What is CK Raut up to?

After earning opprobrium for being a secessionist for a long time and then receiving praises for joining mainstream politics respecting Nepali sovereignty, CK Raut is again in the headlines. Is he doing politics the right way?

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 6 min.

Kathmandu: Leaders and cadres of the CK Raut-led Janamat Party have been taking to the streets of Tarai, with sticks and rods in their hands, chanting slogans, demonstrating, disrupting transportation, and damaging public properties. Nepal’s Tarai districts are gripped by the fear of politics of violence.

Strikes and demonstrations have become a regular occurrence under the banner of what has been dubbed as ‘Farmers’ Movement.’ Last week, following a general strike called by the party, the District Administration Office of Siraha issued a prohibitory order for two days. Cadres of the Janamat Party defied the order. On Sunday, police opened fire on the demonstrators, leaving five injured. The party had announced the highway-centric protests in Saptari demanding that the farmers’ demands be addressed. There have been clashes along the East-West highway; several cadres have been arrested.

The list of the party’s demands runs long—availability of farmer cards, pension for farmers, insurance of the crops, free electricity for the agriculture meter, availability of the fertilizers and seeds, compensation in case of crop damage, payment of the sugarcane farmers, proper valuation of the yields and so on.  These are such matters which no political parties can stand opposed to. Farmers of Nepal are among the most hardworking people contributing to the economy while their share of problems are rarely addressed by the government.

CK Raut has also capitalized on the rampant corruption in government institutions. He has made agriculture, the major source of the Nepali economy, a key agenda of his movement. His cadres do not hesitate to take the law into their own hands to ‘chastise’ the unaccountable government officials.

Cadres of CK Raut-led Janamat Party stage a protest in Dhanusha. (Photo: News24)

Two and half months back, Janamat Party leaders and cadres abused Jageshwor Kushwaha, head of Water Supply and Sewerage Management, Janakpur—stripping clothes off his body in public on charge of not taking the construction work forward after randomly digging roads. That brought the Janamat Party and CK Raut into the limelight overnight while at the same time sending the fear that the party might resort to violence to justify its activism.

Political expediency of CK Raut

A self-proclaimed voice of Tarai Madhesh, Raut once adopted the agenda of free Madhesh, not a very popular one among Nepalis. His politics of secession was flatly dismissed by politicians across the spectrum and a large section of the general public. His name itself aroused opprobrium for a period of time.

In 2006, when the Madhesh uprising had just begun, Raut came back to Nepal from Japan. He and his friends formed the Alliance for Rights and Independence of Madhesh, an NGO with secessionist ideals. In 2009, CK Raut went to work for BBN Technology in the USA and formed a Madhesh diaspora group. He returned to Nepal in 2011 and traveled from Mechi to Mahakali with his friends, launching a Madhesh independence movement. The majority of people who supported him were Madhesi youths. But the movement soon fizzled out, for obvious reasons.

If any issue can be resolved through discourse and deliberations, then that should be given more priority. Violence and vandalism will only make the general people suffer.

Raut gave up his extremist agenda and joined mainstream politics after signing an 11-point agreement with the federal government led by KP Sharma Oli on 8 March 2019. He pledged to honor the country, its sovereignty, and territorial integrity, giving up on his secessionist agenda. On March 18, he founded the Janamat Party.

Raut went from the subject of widespread opprobrium to one of appreciation overnight. Many believed that he had changed himself overnight and vowed to change the way of doing politics.

Now, Raut and his Janamat Party have been organizing protests and demonstrations raising the issues of corruption and the woes of the farmers. He is being criticized, however, for the way he is doing politics for what appears like a very noble cause. The cause of criticism is the violence that his cadres are resorting to in recent times. Social media users and commentators have given mixed reactions. While CK Raut’s anti-corruption campaign and justice for farmers have been praised, the way he is conducting the movement is being criticized. 

Right cause, wrong approach?

Analysts say that the current movement led by CK Raut is based on the grounds of justifiable agendas and it is completely different from Raut’s previous agenda.

Tula Narayan Shah, a political analyst who has been observing Madhesh politics for a long time, said that Janamat Party’s agenda is justifiable. According to him, the movements in Madhesh till now had always been vocal about relation with Kathmandu and political issues but mum on social and economic issues. “Regarding representation, they were vocal but regarding governance, they remained silent,” Shah said. “This movement is different. The reality of the Madhesh is that the society is agriculture-based, an issue which none of the previous movements raised.”

Tara Nath Dahal, a political observer, wrote on Twitter that though it is seen that CK Raut is leading the farmers’ movement in some places in Tarai, there are chances that it will turn into a people’s movement. “It is because a movement like this, centered on the problems of the grassroots people, was not conducted before,” he wrote.

Shah does not feel that the way Raut is leading the movement in Tarai is questionable. Many movements in Nepal have been conducted in a similar manner. “Clearly, there are two ways of movement: one is to take to the streets, next is the peaceful one like a hunger strike. We have seen the failure of such peaceful movements,” he added. 

Other analysts argue that the government authorities should learn from past mistakes and address the grievances of the people on time. 

CK Raut (R) signs an 11-point agreement with the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli-led government. (File photo/RSS)

Uddhabh Pyakurel, a political analyst, points out the failure of political parties and the state to address the activities in the name of protests (political) with maturity. One example, he said, is the Maoist movement. If Maoist movement was addressed on time, the country would not have to suffer much. According to him, some political movements may carry progressive goals which should be heeded to. “But the state should not give political cover and blanket amnesty to the vandalism and atrocities in the name of political movements,” he said. 

Analysts say that the current movement led by CK Raut is based on the grounds of justifiable agendas and it is completely different from Raut’s previous agenda.

According to Pyakurel, the timing of the protests by CK Raut is also meaningful. He started the protest after KP Oli’s government—with whom he had signed the 11-point deal—was replaced. “As Oli is out of the government, the Janamat Party might have started demonstrations thinking that it is an appropriate move.” 

Observers agree with the agendas of the anti-corruption drive and pro-farmers protests launched by Janamat Party but they argue that the vandalism and atrocities will only make people’s problems worse.

Amrita Lamsal, a social activist, does not agree with the way Raut-led party is launching the movement. According to her, Maoists also led the country to a decade-long insurgency, but they had to come to a peace process at last. “If any issue can be resolved through discourse and deliberations, then that should be given more priority. Violence and vandalism will only make the general people suffer,” she said.

Attempt to justify violence

Speaking at a Television interview recently, Raut said that his party had declared the strikes and the people who defied the strikes got their properties damaged. When asked about the indiscriminate vandalism of vehicles carrying children and patients, Raut retorted: “Why defy the movement? Why not respect the people’s right to protest?”

General perception among the people is that CK Raut, once reviled for advocating secession of Madhesh then respected for giving up that agenda and returning to peaceful politics, is doing politics in a wrong way.

Ganesh Karki, a freelancer and a writer, said Raut and his cadres are launching the movement in the name of the people but they in turn are making people the victims. “The Raut-led Janamat Party is going in the wrong track,” he said. “They are making people suffer. If they cannot make people happy, they should not make people cry.”

Commentators agree that Raut is adopting violence as a method to influence people because violence emerged as a powerful political tool in Nepal over the past few decades, adopted by several fringe groups. But none of them were brought to book for their crimes and atrocities.

As things stand, so far none of the parties in the federal and provincial government have spoken out against the violent tactics that Raut’s party is adopting.