depoliticize the issues of rights.

One of the assumptions underlining this question is whether Madhesi aspirations are repressed and to what extent there is radicalisation, especially among youth and the diaspora community. Raut’s entry into mainstream politics does not address the longer-term challenges generated by repressed Madhesi aspirations and radicalisation. His turnaround does, however, gives enough time to mainstream politics to gain the trust of Madhesis, including radical and disillusioned youth. The related issue of the Tharu movement in the western plains of Nepal, however, is a completely different matter.




[1] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/chandra-kant-raut-renounces-demand-for-separate-madhes/

[2] http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2019-03-12/after-ck-rauts-deal-with-government-the-guessing-game-continues.html

[3] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/prime-minister-kp-sharma-oli-reassures-all-who-doubt-pact-with-ck-raut/

[4] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/aim-national-council-meeting-begins/

[5] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/ck-raut-led-alliance-for-independent-madhes-rechristened-janmat-party/

[6] One of AIM’s modus operandi was to conduct model referendums in villages which would then be converted into a peaceful movement for a national referendum. If the referendum was not accepted, the AIM would then conduct an armed revolution. See http://nepalpati.com/news/dr-ck-raut/ for excerpts of a police report.

[7] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/explanation-sought-from-government-ck-raut/

[8] Interview with Purushottam Sah, founder of Madhesi Youth and Stories of Madhes, based in Austin, Texas. February 6, 2019.

Author: Ajaya Bhadra Khanal

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