Monday, 6 December, 2021

Saga Of Leadership Transition In Nepal

Kushal Pokharel


Nepal’s politics is abuzz with the issue of leadership transition once again. Widening rift between the top leadership of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has further provided an impetus to this. With the sitting Prime Minister publicly floating the agenda of handing over the party leadership to the second generation as an alternative to resolve the intra-party conflict, this issue has come in the public realm. The discourse of leadership transition has repeatedly surfaced though more outside of the political circle i.e., civil society and media. Whether one needs to be grey to wield power and influence lives is a constant debate globally.

Poor attainment
While the popularly known faces of the mainstream political parties namely the Nepali Congress and NCP as the second generation leaders have been continuously trying to push this agenda in their respective parties, accomplishments have remained poor. In fact, these parties have historically shown sheer reluctance to enter into any meaningful dialogue regarding the issue of leadership transfer. Dictating the entire political affairs by the senior generation has remained a preferred choice. Not really convinced of their immediate predecessors, the senior generation has largely undermined the leadership potentials in almost all the mainstream political parties.
At this juncture, it is also critical to determine the vision of leadership transition in our context. Does it entail transfer of existing leadership roles and responsibilities to an immediate generation? More importantly, who does the younger generation refer to? Should youthfulness be defined merely on the basis of age or can we think of other criteria like the attitudes and mindsets? These are some of the pertinent questions that need to be addressed while embarking on any meaningful discussion on leadership transition.
The need of transitioning leadership is at all-time high in Nepali politics for injecting fresh ideas and innovative thinking. However, a critical question is whether the next generation of leaders is prepared to take this challenge and possess the necessary skills and mindsets to rise to this occasion. Larger civil society, including political analysts, remain unconvinced of this next generation in Nepal’s mainstream political parties to break free from the shackles of their parent generation. Characterised by factional politics and parochial self-interests, parties have not pushed forward the agenda of leadership transformation within their own party circle. In a bid to safeguard political career, the much-needed transformative thinking to take this discussion into greater heights is missing. While they are vocal about leadership change in the public realm, the scenario is completely different when it comes to party meetings. Let’s take one recent case. At a time when the Nepali Congress is bracing for its general convention, one of the prominent new generation leaders has publicly stated that the party will give a graceful exit to their senior leaders. From a perspective of the general public, it is very difficult to buy this opinion given the typical nature of the Nepal polity to resist change.

Global scenario
The high-handedness of national-level leaders with distinguished age remains a dominant feature of world politics. Whether we refer the Israeli premier or the PM of Japan, they are septuagenarian. The United States has got a 78-year-old as a new president-elect. However, the European leaders currently ruling their nations are younger compared to the global scenario. Be it the top political leader of Ukraine, Finland, France, Germany, Europe has a new generation of leaders at the helm of politics. In this context, the agenda of leadership transition is fraught with challenges. While the intention of this discussion is not to argue biological age as the sole determinant of successful leadership potential, innovative young minds with fresh thinking can trigger some swift public policy response as the evidence suggest. Notable is the COVID-19 policy response of New Zealand under the premiership of Jacinda Ardern, a popular young leader in global politics.
A key dimension of the leadership transition, if it happens anytime soon in Nepal’s politics, should emerge by striking a fine balance between the innovative and audacity of the younger generation with the rich experience and insights of their parent generation. Proving their mettle through a thoughtfully carved framework for inspiring not only the party cadres but the entire society, the new generation leaders can rightfully claim their stake at the top level. In this regard, it will be vital to incorporate the genuine voice of the young generation, and their aspiration to be a part of the systemic change.

(Pokharel is a social science and research faculty.