Nepal’s politics is in a state of flux. The parliament did not get a chance to debate a no-confidence motion the opposition was purportedly planning to register on Tuesday. The government prorogued the House on Monday and this probability came to an end for the moment. However, Prime Minister Oli is not out of woods yet because the federal legislature has to sit for the upcoming budget session in four weeks’ time. Rivalry among competing parties, together with intense struggle within the ruling party, UML, is likely to be murkier during the weeks ahead. And, who knows a situation may arise when a new personality could be entrusted to lead the government that oversees the next general election towards the end of 2022. The five-year term of the House expires by that time. Mahantha Thakur appears an ideal prime ministerial candidate. Thakur is an elected member in the 275-strong House of Representatives, and presently heads the Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) which stands fourth on the basis of its numerical strength. Leaders of the first three parties are currently at loggerheads over the issue of stewardship of government in the interim. And, according to recent media reports, Prime Minister Oli himself informally floated the idea of making Thakur his successor in case he has to relinquish the post. This is understandable in view of his known hesitancy to hand over power, either to one of the UML rivals or to the man who is at the top of Maoist Centre. Should JSP stalwarts including Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav shed their parochial approach and choose to be wise, the existing group of leaders are sure to create history by electing a Terai leader to govern the country. With a bit of seriousness, these experienced politicians can help knit a coalition of like-minded parties with a determination to end the existing stalemate.
Regional ambition Besides, a JSP-led government can conveniently take measures aimed at addressing some of the persisting malaises the original settlers of Terai (Madhes) have endured thus far. Thakur’s team can at least make a beginning on this front. They do not need Oli’s support for something they themselves can accomplish. A Thakur government is expected to take care of Nepal’s national interest while taking initiatives to uplift the region he considers is neglected. On Nepal’s New Year’s Day, Himalaya Television’s anchor Rajendra Baniya applied some of his finer interview skills to probe whether he was sitting face-to-face with a prominent leader having potentials to offer leadership to the country. And he must have found the answer in the affirmative, because Thakur handled almost all the questions -- one or two of them being palpably provocative -- in a measured and mature manner. At times he was evasive, but he did so with a grin. Obviously, interviewer Baniya’s words were music to his ears. However, he did not want to appear somebody in haste. And he did not unnecessarily raise the level of conjecture. He merely said it would not be unwise to be serious on a subject unless the floated idea took some shape -- in the form of a parliamentary proposition by competent leaders. He is right. Thakur possesses a clean image in contemporary national politics which is fraught with corruption as well as abuse of authority. With a degree in law, he retains impressive educational background in the political field presently filled with people who are barely literate. In the first post-1990 parliament, Thakur was elected deputy speaker. He subsequently held ministerial posts, looking after law, communications, forest and agriculture ministries. Understandably, these responsibilities enhanced his confidence and ability to be familiar with national priorities, and simultaneously weigh various requirements of governmental duties. As a senior leader of Nepali Congress, the country’s oldest party with democratic credentials, Thakur also gained an opportunity to experience first-hand how a competitive politics works -- from the grassroots level. He rose to the post of party treasurer. Towards the end of 2007, Thakur decided to quit Nepali Congress and opted for a movement that led to the creation of a regional party. He ostensibly believed that this new platform would empower him to fight against discrimination the Terai/Madhes people he thought were facing for ages. But the fissures that developed in his regional party over the preceding years persuaded him to change the course and approaches.
National responsibility The party Thakur heads now (JSP) doesn’t use any word to denote any regional trappings. And JSP consists of politicians drawn not just from Terai; there are people from the hills as well. He once has come back to the central place. And an event of 2017 helped boost his stature to be seen as a nation leader. The event was the inauguration of newly-elected parliament. As the eldest member in the new house, he received a rare opportunity to administer the oath to all of his fellow members. His age also turned out to be a boon. Some of Thakur’s critics tend to project him as a person with a lot of regional emotions but not a vision for the entire nation. If he were a visionary leader, they contend, he would not have left a national level party once headed by a statesman like BP Koirala. Thakur had a good chance of becoming the Republic’s first president, although it is a largely ceremonial post. At one point in time, his name also figured as a compromise candidate for vice-presidency. Some of those who have worked closely with him have found his indecisiveness a hurdle for his own career growth. Similarly, while it is good to avoid being recognised as a talkative character, Thakur’s habit of not elaborating his perceptions and perspectives in important meetings and discourses has often deprived him of credits due to him. That situation has changed over time. Thakur has endured considerable vicissitudes in the intervening years. Now he is a seasoned politician, and hence deserves support from all concerned. If given a chance, Thakur may prove his potentials and eventually emerge as a truly reliable Nepali leader.