Nepali Times Asian Paints
Strictly Business
Political youth


Two out of three Nepalis you meet on the street are younger than 30. But three out of three politicians you see on television are nearly 60 or older. Nepal's Jana Andolan II was remarkable in that young people under 30 took to the streets, broke police cordons and even lost lives to ultimately recycle, in a strange evolutionary twist, the same old Nepalis over 60 as the leaders of New Nepal.
When the old politicians saw how young people could sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their elders, how likely were they to take seriously the issues related to the youth and children in New Nepal? Very unlikely!

Even today, as the politicians stand on their pedestals in Nepalganj or Birganj, they do not know how to explain what the new political process can do for these two core national constituencies. Complicating their ignorance are three additional factors.

Missing personal story: When was the last time you heard a Nepali politician happily talk about his own children's future in Nepal? You haven't because most politicians' children, as the press is shy to report, do not live in
this country.

When you feel that your kids' future is secure elsewhere, how likely are you to work hard here for a better tomorrow? People everywhere work hard for their children's better future. Few toil selflessly day-in, day-out, to give anonymous children a better tomorrow. This reality of absent kids distorts our political rhetoric. Our politicians cannot mine their own, or even their family's, stories to concretely offer hope and optimism for a better Nepal. Like trained parrots chirping phrases on cue, our politicians have to fall back on repeating abstract nouns such as political rights, freedom, democracy, youth power and the like until the audience becomes jaded.

Youth displacement: Another reason politicians do not talk much about the young is that they have quietly come to expect urban youths to go abroad for studies, and rural youths to become migrant labourers in the Gulf. When those who are most likely to take issue with poor governance are out of the way, why worry about what to say to them at election time?

In the Panchayat time, when going abroad was something few could afford, young people's restlessness was channelled into running state-blessed NGOs. Today, our politicians can afford to ignore the youth during elections because the most vocal of them are not in the country or are busy running various donor-funded NGOs that become, well, politically affiliated sooner or later.

No succession plan: Nepali political parties, run as they are by father-figure strongmen, never entertain succession plans. The father-figure's mode of operation is to extract maximum service from his underlings in return for a vague promise of party leadership someday, ensuring they all compete for his attention. As a result, to aim for leadership positions of any significance, ambitious young people have to compete with political nobodies over the age of 50 whose only virtue is that they are senior, and not necessarily more competent.

Every Andolan is a harbinger of hope. Next time, the young people of Nepal might stage an Andolan to put power in the hands of their peers, not their grandparents' generation.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)