Oli’s aim for political mileage and Raut’s quest for safe landing led to 11-point deal

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - A strong message against secessionist politics, but pact implementation is a challenge, analysts say

In what looked like a well-choreographed move, things were played to their perfection on Friday afternoon, as CK Raut, a long-time secessionist campaigner, announced that he had given up his "Free Madhes" demand. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli welcomed Raut to peaceful politics.

Raut, who had been in jail for months, was released on Thursday afternoon, following a Supreme Court order.

Friday’s deal between the government and Raut came as a surprise not just for the general public but also leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) as well as the Alliance for Independent Madhes, the outfit Raut leads.

Through an 11-point deal, Raut, coordinator of the alliance, agreed to join mainstream politics and embrace the principle of sovereignty, territorial integrity and dignity of country as per the spirit of the constitution.

The deal marked a 180-degree turn for Raut who fought for around six years for creating what he called a “sovereign Madhes”.

Experts closely following Madhes politics argue that the agreement is a win-win situation for both the parties.

While the Oli government got political mileage by bringing the secessionist force into mainstream politics, Raut, who desperately wanted to walk free, saw an opportunity to make a safe landing.

According to Chandra Kishore, a political analyst who closely follows Madhes issues, the hype the agreement got, in a way that reminded people of the Comprehensive Peace Accord with the Maoists, has the potential to give the Oli government much political mileage. And the governing leaders portrayed Raut as a tall figure, he said.

“The deal is a welcome decision as it sent across a clear message that there is no space for secessionist politics in Nepal,” said Chandra Kishore.

On Friday, Oli heaped praise on Raut and drew parallels between Raut and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who was present at the deal signing ceremony.

It was the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006, which led Dahal to lay down weapons after waging a decade-long war against the state. This had brought his Maoist party to peaceful politics.

Political analysts say there are challenges for both Oli and Raut ahead, as Oli, who has made a lot of promises, cannot renege, and for Raut, he has no option but to form a political force or become a member of an existing political organisation.

With the agreement, Raut is left with only one option--pursue peaceful politics, said Chandra Kishore. In that case, his main contenders are the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal and the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal.

“Raut, who had been making a pitch for his movement, blaming the national and Madhes-based parties, now will have a tough time ahead, as he is now like any other leader rather than a ‘fighter’, an image he had tried to create,” said Chandra Kishore. “It would be a challenge for him to convince the people why he left the ‘separate Madhes’ agenda and fully embraced the constitution which he had denounced for long,” he added.

Some analysts and experts have also pointed to the “timing” of Raut’s release and his announcement to relinquish his separatist agenda.

In this, the government appears to have influenced the judiciary: Raut was freed a day before the deal was signed, an official in the judicial service shared his observation with the Post on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“The kind of charges he faced could have earned him even a life term,” the official said, hinting at the negotiations that had been going on at different levels.

Subas Nembang, a Standing Committee member of the ruling communist party, however, described the “timing” as mere coincidence.

Leaders privy to the negotiation say it was the Raut-led alliance that extended an olive branch to the government--and that it was not the other way around.

Raut’s elder brother Jay Kant met Som Prasad Pandey, coordinator of the High-level Political Talks team formed by the government, asking for a dialogue with the alliance.

Jay Kant said his brother was ready to sit for talks to resolve the problem.

“We said dialogue was not possible without renouncing the separatist agenda. He [Jay Kant] said Raut was ready [for talks] and we informed the prime minister and the home minister about the developments,” Pandey told the Post.

According to him, the prime minister’s secretariat started negotiations under Oli’s direct supervision. This led to Friday’s deal, as Raut’s representatives had agreed to relinquish their secessionist agenda.

Leaders close to Oli claim that the realisation by Raut that he could not move ahead with the separatist agenda was the trigger for him to change his political course.

The alliance had miserably failed to expedite its activities after he was arrested and there was no other face in the organisation who could similarly appeal to the larger masses.

Besides, security forces had kept close vigil of the alliance’s activities, creating hurdles even to the organisation’s functioning.

And, there were high chances of Raut languishing in jail for years as the Birgunj bench of Janakpur High Court had already upheld the decision to investigate sedition charges against him by continuing his detention.

Analysts said the recent jail term could have made him realise that he might remain behind the bars for long--that’s why he decided to give up his ‘separate Madhes’ agenda.

Having faced arrests for around two dozen times, custody and jail terms were not new to Raut. Every time police arrested him “for engaging in anti-national activities”, he was released by the judiciary.

After the deal, multiple interpretations of its second point have surfaced. Leaders of the alliance--through social media platforms--have tried to give a message that a referendum may be held to decide crucial political agenda.

“Through the second point of the agreement, the government side, internalising the sovereignty of the people, has given us the political space for referendum,” Raut and his leaders have claimed on their social media posts.

Chandra Kishore, however, called it nothing but rhetoric, as “Raut has to give some assurance to his supporters whom he had sold the dream of a separate Madhes state”.

Abdul Khan, a spokesperson for the alliance, said the agreement has accepted addressing the grievances in the Tarai/Madhes and elsewhere in the country based on people’s opinion, which could be referendum, election or any other consultative process. “People are sovereign and they can give their opinion through any medium including referendum,” he told the Post.

Though the Constitution of Nepal gives room for referendum, it must be in accordance with the law. Article 275 of the statute says, “If a decision is made by a two-thirds majority of the total number of the existing members of the federal Parliament that it is necessary to hold a referendum with respect to any matter of national importance, decision on that matter may be taken by way of referendum.”

Authorising the Election Commission to hold the referendum, Article 246 (2) says, “The Election Commission shall hold a referendum on a matter of national importance pursuant to this Constitution and the Federal law.”

Nembang argued that it was illogical to believe there could be a referendum on such issues as Raut--through the agreement and verbally--has agreed to follow the constitution.

Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.