In a development with significant implications for the future direction of Nepali politics, the ruling Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), constituents of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), and several small Madhesi and Janjati outfits have come together to form a Federal Democratic Republican Alliance (FDRA).
The stated aim of the coalition is to strive for ‘a constitution with federalism, and federalism with identity’. The alliance was announced at an official function in the capital on Wednesday. Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is the coordinator of the alliance. Mr Prachanda said, “Forces with a similar approach and thought process about issues of progressive restructuring of the Nepali state, identity based federalism, and those who agree that a constitution must be promulgated through a Constituent Assembly (CA) needed to come together. This historic alliance will help bring all parties to a political consensus. It will also play the role of an electoral alliance and if necessary, go to the people together.”
Explaining the political logic of the alliance, Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (Democratic) general secretary, Jitendra Dev, said the key aim was to counter the attack on federalism by other forces. When asked if this could also translate into an electoral alliance, Mr Dev told The Hindu, “The aim right now is to put pressure on the Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) to accept identity based state restructuring before the polls. If that does not happen, we can even consider an electoral partnership.”
A possible addition to the alliance in the future could be a proposed Janjati party. Last week, Janjati (indigenous ethnic) activists had announced that they would soon form a Social Democratic Pluri-National Party. The initiative was led by a former UML MP, Pasang Sherpa, and academics, Krishna Bhattachan, Mahendra Lawoti and Chaitanya Subba. An umbrella ethnic organisation, Nepal Ethnic Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), is facilitating the process. But other senior Janjati political figures were not present during the announcement.
Sources involved with the party formation said that other UML dissidents – led by former party vice-chairman Ashok Rai – had assured them that they would join but were using the time to consolidate their strength before splitting from the parent party.
When asked whether they would join the federal alliance, a leader associated with the proposed party said, “Right now, our focus is in creating an inclusive and broad-based political party. Joining a Maoist-led alliance would lead to rifts within our own grouping. But eventually, when the federalism debate peaks and there are two poles, we will definitely be on this side with Madhesi friends and Maoists as long as they support identity based federalism.” In the now-expired Constituent Assembly, the Janjati MPs caucus, Madhesi parties and Maoists had signed a joint petition demanding that either the CA committee’s 14-state model, or the State Restructuring Commission’s 10-state model, be adopted.
The alliance formation has drawn flak from the opposition. NC and UML have claimed the new front will only widen the political rift, and alleged a Maoist ‘conspiracy to project other parties as anti-federal’. NC leader Ram Sharan Mahat dubbed it as ‘another drama by Prachanda’, an effort to give the ‘opportunistic’ Maoist-Madhesi alliance an ‘ideological cover’, and an ‘excuse to stay on in power’. Both parties have demanded Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s immediate resignation as a precondition to negotiations.
In a signed piece for a national daily, PM Bhattarai however said there were only two options to resolve the political impasse – the first was if NC agreed to identity based federalism, the CA could reinstated for a short while and the Maoists would hand over government leadership to NC according to the spirit of the five-point agreement signed between the parties in early May. In case that did not happen, the PM argued, the second option was to agree to fresh elections for a new CA, and the formation of a national unity government under an acceptable candidate to lead the country to the polls.