RJP has upper hand in Janakpur

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Sunaina Devi of Janakpur-16 is worried even as the road in front of her house is being expanded. The 36-year-old mother of three educated daughters, one of whom has already been married after completing the 10th grade, is otherwise satisfied with her life but she fears that her home adjoining the road may be demolished due to the expansion.

She has, therefore, made up her mind to vote for the candidate who will ensure she and her husband need not worry about having to build their house again. "We will vote for bicycle this time," she quipped looking at her husband, who works on silver jewelries, for approval. Her husband nodded in approval with a smile.   

Raj Kumar Tiwari of Janakpur-22 drives an e-rickshaw to earn his family the daily breads. He has put a flag marked with tree on the handle of his rickshaw and has already made up his mind to vote for tree. "Nepali Congress (NC) has many intellectuals. The party, therefore, does good works," Tiwari explained. "I feel NC will win in Janakpur this time," he stated.

(Raj Kumar Tiwari of Janakpur-22)

A total of 19 candidates have thrown their hats in the mayoral race in Janakpur submetropolis to win over voters like Sunaina Devi and Tiwari. But the election seems to be a two-horse race between NC and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal. The two parties also seem to be the  most aggressive in their campaigning.

Setopati interacted with around five dozens voters of 13 out of the 25 wards in Janakpur, and has concluded that RJP seems favorites this time.

There are three main reasons behind that.

The first is RJP has a strong presence in Janakpur. Almost 80 percent of the submetropolis was in constituency No 4 of Dhanusha district in the second Constituent Assembly election of 2013. The wards (19, 20, 24 and 25) added in the submetropolis this time were in the constituencies 3 and 5.

Sanjay Sah of the then Sadbhawana Party had won from Dhanusha-4 with 12,666 votes to beat Ram Saroj Yadav of NC by 1,240 votes. Candidate of Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party, which like Sadbhawana is also a constituent of RJP, came third with 2,650 votes while CPN-UML was fourth with 2,072. NC had won constituencies 3 and 5 though.  

Sah is now in jail for masterminding the bomb attack in Janakpur. But all the Sah's voters who we talked to said they will vote for RJP this time. "I will vote for RJP this time because RJP is a party that fights for Madhes," Dipak Mandal of Janakpur-1, who had also voted to help Sah win on a Madhesi Janadhikar Forum ticket in the first CA election in 2008, said. "Lal Kishor Sah (RJP's mayoral candidate this time), is also a good candidate in himself. He had performed well as a deputy mayor," Mandal added.

We have found that not just those who voted for Madhes-based parties in the last election but even those who had voted for the major national parties then have made up their mind to vote for RJP this time.

Shyam Narayan Sah of Janakpur-24 had voted for UML in the last election. "KP Oli's remarks have been enough for me now. I will, therefore, vote for RJP this time," he reasoned.

Almost 17 percent of the respondents--who had voted for the major parties, especially NC, in the last election--said they will vote for RJP this time. We have not found a single voter who had voted for Madhes-based parties the last time around and want to vote for NC this time.

Similarly, the majority of first-time voters also say they will vote for RJP. This shows that RJP will get the sympathy votes for the Madhes Movement which can be an important factor.    

The second factor in favor of RJP is popularity of Lal Kishor Sah who had started his politics with NC. He was a contender for mayoral ticket in the first local election after Janaandolan in 1990. But he did not get the ticket. He revolted and was elected deputy mayor as an independent candidate. He has created an image of a fighter since and the image was bolstered further during the Madhes movement.  

The third reason is unification of six parties to form RJP. RJP is not divided in Janakpur as it is in Birgunj, the other important city in Madhes. General Secretary of RJP Bimal Srivastav is running for mayor on the ticket of Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar led Nepal Democratic Forum after being overlooked by RJP. The votes of Madhes-based parties are divided in Birgunj also because Federal Socialist Forum led by Upendra Yadav has fielded a strong candidate there.  

But the situation is entirely different in Janakpur. Not only is RJP united here, but the parties of Yadav and Gachchhadar are also weak.

This, however, does not mean that NC is very weak and does not stand any chance in Janakpur. NC had lost Dhanusha-4 by just 1,240 votes in the last election and one main reason for Sanjay Sah's victory then was he had almost made a clean sweep of Sah votes. But five of the mayoral candidates this time are Sah including Manoj Sah of NC.    

"The votes of Sah community, that will be divided among five candidates, will not be decisive this time," President of Dhanusha NC Ram Saroj Yadav, who had lost to Sanjay Sah, in the last CA election argued. "We have access to every place which RJP does not have. Yes, RJP has sympathy for Madhes Movement but the people also have evaluated our role in the Madhes Movement," he added.

Another strong factor in favor of NC, according to him, is there are no grievances in the party this time. "We have already won over the aggrieved friends inside the party. Not a single NC person is contesting as an independent candidate this time," he stated. "The public mood is also in favor of NC in recent times," he claimed.  

Influential NC leader Bimalendra Nidhi can also be an important factor for NC's win. His role is more important this time also because the party's mayoral candidate Manoj Sah is from his faction.

Nidhi also is the heir apparent to NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba who dominates the party now. Nidhi's prestige is on the line this time in Janakpur.   

The elections in Madhes are believed to be decided in the last 48 hours. "The card that Nidhi will play in the eleventh hour can play a decisive role in NC's fortunes," a government staffer and local from janakpur-23 said requesting anonymity. "The dynamics can change overnight in Madhes," the local stressed.

UML, which emerged as the largest party from the first two phases of local polls, looks set to come third in Janakpur. UML has its presence in the rural parts of the submetropolis but there seems to be little chance of it winning the election. UML's campaigning in Janakpur also seems to be subdued in comparison to RJP and NC.

Party cadres and sympathizers, however, seems devoted toward the party despite the party's weak state. Santosh Dahal of Janakpur-1 said he will vote for UML despite little chance of the party here. "There was risk even in confessing allegiance to UML until a few days back but the situation has improved a bit now," he stated. "I don't feel UML will win in the submetropolis but I will vote for sun nonetheless."