August 5, 2013 Sujeev Shakya

The Great Divide

I was following newly elected Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay closely on Facebook and Twitter, observing how he interacted with the youth as he moved through his election campaign. He followed up his tweets with physical meetings with his electorate and highlighted key issues from his mass meetings on social media. The way he was interacting, I personally think that his connection with the youth and attempt to address economic issues got him to power, despite  speculations about India’s role. From just two seats in opposition in a 47-member house, his party bagged 31 seats and created history.

Social media and outreach
There is a lot to learn from this Bhutanese experience for politicians in Nepal as they gear up for the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. Not only politicians, but people across walks of life should be able to see how they engage with the young people. In Nepal, we have observed that Baburam Bhattarai and Kamal Thapa have been active on social media and have also taken a lot of flak. Though we may disagree with them on a few counts, we have to admire them for being able to defend policies, programmes, thoughts and opinions on a platform that one cannot control. In contrast to addressing mass meetings, where one does not have to care what is said and is not accountable to what you say, social media suddenly makes you accountable as you are in the midst of critics, well-wishers, followers and die-hard fans, all trying to push you to answer questions and give your take on issues. In India, Narendra Modi has institutionalised this process and if he becomes the Prime Ministerial candidate, then to compete with him in using social media and traditional mass meetings judiciously would be a challenge. In the coming months, it will be really interesting to see how Nepali politicians use social media and traditional outreach methods to woo the youth.

Answering the youth
We live in world where half our population is young, under 25, though of course not youth as defined by Nepali society. Many voters, who are voting today, understand Nepal as a multiparty democratic state post-1990. The Panchayat and direct rule-era does not mean much to them. They neither understand the jail terms  mentioned by some political leaders as a licence to continue in power. For them, the agenda has been always economic. Will jobs will be created? Will roads get better? Will education be world class? Will global mobility be possible? Will starting a business become easier? They want to know whether life as an entrepreneur will be encouraged or not. And whether loan schemes and private equity will be available for them to do business. We are not just talking about people in Kathmandu, we are talking about young people in remote parts of Nepal, who have over the years become aware of a world where technology and communication is helping create a level playing field. A youth in Ilam dreams of being one of the best producers of tea in the world and a youth in Dadeldhura dreams of creating a world class eco-tourism resort. So whether the politicians will be able to connect with their dreams will be key.

The global young Nepali
It is a challenge to connect with the Nepali youth. Their fashion sense is influenced heavily by South Korean stars and sitcoms rather than Bollywood. Their aspirations and lifestyles resemble  Southeast Asian youths more than South Asian youths. There are thousands who aspire to study and if possible migrate to different parts of the world to pursue their dreams. Those who could not get good education, aspire to leave for foreign countries for jobs as the ‘nothing happens in Nepal’ fatalist mindset continues. This mindset exists as no political leader or leaders from any other segment of society has been able to connect with migrating youth. No one has been able to tell them that they can stay in Nepal, there are jobs being created, there are opportunities for entrepreneurship being made possible, there are many options for them in Nepal. Leaders approach Nepali youths just like the feudal rulers approached Nepali youths for centuries. They never approach them as a segment that will build the future of Nepal. Youth are never approached as people who have global dreams and aspirations. When I visualise the top ten Nepali political leaders in a hall with five hundred Nepali youths with global aspirations from all over the country, I don’t know what the connecting points will be.

If Nepal is to be transformed, it will have a lot to do with how the leaders of a society who are twice the Nepali median age connect with a young population that will keep growing. The political future of many leaders will depend on how they connect with the youth. It will be interesting to see how Nepali politicians will be able to connect with the young Nepal as go ahead with their campaign. People like Baburam Bhattarai and Kamal Thapa are much ahead in the game; perhaps it is time for many others to see the writing on the wall.

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