Thursday, January 20, 2022

​​​​​​​Welcome rise of youth leaders in Nepali Congress

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A ray of light has appeared amidst the gloom and doom of Nepali politics. Two dynamic young leaders Gagan Kumar Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma were elected to the post of general secretaries of Nepali Congress party in the recently concluded 14th general convention. Many have seen their victory as generational shift in the grand old party.

Both Thapa and Sharma have carved their own niche in the party which is notoriously status quo-ist. With their victory, they have pushed to the margins those leaders who had been reaping benefits of their participation in the movement for democracy in the 1990s. Vestiges of the old guard have also been elected in the 14th general convention but it is hoped that they cannot railroad through their expired agendas in the party as easily as in the past.

Both Thapa and Sharma became household names after their active participation in the second movement for democracy in and around 2006. Blessed with great speech-making abilities, their rousing orations re-energized the movement that was sagging with the indecision of old leaders. Particularly, Thapa was among the first leaders in Nepal Student Union (student wing of the NC) to raise the issue the republicanism (along with Gururaj Ghimire) in the country when it was largely a taboo and his own party had not taken an official line. Even the communists, particularly the insurgent Maoists, were impressed with his steadfast position on rooting out autocratic monarchy. Thapa had the last laugh as republicanism was ultimately established in the country.

Thapa's politics fits the bill of German Sociologist Max Weber's concept of "charismatic leadership". According to Weber, charismatic leadership has the power to diffuse a positive energy and a sense of greatness. Right from the days of student politics, Thapa exuded this energy and aura around him.

Due to his phenomenal rise in the party, Thapa became the target of old leaders' ire. The late Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala is said to have hated Thapa for his revolutionary views. But the old guard could not stop Thapa's rise as he had already gained a critical mass around him. He entered the central committee at the 12th general convention of the party and got the highest votes for the central member.

In the 13th general convention, he became a candidate for the post of general secretary but Dr. Shashank Koirala defeated him. Despite the defeat, Thapa's popularity did not wane. The sustained popularity is reflected in the 14th general convention where he received almost two thirds of the total votes cast for the post, wiping away the old establishment.

Thapa's politics fits the bill of German Sociologist Max Weber's concept of "charismatic leadership". According to Weber, charismatic leadership has the power to diffuse a positive energy and a sense of greatness. Right from the days of student politics, Thapa exuded this energy and aura around him. Cashing in on this popularity, he kept rising his political profile in the party and winning federal elections as well. He showed his calibre while being Minister of Health and Population, facilitating free treatment for complicated cases like kidney transplantation and bypass surgeries.

He is one leader in the NC who strikes fear in the heart of communists. His strong presence in the parliamentary debates and takedowns of UML Chairman and former PM KP Sharma Oli have further increased his popularity. At a time when the NC was done and dusted in the last parliamentary elections, Thapa along with Bishwa Prakash Sharma was successful in raising the spirits of party cadres.

Sharma too is a charismatic leader almost in the same league as Thapa. He started political life with NC's student wing Nepal Student Union and became the union president in 2000. Having been politically suppressed by the establishment for long, Sharma managed to mark his presence through tenacity and personal charm.

Sharma has proved his credentials with a successful tenure of the party spokesperson and head of communication and publicity department. He is credited with digitalization of the party with all details of party leaders and cadres easily accessible on the party website. Unlike the old establishment leaders, Sharma possesses a vision for the betterment of his party and the country.

Even in the current general convention, none of the heavyweights in the party inducted him in their panels. In the previous general convention, he faced defeat in the post of Jhapa district president. He lost the federal elections largely because of internal political stratagems. Party President Sher Bahadur Deuba made him the party spokesman after the 13th general convention. But Deuba did not want to induct him as an office holder, opting Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat's candidacy for the post of general secretary. Sharma approached Prakashman Singh and became the candidate for general secretary from Singh's panel knowing well that this was the weakest panel. Despite these adversities, he managed to win the post with second most popular votes.

Sharma has proved his credentials with a successful tenure of the party spokesperson and head of communication and publicity department. He is credited with digitalization of the party with all details of party leaders and cadres easily accessible on the party website. Unlike the old establishment leaders, Sharma possesses a vision for the betterment of his party and the country.

Sharma and Thapa along with another young leader Pradeep Poudel (who lost the election for general secretary post) put forward concept paper while contesting for the post. (All these three leaders are known to be avid readers.) This move in itself shows that they are a welcome change from the old guard that believes in whiling away times and cornering profits from government posts.

It is hoped that they will be the harbinger of change in the grand old party which is ossified. At a time when the chief opposition party CPN-UML is being pragmatic and assertive in its ideology with nationalism at the core, NC has been notoriously indecisive in vital issues. NC's silence during the Indian blockade was deafening. With the Young Turks like Thapa and Sharma, NC may become more assertive in vital national issues. They may be forced to put their views on the controversial Millennium Challenge Corporation issue clearly in the immediate future.

Bishwa Prakash Sharma, during his address after the announcement of victory, promised to work together with his close friend Gagan Thapa. It is vital for the progress of the party that Sharma and Thapa coordinate with each other to force President Sher Bahadur Deuba to respect the zeitgeist and not just hanker for power with all kinds of unholy alliances. General Secretaries wield enormous power. Thapa and Sharma need to use this power for the betterment of the party. They should avoid playing games against each other and also make sure that they are not co-opted by the old establishment.

It is vital for the progress of the party that Sharma and Thapa coordinate with each other to force President Sher Bahadur Deuba to respect the zeitgeist and not just hanker for power with all kinds of unholy alliances.

Meanwhile, Sharma and Thapa's victory has raised hope in the youth that they can have a say in party politics. Since NC is one of the most important mainstream parties in Nepal, this win of young leaders may create a ripple effect and prompt other parties to be more accommodative of the youth. After all, generational shift in political parties is the demand of the day.

Published on 17 December 2021

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