CAN youth political leadership bring about the desired changes in Nepali polity? This question has gained traction following the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly without completing its task, which has largely been attributed to the selfish power games of top leaderships of the major political factions over the course of last four years of the constitutional exercise. One of the biggest criticisms of top Nepali politicians in recent times has been that they monopolize power and subvert progressive youth voices to prolong their stay at the top. This is certainly true, especially in the case of traditional parties like Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, where the same old faces have been at the leadership level, both at the party and national levels, ever since the restoration of democracy in 1990. GP Koirala perhaps epitomized the authoritarian leadership that silences any opposition to the status quo the best. The Maoists, who relied on muscle power of the youth to wage a 10-year-civil war, are the most progressive of all parties so far as the participation of the youth (and marginalized groups) in leadership positions is concerned. Still, the fact remains that Pushpa Kamal Dahal has managed to rule the party (with an iron-fist, many believe) for over two decades.
Of late, youths have started to claim a greater role in party machinery. This new clutch of youth leaders (epitomized by the likes of NC’s Gagan Thapa and UML’s Yogesh Bhattarai) has been calling for passing of the leadership baton to the young generation. They believe only the progressive thinking youth has the vision to take the country ahead in the 21st century. What adds credence to their claim is that the country’s major political forces ruled, by and large, by old leaders who have repeatedly failed their fellow citizens, have very little political capital to bank on in future electoral exercise.
It is true that given the reins of the country, youth leaders can infuse new blood into the staid political system through their fresh ideas. But the question is: What will happen when the initial euphoria and enthusiasm is tempered by the country’s harsh political and economic realities, made all the more difficult by its sensitive geopolitics? Besides, it is far easy to come up with new ideas than it is to put them into practice in a highly constrained political environment (as PM Bhattarai who started his tenure vowing to implement over 200 ‘revolutionary’ ideas that would transform the country, but failed miserably in almost all fronts, may attest). And don’t the youth leaders come from the same political culture that has to date produced, at best, semi-functional leadership? Why does the new generation of leaders believe they can succeed when their predecessors who also rose up party ranks, starting from the same youth setup, have failed? That there should be more youths serving at or near party leadership is beyond question. But so long as our youth leaders can prove they can put their mind where their mouth is, and clearly spell out a clear vision for the future course of the country, their ability and their distinctiveness from the older generations will remain under a cloud of suspicion.