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Social Democracy and Role of Youth in Nepali Politics

Organised by Public Policy Pathsala (PPP)

25 March 2011, Lalitpur

Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal

What should be the role of youths in social democracy? Does social democracy offer ample space to the youths to realize their individual as well as social goals? Experts and intellectuals pondered over these questions and attempted to highlight the relations between youths and social democracy at a national seminar 'Social Democracy and Role of Youth in Nepali Politics' in Lalitpur on March 25, 2011. Public Policy Pathsala and FES, Nepal office, jointly organized the workshop where the youth leaders from three major political parties presented their separate working papers. The organizers sought to make the programme pluralistic, dynamic and balance with the participation of students and youths representing divergent political ideologies. In Nepal's democratic movements, the youths played critical role and made tremendous sacrifices for the same. Yet, they are not given vital role when it comes to managing the gains of movements and carrying out socio-economic transformations. This forces them to take a back seat, languishing all the times as the country comes under the grip of instability and chaos. Some youth leaders argue that one of the reasons behind the recurrent failure of Nepal's democracy is the neglect of youths in the political process. "The youth are often left in the lurch after the political upheavals. As a result, the parties failed to manage the outcomes of revolutions," they said.

Opening Session

Former vice-chancellor of Tribhuvan University Kedar Bhakta Mathema said that the Nepalese youths were suffering from alienation.

As the youths turned the agents of the parties, they lost their independent voice, he said.

"Youths should not be carried away by populism but strive to strengthen institutions and put system in place," added Mathema.

He said that public institutions in Nepal declined owing to over-politicization and high dose of unionism. "The parties have abused the public institutions by sharing the public posts sans the meritocracy and competency."

Mathema said that the student politics had spoilt the public schools. Stating that the education sector had been highly commercialized and liberalized, he asked the state to invest in the social sector including education. "There is also lacking critical thinking in education."

He noted that even the honest leaders became corrupt as they reached power.
He expressed his concerns that the people's faith in system was declining. "This must be checked."

Tone Bleie, Academic Director of Centre for Peace Studies at University of Tromso, Norway, said that she was struck by the differences on the concept of youth leadership in Nepal and her country Norway.

"In Nepal, most of the leaders are over 50-60 years old but in Norway they occupy the important position in their 40s and retire between 50 to 60 years old. To the contrary, the Nepalese leaders are aging, personalized and caste based. In Norway, the leaders resign when they are discredited but this is not the case in Nepal."

Shedding light on political, economic and labour movement in Norway, Bleie said that Norwegian society was an outcome of compromise between the communist and the centrist parties. The social contract created a solidarity-based development.
She said that there was intergenerational gap in the Nepalese politics.

She called for enhancing inner party democracy to give chance to young generation leaders.

The Norwegian scholar also criticized the Nepalese for their contrasting behaviours with their compatriots and foreigners. "They act double standard. They make one kind of dealing with the foreigners and quite different with their own Nepalese fellows."

FES-Nepal Representative, C.D. Bhatta said the parties always used the youths in the revolutions but they were left in lurch as the parties reached power.

"The youth have no access to decision making and creative participation for inter-generational justice. They are also deprived of social and economic security," Bhatta added.

Annually 400,000 youths entered the labour market and the state should create jobs for them.

Bhatta said that the country's public and private education systems produced two different classes of youths. "This gap must be bridged."

He said that comprador economy was creating joblessness in the urban areas and it was only through the social democratic economic model that the nation could resolve the crisis.

Writer Sumit Sharma said that the programme aimed at providing insights on practical politics to the youths. Sharma said that they needed to carry out the kind of struggle that would strengthen the state. "There is the need of merging all 'isms' into the fold of loktantrik socialism."

Public Policy Pathsala chairman Dilli Ram Subedi said that the seminar highlighted the role of youths in social democracy.

"The dreams of the youths have been shattered. It seems we youths are just fit to dance with Bryan Adams," he said. He stressed on public education for the youth.

First Session

Nepali Congress youth leader Gagan Thapa presented his working paper 'Modernization and Its impact on the Orientation of Nepali Youth' that drew a wide range of comments from the floor. Senior journalist Yuva Raj Ghimire moderated the session.

Thapa termed 'modernization' as a hybrid of changes brought forth by the anti-colonial, nationalist and pro-democracy movements, which particularly began after the Second World War. He said that 1950 political change was the turning point in Nepal's quest for modernization as it witnessed the systemic rationalization of authority, the differentiation of structures and expansion of political participation along with the increase in number of schools, colleges, industrialization and subsequently the growth of middle class.

On the impact of modernization on youth, Thapa said, "Nepali youth, who fought against injustices during and after the geographical unification of Nepal, today, remained locked within the space determined by the political parties or remain crushed by the power elites, social structure, poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, and restricted opportunities and choices."

"However, the influx of technology, migration and education opportunities have largely empowered the Nepali youth. They are driven by hunger for knowledge, new ideas and innovation," he added.

Thapa finally proposed the idea of 'modernization of traditionalism' to solve the problems of Nepali society.

Commenting on his paper, freelance journalist Shekhar Kharel said that the working paper was relevant as well as interesting. Kharel said that the modernity drove the youth towards consumerism. He agreed with Thapa that the modernization was of hybrid nature but he noted that modernity would finally lead to the forward-looking changes.

He attributed the absence of democratic institutions to the recurrent failure of democratic set-up in Nepal.
Kharel appreciated the Nepalese youths stating that they excelled in the global competitions. "But, unfortunately, the state has just used them like spare parts of wheels."

Stating that Nepal is a unit of global political and social movements, he urged the Nepalese youths to keep abreast with the changes taking place in the world.

There was an encouraging participation of the representatives in the discussion. They criticized the paper for being unable to include economic factors that determined the Nepalese society and the youths. "It is purely a theoretical," some of them opined.
They said that the rays of hopes have been raised in Nepal with the participation of the youths in political movement. They stressed on unity in the diversity.

Arjun Upreti, an NC district member from Dhading, said that Thapa's paper failed to touch the economic dimensions. It does not mention as how Nepal could tap water resources and tourism potentials. "There is a tendency of buying a mobile phone by selling buffalo. Is it an impact of modernization in Nepali society?"

Nima Giri posed a question, "Does the youth means only male?" She said that there was injustice on women when it comes to defining the role of youth in the Nepalese political and social movements.

Tone Bleie said that the Nepalese youths, who went abroad for job and study, had helped modernize Nepal.
She argued that the Scandinavian nations offered an alternative to Anglo-Saxon model of social democracy.

"There is a challenge to interact with the cultures of other nations," she said and called the participants to define the modernism from the perspective of Buddhism, which she said, enlightened the relations with material world.

Madhav Ghimire from Rampur of Chitwan said that international agreements Nepal signed on multi-lateral and bilateral basis would hamper the development of agriculture sector here as they deprived the rights of local people on the rivers and other natural resources. "There should be future vision when the agreements are signed." The new constitution must address the problems faced by the urban and rural youths, he said.

Another participant said that education and cultures had great impact on the modernity. Sushil Sharma said that the students had identified themselves with the political parties, which had affected their progress. He said that the varsity had turned into a political battle ground and politicization of education had spoilt the career of the youths. Krishna Dharel asked the paper presenter to distinguish between modernity and globalization. Another partaker blamed that the working paper was full of political elements and did not mention the vital area of economy and agriculture. He said that it portrayed the youths in negative light.

One participant asked to make soul-searching as to why the nation failed to institutionalize the gains of the revolutions.

In his response, paper presenter Thapa said that his document was not complete and aimed at triggering the debate on the matter. He admitted that 'modernity' was a vague subject and urged the participants to see the subject in term of relativity.
"If there is not freedom from injustice, it could not be freedom. Neither could there be newness."

From the chair, journalist Ghimire said that youth linked the present with future. "The youths have played an important role in the ongoing process of modernization. However, there should not be a dividing line. The youths should commit to the common interests of the people and society."

Second Session

Political scientists Ananda Aditya chaired the second session wherein CPN-UML youth leader Yogesh Bhattarai read out his working paper entitled 'Youth: the Harbinger of Prosperous and Loktantrik Nepal.' Yuga Pathak commented the paper. Youth, aged between 16 to 40 years, consist of 38.85 per cent of total population. Every year 500,000 young people join the labor market while 1,000 youths leave the country for job and study abroad.

"As the state fails to address their aspirations, the country is facing the acute shortage of the working population. Children and old people are dominating the rural belts," Bhattarai said.

He, however, highlighted the youths' role in democratic movements of different periods.

He said that one key reason behind the crisis besetting the Nepali politics was to minimize the role of youths following the success of revolution in which the youths had played their decisive role.

"The parties tend to make a self-declared move to retain the old leadership and apply the personal and factional approach, instead of national perspective, to solve the problems," he added.

"Till the date, the nation lacked the clear youth policy to address the 40 per cent of population, triggering cultural deviation, brain drain and capital flight. This situation has, in turn, also threatened the political rights gained through various people's revolutions."

Linking the democratization of the parties with the role of youth he said, "Only a vibrant relations between the leadership and the cadres, and between cadres and the people could make a political party accountable to the people. The cadres and the people will gradually distance from the parties if the party functionaries are understood as 'manual workers' and the leaders as their master."

Bhattarai said it was only through the interventionist role of new and young generation that the political parties could be democratized.

"The Nepalese youth," Bhattarai said, "should once again play their critical role to prevent the country' from being relapsed into the new rounds of conflict, division of the nation arisen from the ethnic and communal violence and the rise of dictators of any sort," he noted.

Commenting on his paper, Yug Pathak said that the ability and capacity of youths needed to be increased.

"The contemporary politics is plagued by tendency of middlemanship in the parties. The youths seek old connection to rise in the party. This psychology has its root in the society," he said.

He said that the experiences showed that the bureaucratic and political structures were not amenable to the economic development.

Pathak said that the course of change was not always linear. It is sometimes zigzag. "So, there is the need of leapfrogging to bring about revolution."

Participants, named, Arjun Bhandari and Subarna, from the floor underscored that the youths themselves should intervene the parties to assert their role.

One participant asked Bhattarai to apply the gist of the paper in his own party. "If so, it could contribute to improve the politics."

Another speaker questioned Bhattarai as to why the UML formed Youth Forces with militant nature.

From the chair, Ananda Aaditya said that the best creativity of a person came during his or her prime youth.

Dwelling the problems facing the youths, he said that the nation has witnessed the draining of youth's brain and brawn. "This trend must be stopped."

Third Session

UCPN-Maoist youth leader Lekha Nath Neupane, in his paper entitled 'Youth and the Country's Politics,' dwelt on the various dimensions of Nepalese youths and underscored the need that the youths must launch a crusade to purify the politics from corruption and discrepancies. Columnist Anil Bhattarai commented his paper while Dr. Shree Krishna Yadav moderated the session.

Defining the youth, Neupane said, "Youth is a community having multi socio-economic dimensions. It is not a class. Neither is it formed on the basis of economic structure."

He said that the politics had been made a profession for amassing huge wealth while feudalistic familial domination was manifested in the political parties.

"The youths should make a clarion call that the politics is a service, sacrifice and commitment, not a profession. They must spread the epochal consciousness that the financial position of all becomes strong if the nation becomes prosperous."

Neupane advised the youth to develop their faculty of self-criticism. "They could not justify their ability by just scolding the political parties and their leaders. We should learn and again learn. The learning process is serious, difficult and proceeds with hard labour."

The emerging Maoist leader called for mobilizing all the Nepalese youths by formulating the 10, 20 and 40 years vision for national building programmes. "There should be one-third presence of youths at the decision-making level."

Commenting his paper, Bhattarai said that the youths should increase their expertise.

He said that the relations between the state and its citizens should be democratized.

"The level of inequality is rising and the youths should brace for minimizing it," he added.

Participants from the floor suggested that Neupane and the like-minded Maoist young leaders should raise the issue in their party as to why its leaders have become rich.

They said that the Maoist affiliated YCL had made the politics as profession and was involved in extortion.

Some said that the election of student union leaders should be proportionate.

One participant questioned, "Who will bear the financial cost of labour army that is proposed in Neupane's working paper?"

In his response, Neupane noted that the state should bear the cost of labour army since it would engage in the development activities.

Responding to another query, he said he would not hesitate to denounce the 'highhandedness' of YCL if its members were found involved in such activities.

He said that structure of Free Student Union was corrupt and must be restructured.

Concluding the session, Dr. Yadav said that the process was very important in democracy.

He offered insights on democracy, stating that it incorporates the elements delivery, election, openness, judiciary, fundamental rights, equality, accountability and control of power, among others.

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