In February, President Bidya Bhandari unexpectedly replaced Tilak Pariyar with Rajesh Jha (Ahiraj) for the governor of Province-2. This was amid the time when politics was in murky water after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the House of Representatives on December 20, 2020. That very step has left polity choking to this day.
Few days after Jha took office this scribe asked him the reason behind hanging a mega-portrait of King Prithvi Narayan Shah on his office wall. He tried his best to convince me with the same orthodox response that Shah was the founder of modern Nepal. We were in a hurry that day, and he said that he would invite me on for a long conversation over dinner sometimes.
Governor Jha is busy. He is seen taking classes at primary schools now or helping some injured people found anywhere during his journey from one district to another. He has also distributed some pieces of masks to a few people in Janakpur.
He has been covering his office chair with a saffron colored towel imprinted with Ram Ram. This draws the attention of politically aware people. This is also thought of by many as the indication of the probable political roadmap of Nepal, where he might be assigned a different role to deal with Province-2.
Jha is a governor with a journalism background. He came into the limelight when he established Madhes Media House in Singha Durbar, Kathmandu, during the time the word ‘Madhehs’ gained political importance in Kathmandu. Maithili-Bhojpuri used to resound in the Singh Darwar around the same time. Madhes Media House started publishing a daily newspaper. It was very easy for Jha to set up a media house in the company of a Madheshi leader like Rajendra Mahato. During that time Jha was advocating for federalism.
He was arrested by Nepal Police in 2010 on charges of collaborating with the armed underground group of Madhesh and committing crime against the state.
After a few years, he reemerged as a ‘super nationalist’ and anti-Madheshi. He began to describe the Madhesh issue as ‘regional’ or ‘ethnic.’ Prithvi Narayan Shah became his chief deity. Pushpa Kamal Dahal became the killer of 17,000 Nepalis for him. He says Nepali Congress has ruined the polity of Nepal. He regards KP Oli as the stalwart of the progressive agenda in Nepal, the Oli who mocked the progressives by saying that turning Nepal into a republican state will be like going to the US on bullock-cart.
Before being a governor, he was a spokesperson of Matribumikaa Lagi Nepali, a campaign for Nepal to be declared as Hindu Kingdom again.
He has been criticizing Madhesi leaders and the Madhesh Movement. Often, those in the government project the critics as enemies of the nation. He seems to be doing the same.
Few weeks ago, Chief Minister of Province-2, Lal Babu Raut, reshuffled his cabinet. Jha has issued a statement saying that the cabinet is not inclusive as per the norms of the constitution of Nepal. Office of the Chief Minister (CMO) has taken it as a political stunt saying Jha grabbed the position of governor by the untimely and irrelevant removal of Tilak Pariyar, a man of integrity from Dalit community. The person who displaced a Dalit and rose to power is preaching inclusiveness.
When the cabinet was reshuffled three representatives from Nepali Congress had formally requested the Office of the Governor to provide them with the Maithili and Bhojpuri draft of the oath-taking letter but the office did not provide it.
One of the confidants of Ram Saroj Yadav, minister of Physical infrastructure Development, confided with me that the government did this with a malafide intention to bring him in controversy. While Covid-19 was at its peak, Jha went to participate in the statue installation ceremony that took place in Madi, Chitwan, leading a crowd of procession.
Is governor Jha doing all this because he knows about the coming ‘political holocaust’ where he may need to handle the province with the executive jurisdiction? What else do you have under your sleeves for Province 2 and Nepal? Many people have such questions in their minds, especially in Province 2.
Randhir Chaudhary is the Executive Director at Peace Development Research Center (PDRC). He tweets at @randhirJNK