11-17 July 2014 #715

The generation gap

Nepal’s ageing political leadership is running out of time in more ways than one
Trishna Rana
DEVAKI BISTA
DRONES: High-tech gizmos such as flower-dropping drones (upper left corner) at the UML's general convention last Thursday did not make its leadership look any younger.
While the hoopla surrounding the UML’s ninth general convention gradually subsides and traffic along the Putali Sadak-Exhibition Road stretch returns to normal, the fight for the top post between Madhav Kumar Nepal and KP Oli intensifies as the two factions get ready for elections on Friday.

This was a high-tech affair with drones inside the big tent dropping flower petals on dignitaries, a robot-controlled auspicious lamp lighting, and laser-readers at the gate scanning barcodes on IDs.

The week-long convention, however, had to be extended by two days because Nepal and Oli could not reach an agreement on the statute amendment proposal. Despite the delay, the second largest party in the Constituent Assembly did manage to undertake some impressive decisions. By setting aside 22 seats for women and around 45 seats for Madhesis, Dailts, Muslims, and other disadvantaged communities, the UML took baby steps towards building a more inclusive, albeit slightly bloated, central committee.

Also the proposal to retire leaders once they reach 70 is a propitious sign for the younger cadre and will help them rise up the ranks quicker. Whether these new regulations remain token gestures or are able to bring about real transformation within a party beleaguered with infighting depends on how serious the soon-to-be elected chairman is about modernising the party to meet the needs of an increasingly young and diverse populace.

The retirements of 78-year-old Bharat Mohan Adhikari, former minister and politburo member of the UML, along with senior leaders Siddhi Lal Singh and Kamal Koirala after the general convention also provides a much needed nudge to ageing politicians of other parties and some introspection is in order.

One-third of Nepal’s population is between 15-39 years. While former student leaders and current parliamentarians like NC’s Gagan Thapa (37) and Udaya Rana (42), UML’s Rabindra Prasad Adhikari (35), and Ganesh Man Pun (40) of the UCPN (Maoist) give us hope, their numbers are too small to make a big difference. The breakdown by age of the 240 CA members who were elected through the first past the post ballot in the 2013 elections shows that only eight per cent are between 31 to 40. More than half the parliamentarians are 51 to 65 year-old.

Today, there are nearly 4 million Nepalis on Facebook and their numbers on social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+ are growing rapidly. This is a generation which gets its news and forms its opinions almost exclusively on the Internet. They like to feel a sense of connection and want to communicate openly with their leaders as last year’s election campaigning demonstrated.

While a handful of senior leaders like Baburam Bhattarai, Kamal Thapa, and Ram Sharan Mahat have proved their tech savviness over the years and their willingness to engage with followers, most have never ventured into cyberspace. Just look at the outdated and clunky websites of the three main parties (NC, UML, UCPN Maoists) - that is proof enough of how the leadership has failed to remain relevant in changing times.

But it’s not just through their lack of online presence that the elderly statesmen have failed the youth of this country. Far more worrying is their failure to provide the basics: quality education and respectable job opportunities. More than half the students who appeared for their SLC exams did not pass this year. And then there are the thousands upon thousands of young men and women who are toiling in foreign countries so they can feed their families back home. It is a travesty that we are allowing the futures of millions of our children and youth to go to waste.

The recent experiences of our southern neighbour, however, should provide some hope for senior leaders in Nepal. Sixty-five per cent of India’s 1.2 billion population is 35 or under and yet the country picked 63-year-old Narendra Modi over 44-year-old Rahul Gandhi to chart its future. In Modi, the youth of India chose a man with a proven track record of delivering on his promises and bringing economic growth and prosperity.

They were so enamoured by his performance in Gujarat that many simply chose to overlook his nefarious past. If the top crop of Nepali leaders is successful in drafting a new constitution by the end of this year, Nepalis too will forgive them for their past blunders. Given that most of today’s politicians are in their early to mid-60s, they have at least a decade to set things right, groom a new generation of leaders, and leave a lasting political legacy.

@TrishnaRana1

Read also:

Leading the young, TSERING DOLKER GURUNG

Campaigning in cyberspace, BHRIKUTI RAI

Wired, BHRIKUTI RAI

Nepal's youth bulge, TRISHNA RANA

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