Dev Raj Dahal
Youth in politics is emerging as a frontline political inquiry in Nepal. Though not an exclusive social identity, youth presents a silver of hope for this nation’s fortune. The growing political consciousness of youths has diminished their fear of natural world but not the existential fear, a sense of injustice and deprivation relative to their democratic expectations which demands political action. For those fortunate genes and geniuses, politics is excitingly worthy of pursuing as citizens of the nation. Though small in size, they act as its stewards. For the less fortunate masses, the entrenched dynastic, patronage and cronyism remain as locks on power and blocks their reach to riches. Exigency of security of their immediate needs keeps them on desperate move wherever opportunity is available.
Politics is so pervasive in Nepal that it affects formal domain of entire public sphere spurred by communication, education, economy, civil society, parties, government, polity and the state and informal domain governed by restless interest groups, middle men, consultants, advisors, lobby, web of favourites and power networks. This cluster follows neither the rules of the game nor fights for a national cause for the integration of youths in mainstream politics. As a result, Nepal’s human and natural resources remain under-utilised. The obligations of Nepali youths as citizens are critical to set the chain of accountability to infants, the wretched and senior citizens, set oneself free from being the slave of passion, antiquated riffs of political culture and realise their own rational potentials to shape the nation’s future. To be sure, a nation’s sense of progressive destiny is shaped by every youth’s early cognitive, affective and evaluative frame that makes up national character and basis of legitimacy.
The great Greek philosopher Plato, like Astavakra, said to his disciples “knows thyself,” the inner s))elf and acquires improvement in virtues and character. Building insight through self-reflection liberates them from petty infantilism, uncritical conformity to leaders and authorities and unawareness of what is happening around rather than working to animate the constitutional vision of egalitarian society. Ignorance about the circulation of capital in global space is not bliss. It has stretched out a new conceptual horizon. Destitute of national efficiency and mobility kills their ability to exercise liberty in a wider scale opened by the exhilarating promises of scientific advances. At home, it undercuts youth’s creative power of innovation thus turning them into a faceless crowd unable to think but only act under the command, control and direction of others. It marks a clear sign of enlightenment deficits and risk-averse bent.
Nepali youths are apprenticed in various trades and professions and, therefore, lack a coherent vision. Their multi-sided political indoctrination fostered by cultural industries, unions, federations and party schools is suffocating. It deprives them of the light of reason and reflection, disarming them from their ideas and stunting critical sense of inquiry. This reduces them to perpetual immaturity and dependent on others never to be awakened to the infidelity of their electoral and political trust. As a result, a crisis of democratic values of freedom has hobbled them to exercise conscience as a guide to solidaristic action promising to unburden future generation.
In a shrinking world, remote events unfolding scary risks and opportunities drive the passion, feeling, sentiment and emotion of Nepali youths and shape the stock of their information, knowledge, choice and action. In this sense, politics is a matter of pressing concern and political phenomenon is elating as it intrudes into their imagination and practical lives, opportunity and scope of action. Value-based politics encourages their endearing flair in volunteerism, social service and civic action. Nepali youths’ intrinsic drive is social change to remedy the vices of society.
Politics based on instrumental calculation of power and profit without living a life of faith in public morality and integrity only breed selfishness and disables them to act according to their diversity of character and will. In this context, the distinction between the old and new generation becomes irrelevant if both share the same nature of political socialisation and acculturation on rhetorical brilliance devoid of substantive policy contents and articulation in matters of education, job, health, training, leadership and life-span as essential clips of statecraft.
Politicisation of youth in Nepal has occurred in every social and political struggle for the restoration of democracy. It has exerted social pressures on the state for change, rejuvenated the memories of heroes and builders of the nation and the urgency of public good. But subsequent to political change, partisanisation of politics has divided and crippled their ability as transmission belt that carries novel ideas, conscious choice, knowledge of one’s own constitutional and human rights and duties and improve the capacity for governance. If youth leadership in Nepal is defined by vision, contextual policies, representativeness and organisational strength, there is an awful recess and broken dream.
Politics is about public affairs and public responsibilities. To know its values, principles and institutions is essential for Nepali youths so that they do not lapse into hedonism, consumerism, migration, brain-drain and privatism far away from the basic leitmotif of democratic politics and governing institutional infrastructures of polity. Their experience of daily events, processes and actions unfolding in the world and the nation itself shape systemic understanding of politics and unveils the gap between constitutional vision and real life situation. In Nepal, distribution of position on the basis of party affiliation, differentiated form of citizenship rights, creation of auxiliary bodies, including student and youth and identity politics have spearheaded generational tension in the parties of all shades - right, left and the centre.
Youth, student, other auxiliary bodies of political parties, local bodies, civil society, community organisations, etc. can act as creative reformist for democratisation from the bottom up. But they should maintain relative autonomy from political parties and interest groups so that their ability to influence party politics and public affairs is scaled up able to keep tolerant attitude on opposing views and hone a listening culture. Civic competence of Nepali youths lurking on a sense of confidence that they can shape the political outcome stimulates their satisfying engagement in politics making difference. So does their ability to repair politics of patronage, clientalism, bribe and impunity.
Regardless of the perspectives one chooses to analyse Nepali youths in terms of their needs, rights, abilities, strengths and frailties, the structure of society, economy, constitution and political education is basic in activating or anesthetising them. One great debate undergoing in Nepali politics is intergenerational justice, a debate about the democratisation of political space, leaders, parties and the polity so that youths find ample space for political socialisation, leadership occupancy and civic consciousness to overcome the nihilistic or rebellious personality, apathy and alienation that cause political instability. Loyalty of youths to leaders, not ideology and party, in Nepal has crept flaws in their attitude and judgmental ability.
For Nepali youths, politics is more than counting of every day political events, trends and tendencies of those in government leadership, opposition or rebellion and find interest in uncovering the underlying impulses. The personality system of Nepali youths is critical, not trouble-free as they find their future fortune faltering constrained by their lack of unity which is overtaken by gerontocrats. This means demographic dividends are helpful to those who hold positions of authority and decisions. They reap it, not the nation except harvesting remittances. Many Nepali youths as migrant workers are stranded in foreign lands unable to join their family members in the midst of pandemic and become creative part of removing the sterility of society, economy and politics and serving as wellspring of nation building.
The destitute of motivation of Nepali youth on addressing public issues or raising concerns of ordinary citizens makes their youthful idealism lose meaning and their engagement in politics tedious and insipid. One good point with youth politics now is the cultural transformation. Unlike the old leaders who rose to power by breaking windows of public houses, libraries, public properties, bridges, transmission lines, chairs of authorities and vehicles, modern youths are less violent, more peaceful and play politics in cultural rituals, music, drama, cartoon, humour and hunger strikes. Culture of responsibility is emerging as an idiom of modern politics of decency and decorum. Obviously, tribal and prehistoric traits in politics have deteriorated the ethical quality of democratic leadership which the younger generation prefers to jettison to recapture governability.
If personal has become political, Nepali youths, too, feel to reform politics by delinking it from violence, corruption, cronyism and imperious authoritarianism and qualifying for a paradigm shift to a more engaged democracy. It will reawaken them to constitutional duties, unifying vision of national politics and re-ideologise the organisational life. The vision, skill, habits and voltage they acquire in student life are critical for nourishing scientific and humanistic sensibility and democratic feelings for practical goals of public good. If they entertain no political principle, either to inspire ordinary citizens or guide their understanding for their welfare, or even change for better, the absurdity of interest-based life can be suspected, a life full with arguments but without cogent, unprejudiced beliefs vital for problem solving.
Similarly, denial of youth their due place in politics is the source of political instability. The antinomy between their aspirations and impossibility of realising it becomes a cause for an impassioned cry for “enough is enough,” though it is insufficient to constitute a critical mass to increase youths outreach in politics. The life span of politics is continuum. Youths are the linking points and, therefore, their secured future in politics can sustain its dynamism and release the frozen spirit of youth propitious for a building a vibrant nation.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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