Third-generation Nepali Congress (NC) leaders often complain the party leadership disregards them on key issues.
First-generation leaders like BP Koirala, Ganeshman Singh, and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai founded the party back in 1950. Then, following the 1990 political changes, second-generation leaders like Sher Bahadur Deuba, Ram Chandra Poudel, and Bimalendra Nidhi came to the fore. Now, a new generation of leaders in the form of Gagan Thapa, Biswoprakash Sharma, and Pradeep Poudel are on the verge of taking up leadership positions.
These third-generation ‘youth’ leaders complain about their poor representation in policy-making, as the much older second-generation leaders continue to largely control the party. This has created a gulf between the country’s youth population and the Nepali Congress.
Among the party’s eight office-bearers, no one belongs to the youth generation. The office-bearer body is the party’s powerful core, mandated to make quick decisions on vital national and party issues.
Of late, there have been signs of change. Many youth leaders are coming out with strong voices on issues related to the party and national politics, and the party leadership is compelled to heed. Gagan Thapa’s impressive presence in the parliament is a case in point. People have started saying that Thapa is the sole threat to the government from the main opposition. Not only the parliament, Thapa’s influence in the party’s overall decision-making is also increasing. Besides Thapa, other youth leaders are emerging, too, but more as a result of their personal capacities rather than a system that promotes generational transfer of power.
Where’s the plan?
According to political analyst Shreekrishna Aniruddh Gautam, Congressi youth leaders have become more vocal and the party leadership has been forced to listen. But he reckons the youth leaders would help their own cause if they could come up with a clear vision on key national issues. “For example, what is the vision of NC youth leaders on Nepal-India relations in the changed context?” Gautam asks.
He says the youth leaders need to have a clear ideological foundation for the party’s reformation. “Take the lack of ideological clarity in the party when it was forced to embrace federalism and republicanism,” he adds. Gautam himself was part of a Ganatrantrik Abhiyan (republican campaign), along with NC leaders Nara Hari Acharya, Gagan Thapa, Madhu Acharya, and political analyst Krishna Khanal. They filled the ideological vacuum and helped the party’s ideological shift from constitutional monarchy to republic.
“The campaign also established many youth leaders in national politics. It shows that sustained youth campaign can bring meaningful changes in the party and the youths can find space within it,” Gautam says.
Perhaps social media is making all the difference these days. Many youth leaders are active on social media, which allows them to gauge public opinion on national issues. They then press the party leadership to listen to the people.
Recently, the party was obliged to go with public sentiment that favored changing the national map through the parliament. Some senior Congress leaders wanted to buy time, but youth leaders pressed them to immediately summon the Central Working Committee. There were some differences among the office-bearers, but they had to eventually yield to the youth pressure, and the CWC unanimously decided to vote in favor of endorsement of the new national map.
Still, rues Pradeep Poudel, a noted youth leader, the party’s senior leaders listen to them only when the party is in opposition. “Perhaps the party leadership has started listening to us due to growing demand, both in and outside the party, that Congress needs to mend its ways,” he adds. “We are thus currently involved in party decision-making. But the real test of party leadership will come when Nepali Congress gets to power.” Despite some improvement, “the syndicate of old leaders continues to dominate decision-making,” Poudel concludes.
Youth leaders have been vocal on the issue of corruption during the pandemic. They have proposed a nationwide campaign against corruption, but the party president is not interested. According to Dhan Raj Gurung, another prominent youth leader, the party submitted a memo to the government demanding a probe into the purchase of medical supplies, only after youth leaders pressed for it. “Corruption is one area where party leadership is listening to us. Still there are many pressing issues where they just ignore us,” Gurung says.
Will happen, take time
The people, meanwhile, expect mainstream parties to actively fight corruption. Amid Covid-19 crisis, many apolitical young people came to the streets protesting the government’s poor handling of Covid-19 crisis. “We have to accept that the party’s involvement in such protests has weakened,” says Poudel.
There are growing voices in the party that the leadership should be handed over to the next generation at the party’s general convention slated for April next year. Yet no third-generation leader is likely to be party president in the convention. The highest a young leader could go would be general secretary, the third in hierarchy after president and vice-president.
There is a general consensus that there should be more and more third-generation leaders in party leadership if Congress is to effectively fight the consolidated communist juggernaut. But for the party to be actually led by a third-generation leader, perhaps the country will have to wait for some more time.