Interview: Nepal-India ties are unique, special – CK Raut

New Delhi, Dec 19: The spectacular rise of Janamat Party in Nepal’s Madhes region has surprised many. After the recent elections, the party led by C.K. Raut has become a strong political force in the region, posing a challenge to the two dominant Madhes-centric parties – Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party.

Upendra Yadav, chairman of the JSP and an influential leader in the region, was trounced by Raut in Saptari-2 constituency during the recent elections.

Janamat Party has won one first-past-the-post category (FPTP) seat while securing five more seats under the proportional representation (PR) category in the 275-strong House of Representatives, the lower house of Nepali parliament. The party also secured 13 seats in the 107-member provincial assembly. This party has become one of king-makers in the government formation in both the Centre and Province.

Santosh Ghimire, Nepal Correspondent of the India Narrative talked to Janamat Party Chairman Raut recently to fathom his party’s future strategy in the wake of general elections. Excerpts:

Q: How do you interpret your personal and party’s victory and what does it mean for the Madhesi people?

A: People voted for us because they wanted change in the landscape of Madhesi politics. I and my party’s victory in the recent elections means that people have recognised our continuous struggle for their rights. I believe that people have reposed faith in our party in the hope that we will fight for their rights.

Q: Your party recently decided to join the to-be-formed government. Does it mean that your party is ready to join the Congress-led five-party ruling government if it continues to stay in power?

Our party’s meeting held last week decided to join the new government. But it is still not clear which alliance will form the government. We are presently in negotiation with different alliances including the ruling five-party coalition led by the Nepali Congress. Those who assure us of addressing our demands, we will back them to form the new government.

Q: Could you share details about your party’s demands?

A: Our party had staged a protest last year to draw the government’s attention to farmers’ problems in Madhes. But nobody listened to us. This issue needs to be addressed by the state. Another thing is the Citizenship Bill should be promulgated as early as possible. We want to bring reforms to the health and education sectors. We want to create employment opportunities in Madhes because many youths are now leaving the country in search of job opportunities. Our party will lend the support to those parties or coalition that fulfills our demands.

Q: You met Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Maoist Chairman Prachanda and UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli last week. What was the focus of your talks with them?

A: Yes, I met leaders from across the political spectrum recently. I conveyed our parties’ major demands that I mentioned before. I also communicated to them that we are positive towards joining the government if our demands are met. We are ready to cooperate with all the political parties for nation building. Janamat Party will continue to advocate the rights of Madhesi people and want cooperation from all political parties for the same.

Q: What are the immediate priorities of your party?

A: We will keep nudging all the parties to address the political demands of Madhesi people including greater representation of people in the state system. We will work against corruption and anomalies. We want to prove that we can do something good in the interests of the general public.

We want to deliver on our promises that we made in the course of elections. Technically, we have achieved national party status from the recently-held elections. We will gradually expand our party’s organisational bases across the country.

Q: Madhesi people have long been complaining that they are politically and racially discriminated against. What your party will do to end such discrimination against Madhesi people?

A: There is a deep-rooted caste/racial discrimination against Madhesi people. It needs to be changed. Our party has been raising public awareness against such discrimination and will continue to do so. Every year on the 10th day of Mangsir as per Nepali calendar, we observe “unity day against racial discrimination.”

We believe that nobody should be discriminated against based on skin tone.

Q: How will your party act differently from those Madhes-centric other parties and Kathmandu-based mainstream political parties?

A: I believe in transparency and honesty. Our party will work against favouritism and nepotism that are rife in political parties. People voted for me and my party this time for two reasons. First, I am taking up the socio-economic and development agenda of Madhes. Second is people are looking for change. They were frustrated with the Madhes-centric dominant parties like Janata Samajbadi Party and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party.

Corruption is thriving in Madhes. Public service delivery is extremely poor in Madhes. They lacked vision to end such malpractices. I believe that I can work differently from these two parties. I will work closely with all the Madhes-centric parties for the development of this region and the nation.

Q: You were a scientist by profession. What brought you into national politics?

A: I was aware of structural problems of Madhes region. I saw ordinary people’s problems unaddressed for several years. People were looking for change in Madhes. But nothing happened over the years. Even after they voted to the Madhes-centric parties, their concerns were not addressed by the state. After knowing all this, I decided to switch my career into politics.

Q: Even as you joined the mainstream politics, a section of people still have a deep suspicion on you and your party that whether you will again the raise the issue of splitting Madhes from Nepal. How will you dispel this perception?

A: We joined mainstream politics after giving up our demand of Madhes independence some three years ago. We raised that the demand at a specific point of time. But many things have changed over the years. A new constitution has been promulgated. Now our demands and priorities are different. We will work within the parameters of the new constitution and continue our struggle for ensuring Madhesi people’s political and socio-economic rights.

Our demand is not an independent Madhes region now. We want to focus on people-centric economic and social agendas. Despite our repeated commitments, people may have that suspicion.

Q: How does your party value Nepal’s ties with India?

A: India is our close neighbour and a friend. Our age-old relationship with India is unique, special and multi-faceted marked by culture, history and civilisation. This relationship is unparalleled. Cross-border familial relationships have added colour to our friendly relations.

We need to work together to further enhance and utilize in the best interests of people of both the countries.

Q: What is your party’s position on the country’s foreign policy?

A: A foreign policy based on non-alignment best fits for Nepal given its geo-strategic location. It has been doing so for a long time. There can be twists and turns in international politics. But we have to stick to our foreign policy based on non-alignment. We have to nurture good ties with all friendly countries.

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