Politics, gerontocracy-styleThe very politicians who fought for democracy stubbornly hold on to power and influence.
The 14th general convention of the Nepali Congress slated for September offers an opportunity for a hard reset it desperately needs to stay relevant. While there are concerns about whether the convention will take place amid the threat of a third wave of the pandemic, the graver issue for an umpteenth time is whether the old guards in the Nepali Congress will leave the way for the new generation of leaders who have time and again pressed for a change of the guard, alleging poor performance by the leadership, both internally and nationally. But party president Sher Bahadur Deuba’s intent to continue for a second term, and challenges from other old faces who already engage in forging alliances, are bigger hurdles to overcome for the younger generation.
Recent reforms in the party statute mandate that Congress elects at least 15 percent of the leadership positions in all levels of the party from the 18-30 age group and 33 percent women. The voter age composition of the party shows that 70 percent of the voters are between 18 and 60 years. As many as 33 percent of the voters are from the 18-40 age group, and 37 percent are aged between 41 and 60. Now, let’s look at the age composition of the top rung leaders who plan to secure leadership and major positions. Deuba, the incumbent president who has his eyes on a second term, is 74. Vice-president Bimalendra Nidhi, who also wants to vie for the position, is 63. Senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel is 75 and long-time rival Krishna Prasad Sitaula is 71. General secretary Shashank Koirala is 61. Among other central committee members and senior leaders, Shekhar Koirala is 69, Prakash Man Singh is 64, Ram Sharan Mahat is 69, and Arjun Narsingh KC is 72.
Gerontocracy is not just a Congress problem. Across the country’s political spectrum, it is often cited as the numero uno reason for hurting the fledgling democracy, both within the party and the country. Compared to the median age of Nepal, which is 24.6 years as per the latest demographic profile, our politicians are not so young. They are often criticised for denying the opportunity to the younger generation. It is Nepal’s tragedy that the very politicians who fought for democracy and equal opportunity stubbornly hold on to power and influence for their vested interests and personal legacies while repeatedly ditching the youth force that they piggyback on time and again. Politics, gerontocracy-style, has cast dark clouds over the political parties. It has disillusioned the youth, which will have far-reaching consequences for Nepali society.
After failing miserably in the 2017 general elections, the Congress has been in a shambles. That the party, which calls itself the vanguard of democracy and rule of law, is struggling to hold its periodic general convention itself is a shame. Factional feuds appear to have become the party’s inherent character, which a democratic party definitely not must be proud of. If the old guards are accused of failing to steer the party, youth leaders too need to share some of the blame. For once, the leadership should stop bickering and channelise their energy to hold the general convention so as to reinvigorate the grand old party.