Drunk with powerKathmandu Mayor’s wayward acts have diluted the hopes of alternative politics from young leaders.
When Balendra Shah, aka Balen, was ushered into the political spotlight after his modest success as a rapper, he was taken to be a representative of youth anger. He had not only sold the people the dream of using his engineering skills to improve the urban planning disaster that was Kathmandu Metropolitan City, but he had also emerged as an alternative to career politicians. After all, he seemed a class apart from at least two of his immediate predecessors, Bidya Sundar Shakya and Keshav Sthapit, who had gained notoriety for gross inefficiency and personal misconduct, respectively. But just a few months into his tenure, Shah began to show what he really is: An unthinking, immodest man with an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
Shah was at his explosive best on Saturday night when he threatened to torch Singha Durbar. The Nepali populace is pretty familiar with his occasional social media outbursts on weekends, but the latest one exposed how he continues to live in a wonderworld where he is the most powerful man there is. The people of Kathmandu voted him into power, thinking he had a fire in his belly; alas, he now harbours a disturbing dream of burning the country’s administrative centre in an actual, flaming fire. Inebriated in power, the mayor continues to don the role of a rabble-rouser rather than come of age as a dependable, new-age politician.
As dangerous as the mayor’s arrogance and irresponsibility is the unquestioned public reach and support he enjoys. By Sunday evening, the mayor’s Facebook post promising to burn Singha Durbar if his municipality’s car were to be stopped again had received 399,000 reactions, 116,000 comments and 41,000 shares within 21 hours of posting it. A cursory glance into the comments shows significant support for the mayor, notwithstanding his promise for arson on public property, a criminal act that will land him in jail if he fulfils his promise. The mayor’s secretariat on Sunday tried to gloss over his irresponsible act with an excuse that his wife, facing post-partum complications, was interrogated by the traffic police while travelling in the official car. While the mayor’s call for restraint and humane behaviour from traffic police officers is not without merit, the idea that an individual using a government vehicle without the requisite permit on a public holiday cannot be questioned reeks of entitlement.
Alarmingly, there is no dearth of public representatives nationwide who attempt to emulate the Kathmandu mayor in their quest for public support. As one of the most popular youth politicians in the country, Shah has a far greater responsibility than his peers to infuse into Nepali politics the ideals of ethics and dialectic reasoning. Meanwhile, the general public should stop conflating a politician’s cardinal anger problem with the collective anger of the youth. The seeds of anger, hate and unrestrained power cannot yield the fruits of alternative politics being expected from the new crop of leaders. The sooner the people and the politicians acknowledge the responsibility that comes with power, the better for Nepal’s fledgling democracy.