“If things remain the same, the country will be forced to crawl again in the same manner for decades to come. And, especially, it will be the youths, who have already suffered for decades, who will be forced to suffer again. Let’s not assume that the country is not in crisis. There are countries in the world which have descended into deadly conflict and violence and whose existence has been threatened within a short span of time.”
With this opening appeal worded carefully to create a specter, Rabindra Mishra, the President of Bibeksheel Sajha Party, has floated a document for ‘discussion and debate’. This document bases most of its arguments on this specter and a nostalgic appreciation of the Panchayat era and monarchy, and suggests the dissolution of federalism and a referendum on secularism. Surprisingly, it also openly conveys sympathy for the monarchy. This created a hue and cry, both in support and against, across social media within hours of the announcement.
The background to this is interesting. Mishra jumped into the bandwagon of alternative politics after a long career in journalism. While working as a journalist for the BBC Nepali Service, he had successfully run charity campaigns and projects through his Help Nepal Network and gained popularity.
A rigorous build-up of his ‘celebrityhood’ finally led to the next step, as he started looking for opportunities to enter politics. Having failed to incorporate leaders like Baburam Bhattarai, the disgruntled Maoist ideologue, or Gagan Thapa, the young star of Nepali Congress, into his plan, he started his own political party.
The Sajha Party that he founded later merged with the Bibeksheel Nepali Dal, founded through youth activism of late Ujwal Thapa. But the merged party soon split over differences in working styles and other clashes. Then, yet again, they reunited, and Mishra currently leads the outfit that is widely considered ‘the alternative party’.
The need for an alternative party was an idea that gathered steam after the disgraceful failure of the first constituent assembly. After fierce conflicts between various interest groups in and outside the CA, the assembly couldn’t come to a consensus on many important issues and the house was dissolved after two extensions.
Bhattarai, having been sidelined by Maoist Supremo Prachanda time and again, initiated the Naya Shakti Party, literally meaning a new force, with the goal of establishing a political force to rival the traditional congress, communist, rightwing monarchist, and regional parties. But when people didn’t respond to his grand design, Bhattarai changed course and merged his party with regional forces.
The Mishra-led Sajha Party and the youth-based Bibeksheel Nepali Dal were now the two remaining contenders in the alternative political arena, and with the merger they came across as the only alternative force. Presently, the party has three representatives in the Bagmati Province legislative assembly.
In this scenario, as the party president, Mishra has floated this document suggesting a change of course. He is being widely criticized for two valid reasons: first, the course he is suggesting is completely against the intent of the document signed for the unification of the two parties the second time, and second, as the sitting party president, rather than presenting his ideas for discussion in internal party committees, he has published them to sway opinions.
Party sources confirm that Mishra isn’t confident that either of the party’s current 25-member secretariat or the 130-member central committee will adopt his new line. Members from the previous Sajha Party, considered Mishra’s own side, have also openly spoken against the idea of basing alternative politics on religious sentiments. Thus this step by Mishra is being seen as a treachery for the cause of alternative politics. Recently, when the youth wing of the party passed its constitution endorsing the ‘directly elected presidential’ system as its main political line, Mishra wrote a harshly worded letter to them, calling his own party a group lacking discipline and capacity.
I have closely observed the alternative political movement in Nepal with sympathy for two reasons: one, a new political force is a must to break the politico-criminal nexus that has turned the state into a kleptocracy and two, in the existing political set up, the established parties have a hardwired hierarchical feudal structure that does not allow young and capable leaders to rise to power.
There is a clear difference in the way the Sajha Party was founded and the way the Bibeksheel movement evolved, with the latter being a youth-led movement based on liberal values and institutional democratic decision-making. But Mishra’s style of leadership and his rule-via-coterie are antithetical to that, for at the core of its structure is Mishra’s popularity.
This difference in culture was the main reason for the past split. And now, with an unnecessary right turn, Mishra has once again proved that at the center of his endeavor is a regressive thought process and a populist political acumen. This line of thought may garner mass support for obvious reasons, but whether this clever political maneuvering is in the interest of the nation and its people remains to be seen.
At its worst, such politics create unnecessary social rifts by exploiting deep fault-lines, and the idea of alternative politics was born to do the exact opposite at a time these conflicts had been paralyzing the country for decades. Therefore, with this new display of preference for a specter-raising right wing politics, Mishra has lost the moral authority to lead the alternative political movement.