Growth & Social Justice: Gagan Thapa

August 22, 2013 , by Sewa Bhattarai, Leave your thoughts
Growth & Social Justice: Gagan Thapa » My Dreams Mag

Gagan Thapa is a young leader of the Nepali Congress Party, and has often been called the most popular leader of his generation. Thapa heads the department of federalism in his party, and believes in creating opportunities for the youth in politics through lateral entry points. 


What are the qualities of a successful leader? Oratory, Ethics, Intelligence, Network, Knowledge?

A leader is defined by his/her desire to work for the greater good, but all these skills are important. A leader with the will to serve but no skills can never become successful.

What is more important?

What a leader cannot do without is the mission to work for the greater benefit of society. A leader who has the skills but who thinks politics is just a power game, may be successful, but is not a good leader. There’s a difference.

But in Nepal, it is the leaders without the will who get to the top and then fail to perform well. How would you counter this trend?

We evaluate an individual’s performance, but an individual is not alone in his acts, institutional culture plays a large role. The culture of patronage is rife here. A young entrant makes progress only when patronized by a senior leader or group. This is the safest path for newcomers. We must break this tradition by giving priority to a person’s capacities than his/her pedigree, even though doing so has its limitations.

What kind of limitations?

Our parties are increasingly becoming cadre-based, which means only the party’s loyal hands are decisive, regardless of the quality of their ideas. Newcomers with good ideas are ignored. Without overhauling the entire structure of institutions, significant change cannot be achieved.

Student politics have been criticized for such practices lately. They are accused of being more concerned with their mother parties than with students they represent.

It is true that student politics today lack purpose. Post 1990, they had faced the same crisis. After the royal takeover of 2001, politics became the country’s most pressing issue. Student leaders were concerned with that, and rightly so. But that was also the time when we worked the most in educational and social issues, so as to build a foundation for student politics in the future. Now that the crisis is over, they should be turning to educational issues again, but they still do not seem to have found their direction.

You yourself have a history of student politics.

I do. I joined student politics as a ninth grader.

What inspired you to choose the profession so early, at a time when it is not very popular in our society, when we want our children to be doctors, engineers, anything but a politician?

I did not understand politics when I joined. At first it was the company I kept, it was fun, and later it became a habit. Then I realized that we always want thing around us to change. Instead of waiting for others to do it, I wanted to work for it, and that is why I stayed in politics.

But I would not say that politics is a profession. It is the highest level of service, and is challenging.

What kind of challenges?

To come into politics, you need to believe your work will bring positive change to society. But at the same time, it cannot sustain you. So if you choose it for a profession, you cannot deliver. You must think of your own survival path.

You mean a politician must have an alternative profession?


What is yours?

I am an agro entrepreneur. (Thapa owns a slaughter house, among other enterprises.)

As a politician, what is your dream job?

I like to work on policies, sector no bar.

Why policies?

Every party says we must improve health, education, transportation, etcetera, etcetera. But how do we go about it? What spells the mechanism? Policies do. Not ideologies, not speeches, not theories. These are not concerned with day to day life. But policies outline the steps to take to achieve the goals.

What are your policies on federalism?

The country is really up in arms about the basis of delineating federal states. But I think the orientation of the debate itself is wrong. No matter how many states you make, our demography is such that every state will be multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic. Even, for example, the smallest imaginable city-state, a Newa: state in Kathmandu.

Why, then, are all political parties focused on the debate?

They have artificially created it.

Why would they do that?

So that they don’t have to discuss real issues.

Which are?

Elections are near, and people should be asking the parties what they will do to improve their education, health, energy, pollution, infrastructure, etc. But now that parties have got the people excited about a fake, but emotionally stirring, issue, they can avoid answering difficult questions.

So on what basis would you delineate the states?

Population, geography, ethnicity, and other factors, but not just ethnicity. Actually, more than the states, I am interested in smaller units. If the country is the first tier and federal states the second, I am interested in the third tier, which will be the most powerful. Our vision is to divide Nepal into 1,000 different units, in place of the more than 3,900 VDCs we have today. Each of these local government units must have infrastructures as basic as a hospital, a higher secondary school, a market. Each should be autonomous.

Why is it more important for you to focus on the third tier?

Because devolution of power is the central concept of federalism. In our centralized system, Kathmandu takes up too much of our resources. With federalization, we do not want mini-replicas of the nation state in all federal states. That would just multiply power centres instead of decentralizing power. The idea is to empower from bottom-up.

How many states would be ideal?

I prefer fewer states which will have lower administration cost, and utilize resources better.

To change track, what are your policies regarding NRNs?

Technology has advanced so much that I believe our NRNs should be able to/get to vote in the next election.

But will they have all the rights as other Nepali people?

Why not? Once a Nepali, always a Nepali. We should take steps to make dual citizenship legal. We can discuss the clauses. Maybe a person has to come to Nepal at certain durations, or make a certain investment in Nepal for him/her to avail of citizenship facilities. But it is time to stop being conservative.

If an NRN wants to enter politics, what mechanisms are there?

As long as you hold a Nepali citizenship, you are allowed to vote and contest in elections.

Today’s youth are not really interested in politics. What would you do to bring them in?

I would not say that the youth are uninterested in politics. I work with a lot of youths myself.

But not urban youth.

What discourages them is the hierarchy in our parties. I myself joined student politics when I was in ninth grade, and so did many of my contemporaries and seniors. But not everyone realizes their calling so early on. A person who wants to join politics at the age of 35, has no chance of competing against the early birds’ networks and influence. We must create lateral entry points where a person of any age can enter politics.

How can we do that?

Let us take the example of America, where the world watched Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama compete in a primary. Obama, a relative newcomer, was nonetheless able to secure his party’s nomination as presidential candidate over the more experienced Clinton.

But the American political system gets flak for corporate sponsorships, due to which the competition cannot really be fair.

That aside, we can emulate their good practices by letting newcomers from grass-roots join politics, and by electing leaders we find capable ones instead of settling for the longest serving one.

Finally, let us talk about your dreams for the future. Where do you see Nepal in fifteen years?

I do not believe in luck. I do not believe the constitution, if made, can bring magical transformation immediately. Where Nepal will be in the future depends on how we work in the next few years. Nepal can reach the standard set by other South Asian countries, and graduate from Least Developed Country to Developing nation; if we can distinguish between social and political issues and work on them independently. In the last few years, politics has monopolized our focus, so much so that we have not even been able to deliver a complete budget. We have let other sectors wilt, to disastrous consequences. If we continue to prioritize constitution making at the expense of development, the next fifteen years will pass in bickering, like the last seven years.

Which sector do you think should be prioritized for the development of Nepal? Education, health, infrastructures?

All these sectors you mentioned I group under ‘social justice’. Nepal needs to take its social justice and economic growth together. There is no middle way, and trying to debate the precedence of one over other can be damaging for Nepal. If we choose only social justice, the economy cannot sustain it. If we choose growth at the expense of social justice, at the end of fifteen years, we will have prosperity but only for a small clique. The only development model feasible for Nepal is growth and social justice together. 



The Interview was conducted by: Sewa Bhattarai
Image Source: Bhaswor Ojha

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