Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) Chairman Upendra Yadav, who lost to Janamat Party Chairman CK Raut in the House of Representatives (HoR) constituency of Saptari-2 in November 2022, may again have to suffer at the hands of Raut.
This by-election in Bara-2 will be a battle between the waning pre-eminent force in Madhes, JSP, and the rising force, Janamat Party, that hopes to one day overtake JSP as the strongest party in the plains.
Raut recognizing that his party will have to directly compete with JSP if it wishes to become a major force in Madhes ushered Shiv Chandra Kushwaha into Janamat Party from CPN (Maoist Center) to defeat Yadav in the by-election in Bara-2.
Many say JSP Chairman Yadav made his confidant Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav, who was elected from Bara-2, vice-president to contest the by-election from that constituency with a big population of Yadavs where JSP has very strong organization.
Setopati reached all the wards in the constituency, which includes three municipalities and two rural municipalities, and talked with 560 voters about the upcoming by-election, their preferred parties/candidates, the reasons for their preference, and the most important issues for them, among other things.
The constituency includes the whole of Mahagadhimai and Pachrauta municipalities; Suvarna, Devtal and Karaiyamai rural municipalities; and Ward Number 8 of Kolhabi Municipality.
Just 3,000-4,000 of around 125,000 voters in the constituency are of hill origin while the Yadavs constitute the biggest community here. The Pachpaunia community, which also includes Janamat Party candidate Kushwaha, is the second biggest community while the constituency also includes Madhesi Dalits, Tharus and Muslims.
A whopping 199 (35.5%) of the 560 voters Setopati talked to said that they would vote for Kushwaha—who had secured 13,823 votes contesting as the common coalition candidate on a Maoist ticket and lost to Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav by just 355 votes in the November election—while 161 (28.7) said that they would vote for Upendra Yadav.
Sixty-two (11%) of them said that they would vote for Ramesh Kharel of Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) while 59 (10.5%) pledged to vote for Purushottam Paudel of CPN-UML meaning the two would have a close fight for the third position.
Thirty-one (5.5%) of them said that they would vote for Arun Gyawali of Janata Party led by Prabhu Sah while 48 (8.5%) of the voters said that they had yet to decide who to vote for.
Janamat Party seems set to attract most votes from JSP in the constituency.
Fifty-eight of the 199 who pledged to vote for Kushwaha said that they had voted for JSP in November, 27 said that they had voted for CPN (Maoist Center), 18 for independent candidates, and 11 had not voted in November due to different reasons. Similarly, 16 pledged to vote for Janamat Party despite being affiliated to Nepali Congress (NC).
Ninety-four of the 161 who pledged to vote for Upendra Yadav said that they had voted for JSP also in November and 17 said that they had voted for independent candidates. Twenty-eight said that they supported NC and would vote for Yadav as he was the common coalition candidate, and nine said that they supported Maoist Center and would vote for Yadav for the same reason. Four said that they would vote for Yadav despite supporting UML while six said that they had not voted in November due to different reasons.
JSP also seems to be leaking votes to RSP that has fielded Ramesh Kharel, who had resigned from the post of DIG of Nepal Police and made a name for himself serving as SP in Parsa district in the past. Kharel himself has been campaigning as SP Kharel to capitalize on that goodwill while some voters also said they would vote for him due to RSP President Rabi Lamichhane.
Sixteen of the 62 who pledged to vote for RSP’s Kharel said that they had voted for JSP in November while six are first-time voters. Nine said they would vote for Kharel despite being NC supporters while three UML supporters also pledged to vote for him.
All the 59 voters who pledged to vote for UML candidate Paudel said they would vote for him as they support UML. This shows that it will be hard for UML, which had supported Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav in the constituency in November, to attract voters from other parties even as it looks set to leak votes to Janamat Party, RSP and even JSP.
This does not mean Upendra Yadav will definitely lose or Kushwaha will be elected as voting takes place more than a week later and voters may swing during the intervening period. But the fact that Yadav looks behind in the race in Bara-2 that remains a JSP stronghold to the party with no organization in the constituency should be a matter of grave concern for Yadav.
JSP’s Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav had not just defeated common coalition candidate Kushwaha, who was supported by NC, but JSP was also the largest party in the constituency on the basis of Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system votes securing 13,242 votes. NC was second with 11,179, followed by UML 9,193, Janamat Party 8,846, Loktantrik Samajwadi Party (LSP) 4,225 and Maoist Center 3,256.
Upendra Yadav also has the support of NC, LSP and Maoist Center as the common candidate of the ruling coalition which together secured 31,902 PR votes in November. He also has the support of Ram Kishore Yadav, who secured 11,043 votes contesting as an independent candidate after quitting JSP in Bara-2, and Rabindra Prasad Yadav, who secured 10,750 votes contesting as a rebel NC candidate.
But Upendra Yadav seems to be trailing Kushwaha despite all that. The main reason for that is that Upendra Yadav is not contesting Kushwaha but Raut, who had defeated him in Saptari, in what appears to be a rematch of that November contest.
Many of the voters Setopati talked to said that Raut and Upendra Yadav are set for a close fight despite Raut not contesting the election. Raut’s magic seems to work the most on youths, women, impoverished people and Dalits.
Aware that defeating Upendra Yadav again in Bara-2 will establish him as the most prominent leader in Madhes, Raut has been staying in Bara in recent times. He has visited all the wards in the constituency, had tea with the voters and talked with them sharing their woes and happiness.
Upendra Yadav has also been based in the constituency but the contrast between him and Raut cannot be starker. Yadav visits with a motorcade and communicating directly with the voters has never been the forte of Yadav, who can neither talk with his eyes or laugh with gay abandon. Many voters complain that he does not listen to their grievances.
Yadav also suffers from the disadvantage of trying to again become HoR member through the backdoor just five months after that resounding defeat in Saptari by engineering the election of his confidant Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav as the country’s vice-president. Many point that he should have exercised patience and waited for five years.
He has always faced the accusation of continuously changing his constituency.
Yadav—who had lost to NC’s Girija Prasad Koirala in Sunsari-5 on a UML ticket in the first parliamentary election after restoration of democracy in 1990 and later joined the Maoist party—rose as the messiah of Madhes following the Madhes Movement triggered by him torching the Interim Constitution at the Maitighar Mandala just a day after it was promulgated on January 15, 2007, as founder of a political advocacy movement named Madhesi Janadhikar Forum.
The next Madhes Movement forced Koirala to sign an agreement accepting federalism. Yadav turned his organization into a political party and emerged as the fourth largest party after Maoists, NC and UML following the First Constituent Assembly (CA) Election in 2008. He was elected to the First Constituent Assembly (CA) Election in 2008 from both Morang and Sunsari districts.
He lost from Morang and won in Sunsari in the Second CA Election in 2013. He contested from Saptari-2, which includes Mahadeva Rural Municipality where he was born, in 2017 in search of a safe seat. But he lost to Raut even in that safe constituency in the recent election.
He has now taken his caravan to Bara-2 and suffers from the same malaise that took him down in Saptari. Many voters complain that he has not done anything for the people of Madhes despite continuously becoming lawmaker and minister in the past 15 years and used politics as a means to get into the government.
The fact that Raut roped in Kushwaha from Maoist Center to defeat Upendra Yadav also seems to be working against Yadav with the Janamat Party candidate looking set to add a few votes on his own on top of all those he looks set to amass owing to the charisma and popularity of Raut.
Upendra Yadav also looks set to struggle to attract all the votes from the second largest party in the constituency, NC, despite the grand old party officially supporting him. He will have to attract as many NC votes as he can if he were to register a narrow win over Kushwaha.