This week youth and student wings of various parties took to the streets across the country, picketing against the fuel price rise and inflation. The 13 student and youth factions of the major parties, including the Maoists, shut down Kathmandu valley on Wednesday. Staged protests like these, act as safety valves so frustrated youngsters can vent their anger through random tyre burning and windshield shattering. Street protests and hooliganism release the pressure of social discontent.
However, to look at the protests as spontaneous public reaction to inflation misses the point. There are larger issues that affect the students and youth of this country than rocketing fuel prices. One thousand young Nepali men and women leave the country every day for lack of employment opportunities. Private education is unaffordable for most and public education lacks quality. While the nation is reeling under 18 hours of power cuts a day in certain areas, efforts to revive the economy have become victims of bad politics.
If the country had strict legal enforcement, the corrupt petroleum mafia would not have been able to create an artificial shortage of LPG and other petroleum products for the past two months. If we had invested in public transportation and made a timely switch to renewable energy sources that are in abundance, we would not have ended up with an anemic economy running on expensive fossil fuel. Petroleum deposits are running out globally, diesel and petrol are going to be scarcer and more expensive, and we have no long-term plan to deal with this.
The rise in fuel prices has hit the students, no doubt, but they are not alone. It is unreasonable to demand subsidy for students without actually identifying which category of students is needy, and without proper mechanism to ensure the subsidy is not misused.
Providing a subsidy for a section of the population on goods whose price in the international market fluctuates every week is unsustainable and irrational in the long run. It affects the development expenditure and compromises on drinking water, health and education projects for the remote areas.
Even before the protests intensified, government was already giving into protesters' demands and said it was willing to reconsider the decision if other parties supported. Obviously, Baburam Bhattarai does not want to sign the bankruptcy papers alone. So there is little surprise that the government relented when it finally did.
It's also quite apparent that the current protests have more to do with forthcoming student union elections than anything else. All student unions feel they will lose out in the race if they don't take part in these protests. It is absurd that the youth groups have united while their parent parties are at each other's throats. If mutual self-interest works in student politics, why shouldn't it work in national politics?
Politics is only as effective as the ability of the polity to demand accountability from the elected representatives for their actions. Students and the youth factions of the parties are as much responsible for the political mess we are in because they have their own share in this inglorious legacy of bad politics. Those who are convinced Nepali politics can change for the better if the current generation of leaders hand the baton to the next should have seen the youth wing members beating up sidewalk traders on Wednesday for daring to defy their shutdown.
Destroying public and private property and terrorising traders and commuters have become the standard operating procedures in making a banda a 'success'. No matter how you look at it, a banda requires violence and fear to be enforced, and thus violates the fundamental human rightd of citizens.The leadership of all the parties should know they are playing with fire. The tyre smoke they unleash will one day choke them as well.
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