It was wonderful to see some young Nepalis ideating in a room at the American University in Washington D.C. on ways to bring about change in Nepal. I was overjoyed to notice that some of these young people were optimistic despite all the problems in Nepal and to hear them talk about what they planned to do after returning back home. Hopefully, such people will become the mainstream instead of a rarity among Nepali students and the diaspora in different parts of the world.
The organizational culture of Nepali-American organizations is no different from various institutions in Nepal. More than 100 organizations have been registered in different parts of the country and these institutions, like many in Nepal, move from one Annual General Meeting to another and being elected to various positions has become the single most important thing for their members. Frequent controversies further ensure that there is never a dull moment. Four years ago, the election to the Associations of Nepalis in the Americas got embroiled in a controversy with the rival groups going into litigation ending the zeal for an event the diaspora looked forward to.
Other Non-Resident Nepali associations have also become politicized, divided along the lines of political parties in Nepal. And these are allegedly used as platforms by certain members of the diaspora to further their political connections in Nepal and to rent seek. Apart from the dual citizenship campaign and the annual retreat in Kathmandu, it does not have much to offer in terms of institutional engagement. The current economic and humanitarian crisis in Nepal has further made many people ask, what have these institutions done?
In Nepal, when one makes a phone call to fix an appointment with a government officer or even with people working in private establishments, the first question one has to answer is: who are you? Therefore, having a business card which explains that one is a president or a secretary of an organisation helps. Possessing a business card of an association based in the US, however, seems to suddenly increase the credibility of the person wishing to engage with people in politics and other establishments. The people in power in Nepal, at the behest of some of the diaspora folks, then pressure embassies to engage in unproductive activities. In the words of a former diplomat, the politics of diaspora organisations and the limited understanding of diplomacy back in Nepal have relegated ambassadors to becoming cultural attaches who spend their time being garlanded and making speeches at numerous social and organisational functions.
And it is indeed very interesting to hear a person, who has been involved in diaspora politics for over two decades, lament about how the Nepali political scene is dominated by the same faces and that they need to go. Such people who promote status quo have deterred many young Nepalis who really want to change Nepal’s development trajectory. For instance, it was nice to see Washington Nepal Forum trying to build informal networks of professionals to engage in futuristic discourses. It brought back memories of a Chalphal group in Boston which existed more than a decade ago and engaged in citizen-led dialogues to help people better understand the different facets of Nepal.
A flicker of hope
After the earthquake, the Nepali disapora was divided into two kinds of people. First, the silent crusaders, who took a long leave from their jobs or business, flew in to help fellow Nepalis, raised funds on their own and worked hard without posting pictures on social media. The other type of people were those who used the opportunity for their own political agenda amongst the diaspora community wanting to be there to hand out the cheques to the ambassador and quickly posting such pictures on social media.
It is indeed sad to meet people who with a big smile tell you that they have decided to stay back in the US using the Temporary Protection Status (TPS)—a temporary immigration status allows Nepalis residing in the US to stay back for employment or other purposes citing problems caused by the earthquake. Among those who have decided to use this status range from people who have gone to the US on fellowships to those working in multilateral agencies. This is again reflective of the Nepali tendency to rent seek on any opportunity one can find. Unfortunately, Nepalis, instead of berating such people tend to wonder why they could not be so lucky.
The only hope is that compared to 10 years ago, there are more people pursuing higher studies in the US than ever before and there is a new breed of people committed to bringing about change. Even so, many still get sucked into diaspora politics or relegate themselves to engaging in social media without accountability from the comforts of their dorm rooms or apartment. But it seems as though the change agents are growing in number and humble efforts like organising discussions on Nepal could eventually pave way for a greater transformation.