Young turks’ appetite for politicsLong overshadowed by mainstream media and national level parliamentary politics, youth involvement in politics in Nepal has only recently become a matter of heated discussion.
Our answer is the world's hope; it is to rely on youth. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement of danger. It demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. - Robert F Kennedy
Long overshadowed by mainstream media and national level parliamentary politics, youth involvement in politics in Nepal has only recently become a matter of heated discussion. The reasons behind youth politics having a backstage miniscule role in bringing policy-level changes may be blamed partly to failure of youths to recognise potential of growth and opportunities here in Nepal and raise their voices and actions or their undying obsession to take a chance with third-world-dreams rooting out of different foreign ideologies. Or a failure in part of respective authorities to carve out elite manpower dedicated to bringing socio-economic changes through ground-level local politics.
Stats show the literacy rate of youths between the age group of 15-24 in Nepal is about 87 percent (UNESCO). And economically inactive population in the age group 16-25 stands at 94 percent in males and 61 percent in female youths (MoYS). They are engaged in academia but with less social and civic involvement. It can be very well argued that Nepal does have an untapped potential of youths who if aware about their roles and opportunities can play a big part in transforming the country which has long been sacrificing innovators, change-bringers and genuine politicians in the form of brain drain.
Fascinatingly, there exists a generation of youths in politics though small in figures but with ample courage and leadership qualities. They are concerned youths motivated by their own will and conscience dedicated to serving society and their friends not because for attention or power but for love of their homeland.
Following in the footsteps of acclaimed CPN-UML leader late Madan Bhandari, 22-year-old Sushant Sharma Banjara of Eastern Region Campus based in Dharan is a youth leader of All Nepal National Free Student Union (ANNFSU) affiliated to CPN-UML and who has already completed his term of party’s campus secretary of at an age of 20.
Every leader must be able to hold a vision if nothing else; vis-a-vis that an enthusiastic student of agricultural engineering, Banjara has prioritised investment in agriculture as the only way to upscale nation’s wealth. With an ideological tilt towards reformed Marxism initiated in Nepal by late communist Leader Madan Bhandari, Banjara believes that politics is a powerful medium to institutionalise change by utilising it as a platform which encourages innovative breakthroughs.
He holds a belief that, “To wait for someone to initiate changes that matter is an extremely unwise move.” This particular belief helped Banjara to kick start his political career and made him bat eyes on issues concerning community and campus. As a youth politician his duty is to play a role of a moderator when it comes to uniting community by promoting coherence and mutual understanding through inter-cultural programmes based at campus level.
Banjara’s typical day starts with newspapers and ends in party level meetings focused on improving overall quality measures of the campus and addressing student issues. During his tenure at the campus, Banjara and his union brought innovative reforms to address concerns of students. For instance, they introduced an Electronic Attendance System to monitor lecturers' presence. Many government-run campuses around our country have a common plight i.e. disinterest among teachers to run classes on a regular basis. After implementation of an attendance monitoring system, lecturers were forced to undertake designated responsibility. Not only that Banjara and his friends made authorities install a high quality WIFI service which serves as an important infrastructure particularly in engineering institutions.
When asked about what he would like to change, Banjara says, “Wrong ideologies and wrong leaders have hindered our community from reaching any targeted benchmark. If the intention of a leader is transformed positively, a community can be driven to prosperity and that is where I would like to start.”
However, many a time youths have been blamed for unwanted nuisances and disturbances in classes around campuses raising questions on benefits of youth involvement in party politics. As for Banjara, ineffective results are a product of high level influence and conflict of interest. If the ambitions or vested interest of a particular group is against common welfare then, according to Banjara, youths would be better off without any involvement in party politics.
Out of a long list Banjara remembers educational awareness projects, library campaigns, blood donation programmes and forestation programme as being most effective programme in the community.
Twenty-year-old Sujina Dhakal is an undergraduate and Student Union’s President at Nepal College of Management affiliated to Kathmandu University. Her political career that started while at school after being elected as the eco-club president during which Dhakal says, she learned the importance of coordination and participation for organising school-level events successfully.
Dhakal's major duty as an active union president involves conveying student concerns to management of the college, monitoring results and organising various events with allocated annual budget. She believes that apart from addressing issues facing the college, a student union should trod forward and take community level responsibilities too.
“Leadership is fun whilst at college but sometimes it becomes a daunting task to undertake because of resistance of students towards change and new ideas,” Dhakal says. “Furthermore, if the attitude of other council members is determined by vested interests and economic gain it becomes extremely difficult to produce results.”
Dhakal aspires to become a social entrepreneur and believes that politics as an occupation alone will not help her reach towards her goal of infusing economic sustainability and becoming a business role model in the Nepalese society.
Speaking about her tilt towards politics of the Student Union (private not party-affiliated), Dhakal says, “I saw girls around our college were given less opportunity, often were criticised and hindered by prevailing male dogmas. I decided to put my name in candidates’ list to counter that and to prove that a girl is equally able to hold a top level leadership position.”
After acknowledging the alarming rate of youth unemployment in the country and increasing drug abuse among youths and some of her friends, Dhakal is concerned towards solving these issues through social entrepreneurship involving youths and organising anti-drug campaigns. As an initiation, her college has been regularly organising community cleaning campaigns involving students to destroy wildly grown cannabis around college vicinity.
Surprisingly, Dhakal doesn’t find it worthwhile to involve herself with any national level politics and believes that none of the parties in Nepal have incorporated an agenda that provides equal opportunities and hears the voices of common people. “Nepotism and favouritism have hindered social progress by encouraging unfair practices in bureaucracy as well as party-level politics,” Sujina grieves. "Our voices are left unheard and youths have only been used as means to fulfil vested interests.”
However, in Dhakal's opinion, controlled infusion of party politics and private student unions can very well bring about positive changes like active participation in solving community issues and more importantly an increment in social and civic awareness among youths.
Sanjay Chaudhary, 20, is a college student and President of Biratnagar ward no 4 committee of Youth Association Nepal. His fascination towards leadership began all the way back during his school days when Nepal was undergoing a major political overhaul after King Gyanendra was forced to abdicate following the people’s movement of 2006.
He found politics intriguing, interesting and potentially powerful. He works to promote youths and their agendas on the fabrics of mainstream politics. His work as ward president is to reach out to youths and spread awareness about how politics works in the fringes, how politics is shaping up the present and future. He holds regular seminar sessions giving youths an insight into the fray of the modern world.
He organises sporting events like football and cricket to give young eager and effervescent people a platform to showcase and manifest their talent. He organises blood donation programmes as a campaign to promote and articulate the knowledge of giving blood for the needy.
When queried about the credibility of a party-based involvement of youths, he answered gracefully, "A youth has the liberty to choose, to choose willingly. A youth is not a wasted one who marches on the roads and alleys holding and waving flags. It is a core misconception ruling the conscience of the society. He expands himself, explores the multi-dimension politics has in stake. A youth who keeps himself away from politics is the one to blame for when adversity strikes and people howl for the lack of young people in the political spectrum."
One of these youths could very well be in top leadership position in the future. Watch this space!