15-21 May 2015 #758

Bibeksheel Nepali shows how it is done

A party of youthful citizens shows what it means to be committed to the country above self
Tsering Dolker Gurung
Nobody expected the landslide victory that propelled the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Arvind Kejriwal to the Delhi Assembly in elections in February on an anti-corruption platform.

He had failed his voters once before, resigning abruptly after only 46 days in office. But the AAP sprang back riding on support from the working class and protest voters and defeated the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), winning an astonishing 67 out of 70 assembly seats.

It’s a different matter that post-victory the AAP’s intra-party squabbles have made more news than its achievements in curbing endemic graft or following through on its election promise of reducing the cost of utilities in the Indian capital. But what AAP’s win showed was that voters do not shy from giving a chance to new and inexperienced political force that promises to undo the wrongs of previous governments.

It was with a similar kind of hope for a more inclusive Nepal that thousands of young Nepalis took up arms against the state 20 years ago. Millions more turned out to vote in 2008 for the rebel force, now a mainstream political party. The Maoist party subsequently failed on many fronts: failure to draft a new constitution, letting down the Nepali people and being mired in the same kind of greed and graft that they were purportedly against. 

But the Maoist party’s biggest failure was to lose its connection with the poor and marginalised that had elected it to power. The foot soldiers saw no difference between their idols who had now taken up the ways of the elite and the leaders they overthrew. The result of the growing dissent among the public against the UCPN(M) was made clear during the CA-2 elections when people chose to vote for veteran underperformers of the opposition parties. When you have nothing but fools to choose from, you settle for the ones who will do the least harm.

After the 2013 elections, the NC-UML coalition has shown the same lethargy and elastic morals that was their hallmark in the 1990s. The disillusionment of the people has turned to apathy, even as we were collectively affected by government inefficiency. All this became painfully apparent in the aftermath of the 25 April earthquake where the response was tardy, uncoordinated and inefficiently managed.

Nepalis are all concerned about the lack of accountability, transparency and responsibility on the part of the state. Already politically alert and aware about governance, the Nepali people are now so fed up that they have started looking for alternatives. 

Can this angst against the state result in the ascendancy of a new force in Nepal much like India’s AAP? The group that comes closest to pulling it off may be the Bibeksheel Nepali party which like its Indian counterpart started out as a protest movement. Led by young, educated professionals, the group first took to streets to campaign against national shutdowns foisted on the people by the mainstream parties. It took up the cause of exploited migrant workers, violence against women, corruption in public offices and advocate for citizenship through mothers, drafting of a new constitution through the very popular ‘Occupy Baluwatar’ movement, ‘Nepal Unites’, and ‘Nepal is Open’ campaigns. These drives gained wide support via social media and became a meeting point for like-minded youth who though politically conscious weren’t involved in the system.

In 2013, the group registered itself as a party and four of its members (pic, above) including party chair Ujjwal Thapa filed candidacies from Kathmandu’s most-competitive constituencies for the CA-2 elections. Thapa, a US-educated IT entrepreneur ran against two senior leaders (Narahari Acharya from the Nepali Congress Party and UML’s Ishwor Pokharel) in Kathmandu-5 and lost.

ibeksheel’s other three members also didn’t win.  Undeterred by the loss, the group has spent the last two years building its image as an alternative political force, a people’s party that’s not made up of politicians, but everyday Nepalis who have been affected by Nepal’s bureaucracy as much as you and I. Its extensive use of social media to circulate information about party activities, solicit donations, recruit more members and recently to update about rescue and relief efforts has not only increased its presence but bolstered its support base.  

Youngsters who had no idea about the group before the earthquake are now spending their time and resources volunteering for the party. A friend’s brother who stepped in to transport relief supplies for Bibeksheel Nepali in his SUV tells me: “I have seen how committed they are. It’s not just for social media. There are volunteers who don’t sleep at night and spent hours packaging supplies because they have to be delivered in the morning.” Another decided this was the group to recommend to eager donors in Nepal and abroad. “They are completely transparent about their finances,” she explained. 

Visit the party office at Maharajgunj any day and you will meet hundreds of young volunteers, all doing their bid to help fellow Nepalis in need.

“We started our relief work from the third day of the 25 April earthquake. We are now planning to move towards rehabilitation work,” said Jeevan Shrestha who has been coordinating the party’s relief distribution. 

It may be too early to tout the party as one that’ll uproot the dominance of three major parties but one thing’s certain – they are being noticed.


Read also:

A state in aftershock, Victor Rana

Earning back the people’s trust, Tsering Dolker Gurung

A more responsive state, David Seddon

Sore losers, Trishna Rana

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