Agent of changeLast February when Rabindra Mishra decided to make an unexpected switch to politics, his mother wept. His father was not pleased with the decision either; neither were his circle of friends, well-wishers and relatives. Everyone he talked to tried to dissuade him from making the life-altering career change.
Last February when Rabindra Mishra decided to make an unexpected switch to politics, his mother wept. His father was not pleased with the decision either; neither were his circle of friends, well-wishers and relatives. Everyone he talked to tried to dissuade him from making the life-altering career change.
But as Mishra puts it, the fire in him to transform the country was so strong that no one could talk him out of it.
“I knew the path that I was taking was very challenging and difficult but I decided to take the leap regardless,” recalls Mishra, who says it has been a crash course in Nepali politics because of the two back-to-back elections this year.
Deciding to jump into mainstream politics in February, Mishra announced a new political party—Sajha Party—an alternative political force promoting transparency, integrity and meritocracy within a constitutional and inclusive democracy. The party included people who were experts in their respective fields but with no prior experience in politics.
Now, within a year, Mishra’s life has transformed from that of a popular journalist once
pitching tough questions to political leaders to a leader facing similar questions himself.
In this short duration, he not only became the face of the newly-formed Bibeksheel Sajha Party, which commands a huge following, especially among youths and on social media, but was also thrust into the limelight by taking on a seasoned politician in his very stronghold in the parliamentary elections, even though Mishra ultimately lost by a slender margin.
In the election campaign, Mishra was cast as the face of the party. As a party coordinator, he was pitted against Prakash Man Singh in Kathmandu-1 constituency.
“The decision to contest from Kathmandu-1 was made by the party, which I think was a good decision. It generated a good vibe for our party across the country. Because I was going head–to-head with such an established political figure as Prakash Man Singh, the race naturally drew the attention of voters and the media,” says Mishra.
As a debutant campaigner, Mishra gave the veteran Nepali Congress leader a run for his money. At some point, there were those even piping him for a surprise win.
In a short span of time, Mishra had become a household name and was portrayed as a crusader fighting against corruption, ineffective governance and an ailing system. His party, which was contesting the election for the first time and aiming to gain the status of a national party, was heavily counting on Mishra’s candidacy. Like others, Mishra was also confident of positive results.
“During election campaigning, the response to my candidacy and the whole party was tremendously positive. People became emotional and at many places burst into tears,” says Mishra, reflecting on the campaign.
“Many people thought we would win the election. We were very positive.”
Voters’ love and faith seen during campaigning and social media interaction, however, couldn’t translate into a win. He fell short at the finish line by a whisker—a mere 818 votes.
With the result, Bibeksheel Sajha Party’s hope of emerging as a national party also fizzled out. In one defeat, the BSP suffered two losses—one seat under the first-past-the-post category, and the status as the national party, which the party was aiming for in the elections.
The party also failed to garner the three per cent of the total votes cast under the Proportional Representation (PR) system.
But Mishra remains upbeat. “Nothing has gone wrong. This is not a loss at all. Technically, we could not be a national party, but in terms of establishing our party, we have become a national party,” he says.
Within just four months of its founding and with almost no organisation on the ground, the BSP has finished sixth in the PR votes tally, leaving behind established outfits like the Naya Shakti Nepal and Rastriya Prajatantra Party. Its candidates finished third in majority of the constituencies of Kathmandu Valley, only behind the all-conquering Left Alliance and the Grand-Old-Party Nepali Congress.
“In Kathmandu valley, we are in the third position. That’s a huge achievement. Across the country, we are in the sixth position,” Mishra says, “We have taken this as a huge achievement.”
Despite the loss, Mishra, however, refrains from any blame game in light of BSP’s undewheming show. He instead pegs the loss on the mindset of the society, which he says, is ensnared in ‘the colour of politics.’
“Politics of the country is so entrenched that it’s been really difficult to overcome. The whole society has been politicised to such an extent that if we can’t change it, this country will not develop,” opines Mishra while assessing BSP’s performance.
“Roads have not been blacktopped for years. Infrastructures and public education have not been progressing. The voters know this is happening because of poor governance and bad politics. But they are still proudly affiliated with their respective parties. That’s the irony of the Nepali society.”
Following the many positives from the recent elections, BSP, according to Mishra, will devote the next five years to strengthening its organisation on the ground.
“Our challenge for the next five years will be to take away the colour of the politics from voters. To encourage them to live as independent citizens who vote on the basis of right and wrong, not on the basis of their affiliation with certain political parties. So depoliticisation of this society is our central goal,” he says.
Besides depoliticising the country, the BSP, which is often thought of as an urban-centric party, also aims to strengthen its organisational set-up in the ground and into rural parts of the country.
“This country should be transformed for my generation and my children’s generation. It cannot go on like this,” Mishra says, adding, “The country needs to be built. It needs a transformation. It doesn’t matter who does it—whether it is the Left Alliance or the right, or us. But come the next election cycle, if there is still no visible change, many candidates will lose to the BSP.”
To do so, Mishra says, his party will work towards drawing even more qualified people to mainstream politics.
“We get a sense that voters are desperate to see people they look up to in politics. There are many such personalities in different sectors, but hardly any in politics. Now, hopefully, they will find inspiration in us, hope in us, and most importantly confidence in us,” observes Mishra, “Our challenge is to maintain that confidence.
If this momentum breaks, the youth will not be interested in politics in the same way for years to come. It is a huge challenge that will keep us on the right track.”
Despite putting up an impressive show in a short time, though not emerging victorious, Mishra has no regret. Rather he thinks that he should have quit his job as a journalist and joined politics a year earlier. He also sees no hope for the drastic transformation from the Left Alliance, which is to rule the country for the next five years. According to Mishra, the Left Alliance would change the life of some politicians, but not that of the common people.
“The Alliance has changed the electoral map, but the character of the politics remains the same. What the new alliance will do is that it will extend the length of the government, but it will also extend the negative aspects of governance. When people without the right character and corrupt backgrounds get the chance to run the government for a longer period of time, there is a chance that the corruption will only grow,” Mishra opines.
“If we don’t change, then our country will not change either,” he says, “To transform the nature of politics in Nepal is very challenging, but with this election, we have made a dent. Next time we will break the cycle.”