The liberal youngThere is not one political party that remains unswayed by the shenanigans of power politics.
At the very end of 2022, there was an item in the British newspaper the Financial Times which created a bit of a flutter in some circles. With an intriguing title—“Millennials are shattering the oldest rule in politics”—the story looked at a number of surveys in the United Kingdom and the United States going back more than 50 years to conclude that, unlike the earlier generations still around, those born after 1980 are not becoming more politically conservative as they grow older.
Dealing with demographic cohorts primarily identified with those two countries, the story noted that the “silent generation” (those born between 1928 and 1945) was 5 percent more liberal than the national average at the age of 35, but more conservative by the same proportion by the time they turned 70. The data also showed the “baby boomers” (born 1946 to 1964) and “Gen X” (1965 to 1980) trending along the same path. All in all, it goes to prove the saying, a variation of which I first heard being: If you are not a socialist at the age of 20, you have no heart and if you are still one at 40, you have no brains.
The narrative shifts, however, with the millennials (born 1981 to 1996) being more liberal by 15 percentage points at 35. Obviously, no one can predict what that will translate into over time, but this increased 10-point advantage will perhaps be too wide to be bridged. And, then, there is the distinct possibility that the next generation, “Gen Z”, will follow suit in terms of its general outlook, if not even more so.
While the earlier groupings from mainly the Anglosphere may not resonate much in much of the world outside of the West, digital interconnectivity has ensured that new generations everywhere have much more in common that anytime in the past, a fact that will surely be reflected in their politics as well. This should come as very welcome news for progressives the world over, and also knock some sense into those status quoists who believe the future lies in eddying around in the same place or even going back in time.
And, then, one looks at Nepal and one wonders where the progressives are to be able to take advantage of this momentous shift likely to affect us as well. The regressives are clearly identified in the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and its splinter. They are now back in a position of relative strength, but even their conservatism revolves around just the restoration of the monarchy and reinstatement of Hinduism as the state religion. There is nothing else that would set them apart from the others in Nepali politics.
That, I would argue, is an underlying problem with Nepali politics—the absence of any one party that espouses policies that one would like to support if one were of the liberal bent with beliefs that call for economic and social justice, gender equality, environmental action, and so on.
Actually, I should take back my words. There are parties aplenty holding such a platform, from the Nepali Congress to the CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist) to the Maoists, the Janata Samajbadi Party, the RPP, Party X and Party Y. Included are parties of the extreme left as well, although the route they would adopt to reach such a goal is where they diverge from the rest. As it has been proved time and again, all these programmes are nothing but a jumble of words that amount to nothing more than platitudes and more meaningless platitudes. Once in power, the trajectory of all the parties is also similar: Set the ship of state on autopilot while those lucky enough to find themselves in office set about helping oneself and near and dear ones to its spoils.
As if we were hankering after more, the recent general elections glaringly brought home this laissez-faire ideological landscape. There was no logic behind the various coalitions and opportunistic alliances that sprang up. Or, to explain the ease with which a member of one party could jump ship and state with all seriousness to have instantly adopted the political programme of a new party (along with all the history most of our parties claim to revere). It took a lot of mental acrobatics to understand and make sense of who allied with whom and where and why.
Any belief that our politicians had lost the moral ground to speak about politics in the pure sense of service to the nation was belied soon after the election. We were treated to more loathsomeness while the government was cobbled from a cast so disparate that even Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda felt the need to don the daura-suruwal to prove his credentials to his new bedfellows. Lest we had any doubts about our leaders’ ability to engage in extreme one-upmanship, they would surely have been laid to rest now.
This takes us back to the question of where one would find succour in this desolation that is Nepali politics. There is not a single political party of substance that remains unswayed by the shenanigans of power politics to chart a course that could eventually change the way politics is done. Some had hoped such a movement could come via the newly created Rastriya Swatantra Party, but the prognosis on that front does not look all that great with its having willingly entered a coalition, the rage against which had propelled it to power in the first place.
Thus spake Roosevelt
The greater danger is that many of the young becoming publicly more engaged will be turned off by a political system that promises more of the same. Especially if the shift among the young towards more government interventions in pursuit of a more equitable outcome for everyone, like in the West, is also felt in Nepal. Disengagement from everyday politics by itself is not to be taken lightly since there will always be those who will peddle alternatives to the young mind. Given the turmoil we have witnessed this century, we cannot take anything for granted.
“A radical is a man with both feet firmly planted—in the air. A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learnt to walk forward. A reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards,” said American president Franklin D Roosevelt. “A liberal is a man who uses his legs and his hands at the behest…of his head.” We are sorely in need of a party that fits the last definition; we have plenty of examples of the earlier kinds.