Ranju Darshana is a Nepali youth activist and politician. She became an iconic figure during her candidacy for Mayor of Kathmandu city in the local level elections of 2017. She is a central committee member and the Media Coordinator of Bibeksheel Nepali, a youth-led political party in Nepal. Darshana is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Political Science. In an interview with Kathmandu Pati’s Smriti Shrestha and Simona Shrestha, she talks about the current political climate of Nepal, the role of youth in politics, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
You have been involved in politics for a while now, having been vocal about your interest in politics since childhood. How do you think the political narrative of Nepal has evolved over time?
-The narrative that has remained constant for a while now is that politics is a dirty game. I am a Political Science student and I study the different definitions of politics from different scholars. Realist political thinkers such as Machiavelli had said that people are very crude as a part of their nature and that manifests in politics, too. From a liberal perspective, politics works according to the need of the situation.
In my experience, most people have not read about Machiavelli and other aspects of political science in a detailed manner. But what they have all understood and accepted is that there is name, fame, penalty, reward and much more in politics, and therefore, one should be prepared to face all of these things, despite how comfortable they are or are not with it.
What has evolved in the political context is the involvement of youth. Previously, people would say that youth should first focus on their careers and get involved in politics later, but that perception has now changed. In addition, women’s participation if politics is also perceived positively now compared to before, especially because the law itself has enforced it. Politics in the present day is based on inclusiveness, as our constitution emphasizes it. So, everytime someone forms a committee, even for the sake of law or to escape the criticism of people for not being inclusive, the culture of inclusivity and including minorities, has been established.
Youth’s involvement in the political frontlines is usually overshadowed by political patriarchs. What do you think young aspiring political leaders should do in order to break this mainstream narrative of political dogma?
-I think the first thing that needs to be prioritized is looking into the policy of the party that one is affiliated with and understanding how youth-friendly it is. Any party should be understood from the lens of its policy. Secondly, youth who are in their productive age need to work on their financial stability. I have heard that in Germany, politics is taken as a very good profession so if you are into politics, you can also earn from it. I volunteered for seven years in a political party without taking a single penny, but it affected my personal and family life. Now, I work as a freelancer and contribute to politics. But if I cannot give my full time or most of my time in politics, of course, I cannot be involved in it as passionately as I would like.
We need to think of something that will help make the financial aspects of politics strong for youth who want to participate. Otherwise, they will be required to compromise their values in so many other situations of their life. If I had only cared about finances in my early years, I would not have been able to be where I am right now. Time management is another important thing, so I would advise interested youth to give more time to their income generating jobs and a few to politics so that they can parallely sustain themselves.
Is it necessary for youth who are aspiring political leaders to be inclined towards a specific political party?
–The politics of our country is based on a parliamentary and a multi-party political system. We do not have a system of direct representativeness. When doing my Bachelor’s dissertation on the electoral process, I found that most people vote for a party candidate and not necessarily an individual. One cannot want to be active in politics and then not want to contest in the elections.
Simply advocacy and awareness are not enough. Implementation is also important. So when someone says they are interested in politics but not in parties, they are misinformed. They can start their own political party and build up their own constituency.
The fundamentals of politics are to influence, to propose one’s vision, and to work for the citizens so that they know and trust you. There is no such thing as not participating in the elections. It would be a different case for an election that is not fair, but for elections that are normal and periodic and fairness is ensured, anyone interested in politics should definitely be involved with a political party
How would you evaluate the government’s response to dealing with the pandemic, in particular, Kathmandu’s local government? What could and should be done better?
– I think the government has used a very traditional approach— a superiority approach— when dealing with this pandemic. The Government should have cooperated with different stakeholders and fought the virus together, but instead, it has been using a superiority approach in wanting to handle the pandemic alone. But this pandemic is not about the government versus the opposition or the citizens, it is about human beings versus the virus. The government has been emphasizing how they are getting things done, but it has not been very effective because it cannot function on a single policy.
Even in Kathmandu, one single policy cannot solve everything. Kathmandu is a diverse city and the government is lagging behind in working according to these diverse needs. Although they may be concerned, intra party conflicts even during this situation, tell a different story.
In addition, the government has not been using technologies where they are needed. Ward presidents have been seen carrying bags of rice to people, which is good, but that is not their responsibility. A ward president’s responsibility is to coordinate, through which a 100 rice bags could be delivered to more people. The government is making it look as though they are doing more work, but in reality, hardly any work is getting done.
What was your reaction to the youth-led protests that were held to raise awareness against the government’s handling of the pandemic, as well as how the government responded to them?
-As someone who was also out on the streets during this time, I was surprised by the government’s response. I was there anonymously because if I was seen, people would speculate that I was the one organizing it, which I didn’t want to happen. As an observer there, I saw genuine anger and rage against the government’s incompetency. Not specifically against any individual, but against the entire system. But the youth were not channeling their anger and frustrations into practical solutions, and they weren’t able to connect to the facts of what was happening. They were angry, yes, but they only listed what the government should do, and when asked couldn’t answer what they would do. Nevertheless, I was really happy that it was a youth-led protest.
Initially, the government perceived the protests to be a joke, something that young people were getting involved in for fun. They only started taking it seriously when the hunger strikes began. The government should have understood that the nature of the frustrations, strikes, movements and rallies are not the same as they used to be during their times, where setting tires aflame and smashing cars were common. The youth’s way of doing movements is by holding rallies, rapping or singing.
What other measures should youth take in order to raise awareness about the government’s various incompetencies?
–Most youth have running water coming into their homes, but don’t know where the source is, or what the issues with water are; they have electricity, but don’t know how to pay the bill for it or even where to go to pay the bills. They go out with friends, see problems such as traffic jams, potholes and mud. I’m not saying that these aren’t problems, but if the youth want to go down to even more nitty gritty problems, I would suggest they begin by going to governmental offices to see the extent of incompetencies, and so that they feel frustrated enough to demand immediate action.
Politics can be a very harsh sector. There are a lot of criticisms. People may cheer you on today, but they will make comments against you the very next day. But most importantly, one needs to be aware of the sector that they like. They should not miss out on whom they want to vote for. If they like some party, they should think about why and research its history.
Going abroad is not the only solution anymore. Due to this virus, millions of job opportunities have been lost. So the youth can’t rely on going abroad because they may not find jobs abroad either. They have a home in Nepal, so they should think about what they can do here, even though the changes they bring here may be small at first.
We know how the virus targets the elderly and the immunocompromised, but in what ways has this pandemic affected the youth?
-I believe that the youth have been mostly affected psychologically and financially. Psychologically because young people are not used to staying inside their homes all the time. When they are inside they experience a lot of screen time, which can be a very dangerous thing, especially due to the negative impacts of social media. It has and will bring a crisis in mental health. Losing jobs can lead to a negative impact on the finances of a young person, which creates a downward spiral in every aspect of their life.
Those who have businesses of their own should support each other. Competition is necessary, but only when the market is also thriving. Right now, it isn’t. So businesses should move forward by supporting each other. Online education hasn’t been and isn’t accessible in a lot of places. Through the Ministry of Information and Technology and the government, the internet should be made available to these inaccessible places. For a whole year, students’ education have been halted, but the pandemic is showing no signs of stopping.
In whatever way possible, there should be a continuity and engagement in their education. The government through the PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model, should work towards providing internet and various communication tools such as laptops, smartphones, where video communication applications are easily opened.
As a woman in politics and someone who is in power, what message(s) do you have for other women who want to fight the system?
–We still live in a highly patriarchal society, system and structure. To these women, I would tell them to focus on their careers. If they are married, try to be a rebel, try to speak for them self and try to raise their voice against inequalities. Women need to continue thinking of how they can empower themselves. There are very few female leaders and there even fewer women who are empowered. Many still face violence. So if as a woman I don’t talk about them, then who will? To every woman aspiring to be anything in life, don’t enter the social structure too early, don’t engage in the marriage institution too early. Even if you do, ensure that it is a decision you yourself have taken.
Any tips for young, aspiring leaders who want to enter politics?
-Firstly, I think it is very important to be mentally prepared. This is a very hard sector to choose, especially during election times as there won’t be any personal time. Don’t deter politics just for the sake of it, only do so if you have the passion. Make sure that your family members are prepared, too. If there is passion, there is confidence. Prioritize your mental health. Sometimes, there may be baseless accusations being thrown around about you, during which it may seem like the entire world is against you. During those times, that fine line, that fine hope, is crucial and necessary.
Furthermore, work according to a timeline that lists everything you want to accomplish and how you will manage everything. You need to work parallelly. Give yourself a lot of time away from the screen. I believe I am from the older generation as I love physical books, but if you like kindle, read kindles, and also books to write research papers. Just keep going.
Smriti Shrestha is a Sub-Editor and Writer at Kathmandu Pati English, covering politics, peace, conflict, security, defence and diplomacy issues. She is a recent Social Work graduate from St.Xavier’s College and currently, a fellow of political leadership at the Young Women Political Leadership Institute at Women LEAD. You can find her on Linkedin as Smriti Shrestha.
Simona Shrestha is a Sub-Editor and Writer at Kathmandu Pati English, covering politics, peace, conflict, security, defence and diplomacy issues. She is a student at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, pursuing a major in Environment and Development Studies. She previously worked at Nest Media, where she was an Editorial Coordinator. Her areas of interest include the intersections between sustainability and development. You can find her on Linkedin as Simona Shrestha.