Pro-poor mayor


Lok Narayan Yadav, 44, served his community as an NGO activist for a decade, but he often felt helpless while dealing with vexing problems like untouchabilityinequality and social injustice. 

So Yadav decided to take a plunge into politics, trying to change the system from within, rather than simply as a development worker dependent on foreign aid and grants. 

The Nepali Congress fielded him as a mayoral candidate in Parsagadi municipality of Parsa district, but people in the eastern Tarai had to wait for local elections much longer than others. 

While six other provinces went to the polls in May 2017, Province 2 had to wait until September. The local polls were postponed twice in this plains-only province due to threats from the Madhes-based parties. 

It was difficult for Yadav to spearhead a campaign in Parsagadi because his party was described by the Tarai-centric parties as an anti-Madhesi force. What made his victory even more unlikely was Parsagadi’s proximity with Birganj, the epicentre of the Madhes movement. At least four people had been killed in clashes with police in Birganj, where anti-Kathmandu sentiment had hit an all time high.

But Yadav won, albeit by a narrow margin. He says his narrow victory reminds him every day that he needs to work harder to win the hearts and minds of his people.

Yadav’s pet project ‘the mayor for the poor’ has been a hit. As a development worker, he always felt ‘limited’ whenever he reached the under-served villages of DomMusaharChamar or other Dalit communities. His 'mayor for the poor' project is enabling the Dalits to access public services. 

As part of its activities, the mayor delivers sanitary kits to pregnant Dalit women. Under-served families get free solar panels so their children can focus on studies. Soon after being elected mayor last year, Yadav hit the ground running. He met with Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) officials to power his municipality with solar energy. The AEPC subsidises 60% of the solar power installation cost, and Yadav encourages his constituents to make use of these grants. 

The municipality has decided to provide an additional subsidy for the poor and Dalit families who cannot manage even 40% of the cost of solar lighting. The municipality is also installing solar street lights, and improving rural roads to help farmers get their produce to market. 

The mayor’s office has revived a birthing centre which was out of operation for years, in Harpur of Parsagadi. Sangita Devi Sah, a local social worker, gave birth to her child in the local birthing centre early this year. “If the mayor had not restarted this facility, I would have to go to Birganj for delivery, these little improvements matter for people like us,” she says.

Detractors say the mayor is ‘slow’, but Yadav says he is just ‘steady’. They say he is not ‘charismatic’, but he says he is just ‘honest’. 

Brij Mohan Chaudhari, who was the mayoral candidate of the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN), accuses Yadav of wasting his budget in unnecessary road projects. But even Chaudhari admits that Yadav has done well to uplift health, education and social welfare in the municipality. 

“Province 2 mayors like me were elected four months after mayors in other provinces started working,” Yadav said. “So we need to work harder to catch up.”