21-27 February 2014 #695

Leading the young

Tsering Dolker Gurung

Rajeev Bikram Shah and Udaya Rana have a lot in common. Both come from a family of influence, spent much of their youth studying abroad, and ventured into politics despite having promising careers elsewhere. Both members of the Nepali Congress, Shah won in his home district of Jajarkot-2, defeating UCPN (M) candidate Bhakta Bahadur Shah in the party’s heartlands, while Rana sealed his victory in Lalitpur-1, traditionally a UML stronghold.

When Udaya Rana announced he was joining politics, many mocked him for his naivety. Some called his decision ‘amateur’, while others termed it merely a ‘hobby’. He was, after all, sacrificing a lucrative job and a career in international development. But his family knew better and extended support. Today, Rana wields a fair degree of influence within the Nepali Congress in addition to being the president of the party’s youth wing, Tarun Dal .

His victory in last year’s November poll not only helped cement his position as an upcoming leader, but also provided Rana much needed relief after his defeat in 2008 CA elections. “If I had lost again, things would have looked quite grim for me politically,” he admits. The victory was even more special because Udaya’s father, Sagar Rana who is long-time NC member, had failed to win previous polls from Lalitpur-1.

Although Rana’s political career began when he joined Nepal Student Union in 1985 and formed its Delhi chapter during the Janandolan I, politics took a back seat once democracy was restored in the country in1991 and college became a priority. After graduating from Cornell University with a Master’s degree in International Relations, Rana returned home and worked with several development agencies. But that life, he says, didn’t appeal to him and he found himself drawn to politics once again.

In 1999, Rana was elected as the president of the Lalitpur chapter of Tarun Dal. Years of hard work and perseverance finally paid off in 2012 when he took top post of the youth wing.

Although breaking into mainstream politics was fairly easy for the 42-year-old, he admits it is often a challenge for young leaders to find a place for themselves in the party. “Because there is no retirement age in politics, senior leaders don’t want to leave at all. But if you are dedicated to the party cause and remain sincere, then nobody can stop you from fighting your way up,” he says.

Like fellow CA member Rajeev Bikram Shah (see below), Rana didn’t let his first time loss deter him from working in his constituency. His development efforts in the area have been much lauded and this is what he believes made the locals vote in his favour.

“I joined politics because it was challenging and I like being the underdog. I think I have proved my mettle over the years and that is why I have been able to sustain so far,” he says. A self-confessed dreamer, Rana’s ultimate dream is to build a prosperous Nepal so that the youth no longer have to leave home and slog it out in foreign countries.

Driving back home after being sworn in along with 564 other CA members last month, Rajeev Bikram Shah had a moment of epiphany. The 45-year-old businessman turned politician pondered on his career change and wondered, “How did I end up here?” After all, joining politics was never a part of the plan. His goal was to make his real estate business a success and dabble in tourism.

“I wanted to open a resort in Kakani and even though I had the resources, the plan failed because of the Maoist insurgency. I became wary of politics,” recalls Shah. “If the conflict was affecting me so much, I could not even imagine how those who were less privileged than me were faring.”

But even then he was more inclined to work as a civil society leader than a politician. That feeling, however, changed with time. “I didn’t want to talk about the country’s problems at cocktail parties and social gatherings. I wanted to become a part of the solution.” So when senior NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba nominated him to a proportional representation seat in the 2008 CA, the timing couldn’t have been more opportune.

Shah failed to make the final cut to the assembly floor, but continued working actively in his home district of Jajarkot. In 2009, he spearheaded relief efforts after a cholera outbreak, for which he was widely appreciated. He set up the Jajarkot Cholera Disaster Coordination Committee, chartered private helicopters to rush doctors and medicines to those in need, and lobbied in Kathmandu for a more substantial relief package. It is these efforts and not his lineage (Shah is a descendent of the rajas of Jajarkot) that he believes helped him claim a victory here.

Inspired by party founder BP Koirala and other senior leaders including Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Sushil Koirala, Shah hopes to make significant contribution to his district and not let the people who voted for him down. “Dividing time here to fulfil my duties at the parliament and my constituency is proving to be a major challenge but I will do my best for my people,” says Rajeev.

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