After the failure of the first Constituent Assembly to deliver a constitution despite numerous extensions, the youth had come together to form a pressure group which later took the shape of a political movement. This was in 2012, and it was an exciting time.
The Arab Spring Movement had just taken place, and hash-tagging in social media was considered real activism with the hope of lighting up revolutions. Youths gathered around the trending slogans, mostly in social media, but also in street activism. This brought in an era of optimism and the idea of alternative politics in Nepal was born. And the rise to power in Delhi of Arvind Kejriwal, an outsider in politics through the Aam Aadmi Party, coincided with this development in Nepal.
This added fuel to the fire, and we were giddy with hope. In the first local elections after the promulgation of the constitution, Ranju Darshana, a 21-year-old undergrad student, had received almost 24,000 votes as a mayoral candidate for Kathmandu from a party formed from this movement. Ranju’s candidacy appealed to the youth and also addressed the near absence of women in political leadership.
I have been a hardline supporter of the need for an alternative political force in Nepal since the beginning. The major political parties are structured into rigid patriarchal organizations controlled by ‘upper caste’ old men where meritocracy isn't welcome. The idea of alternative politics was thus based on a simple premise: Nepal’s major political parties have morphed into feudal machines that are incapable of putting qualified people in power.
But the skeptics believe that emergence of a strong new political party in Nepal is almost impossible. They argue that Nepal’s terrain does not allow for mass proliferation of a new force as easily as it happened in Delhi. And almost a decade after its conception, the idea of alternative politics is in grave danger, proving the skeptics right, but not only for the same reason.
One of the founder leaders of the movement, Ujwal Thapa, who later transitioned into a political party by the name Bibeksheel Nepali Dal, unfortunately succumbed to Covid-19 a few months back. And the enormity of the leadership vacuum that Thapa’s demise has created is now slowly unfolding.
The party Thapa had founded was united with the one founded by Rabindra Mishra, who had jumped into the bandwagon of alternative politics after completing a pensionable career as a journalist in the BBC. Renamed Bibeksheel Sajha after the reunion, the party has officially taken a right turn endorsing the ‘personal opinion’ document of Mishra that is sympathetic to monarchy, wants to abolish federalism and urges a referendum on secularism.
Mishra refuses to accept that he has steered the youth-centered alternative political movement on a rightist path. In fact, in puerile and naive attempts to justify his ‘majoritarian’ political stunt, he questions the right of others to call anyone a rightist or leftist. Arguing like a child, he has even advocated for justice to the kings.
There is no doubt that frustrations from the continuous bickering of the mainstream politicians, and the communist government’s inability to deliver stability despite its huge majority, has made many people question the new political developments. And in the age of instant gratification derived by social media, there are enough people nostalgic about the ‘royal rule’. It has also not helped that the political party led by Prachanda, the harbinger of most of the progressive agendas in the past few decades, is also the most undemocratic in its internal functioning.
But Mishra’s misreading of the signs and his recent political steps have put the idea of alternative politics in danger. The core constituency of such a force, the educated progressive youth who have sustained this force till now through support and contributions, has disassociated itself completely. And personally, I have come across many such youths now supporting the building of alternative forces within major political parties.
“Our political parties are like elephants, they maneuver slowly,” says Shankar Tiwari, a young political commentator who has been elected a general convention representative from Nepali Congress. “Our political set up formed a progressive constitution first and are now restructuring the internal party functioning guided by the constitution.”
Some among the foreign educated youths also believed that the rulers our political parties produce are ‘stupid’ by default. But that is a naive underestimation of political conflicts Nepal has gone through and the tough journey our political parties have undertaken.
I believe our major political parties have failed to attract capable youths largely because of lack of internal democracy and zero tolerance for dissent. So, while the elephants are learning to dance, Mishra is showing signs of building a similar feudal structure and a desire to curb dissent. The so-called alternative movement is on an irrevocable path to demise.