Youth leaders should be given key positions within the partyAs the Nepali Congress (NC) prepares to hold its 13th General Convention from March 3 to 6, the long-standing debate on the absence of youth leaders at the party’s decision-making level has resurfaced.
As the Nepali Congress (NC) prepares to hold its 13th General Convention from March 3 to 6, the long-standing debate on the absence of youth leaders at the party’s decision-making level has resurfaced.
By now, it is clear that the so-called first generation leaders are not yet ready to hand over the reins to the younger generation. Against this background, Kamal Dev Bhattarai and Apekshya Shah Rana spoke to outspoken NC youth leader Gagan Thapa on the importance of the upcoming convention, prospect of youth leaders being elected to key positions and the party’s policies. Until the older generation make room for the younger crop of leaders to blossom and take key roles in the party hierarchy, the party will remain ossified and will ultimately become "defunct" argues Thapa.
The 13th General Convention of the Nepali Congress is just around the corner. How is it going to be different from earlier conventions?
It does not seem like this convention will be any different from the previous ones. There are two important issues regarding any NC convention, however. First, it needs to put clarity on the party’s overall direction until the next convention. There seems to be no policy divergence on this.
Second, choosing the next leadership for the party is a crucial aspect of any convention. But even this time around the very same first generation leaders are the ones fighting for the leadership position and one of them will be elected once again. The second generation leaders are still not getting the opportunity to contest in the election. The ones who are voting have no say when it comes to selecting the candidates for the leadership either. Unless this trend changes, no transformation can be brought about in the party. However, interventions from the youth leaders can make a difference in the convention this time.
What kind of interventions?
Discussions on the road ahead have not been vibrant. Some of us have been working on a proposal for the past three months as to which direction the party should be taking. We shall be presenting our thoughts to the party in a few days and we are hopeful that it will start a dialogue within the party and make some difference.
The youth leaders want to see change in the leadership candidates as well. We have clearly told the second-tier leaders that the time has come for them to take the lead and for the youth leaders to move into their place. This is a natural process that should take place in any political party. The positions second-tier leaders are holding right now are not the topmost ones but where one can learn a lot and make a difference. And we feel that the youth leaders should be given such positions now.
The youth leaders are generally accused of not being united and seeking protection from senior leaders. Is this going to change this time?
Although there might be differences among the youth leaders about the party’s leadership, we want the party to move in the same direction in terms of policy, so we should be helping one another. When it comes to the leadership, it is not about age group as such, but about the natural process of how things should progress within a party. When things do not move as they should, some people may feel victimised and it also makes the party defunct. Young leaders should be given key positions within the party. I do not believe that I am the best and the only candidate among the young leaders; if someone else, who can convince me, comes to the front, then I will support them. But if no one is going to come forward, then I shall move ahead. Whether or not our young friends will support me is a different issue.
What are the challenges for the youth leaders to be elevated to the upper echelons of the party?
Youth leaders have not cooperated with each other as much as they could have. We have been making efforts to change that. But given the tradition within the NC, only a very few leaders have decision-making powers. As youth leaders, our roles in these past five years have been to demand change from them. I have learnt a lot in these years as a member of the Centre Committee. But even now the very same people, Sushil Koirala, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Ram Chandra Poudel among others, dominate the top positions. They believe that if they leave their positions, it will destabilise the party.
I do not agree and this needs to change in this coming convention. Youth leaders need to be involved in decision-making. People are tired of us for not being able to make a difference and so are we.
How can the presence of youth leaders in decision-making make a difference in the party?
Age has nothing to do with politics. It is not that if you are younger, you are a better leader. Having said that, an aged leader will lead with past experiences only, but younger leaders, if given the opportunity, will be willing to take risks and learn new things.
Moreover, currently the population between 18 and 40 years makes up more than 60 percent of the voting population, to whom younger leaders can appeal. One can argue that even an 80-year old leader can appeal to the younger generation, like Girija Prasad Koirala could. However, we do not have such leaders at present. So younger generation leaders are more likely to relate to the younger population and excite them. This will eventually benefit the party.
People were hopeful that after the promulgation of the constitution everything would be fine, but that did not happen. The country has been pushed further into turmoil. Thus, it is imperative that after this convention the NC generate hope that the party is capable of solving all the crises and leading the nation towards development, which is the main concern of the people. So our presence in the decision-making level could make a difference in the party’s functioning. We will raise the issue of economic development, which has not been properly raised by the top leaders. The younger population can no longer identify themselves with the first generation leaders, and they want to see change.
You think that the political parties have sidelined the agenda of development?
Yes they have. Over the years, our political leaders have always been too busy with political manoeuvrings and have ignored development. Their mindset has always been to resolve all the political issues first and only then to pursue development. This is unreasonable. This also shows that they have completely lost touch with the aspirations of the general public.
Political differences will continue but it is important that political struggles and economic development are pursued simultaneously. We are against the view that only political stability could pave the way for economic development. We can take the example of Sri Lanka where despite the conflicts economic development has been prioritised.
How do you envision the NC in the next four to five years?
Given the current situation—the ongoing Madhes Andolan, pending issues regarding federalism and deteriorating relations with India—the country can now move in two directions. The political parties will fail to handle the situation, the constitution will not be implemented and Nepal will again be a victim of another political experiment. Or the constitution will be implemented, three elections—central, provincial and local—will be held as per the constitution and the country will focus solely on development. We want the party to be committed to the latter direction. The party needs to ensure the country does not move towards instability.
But given the current state of the NC, it will not be able to achieve these goals unless it gets its house in order. The party has been unorganised and chaotic in recent years. It has lacked collective vision, has not been able to implement its charter or hold party meetings while party members have been busy working against one another. Such a party will not be able to lead Nepal. For it to change, the party needs to become like the one it was back in 2004 BS. Even during those days there were problems within the party, but its vision—to bring democracy to Nepal—was clear, and the members felt proud of being a part of it. At that time the Congress leaders did not know that the Rana regime would fall and then they would be given prominent positions in the government. They were simply fighting to bring change in the country. The party needs to realise that its strength does not lie in being in the government but in the faith of the party workers. So it needs to keep its workers motivated and united if it wishes to take the country in the right direction.