MURARI RAJ SHARMA/DR NETRA KHADKA
Years ago, one of us bumped into a man with trembling hands at a pharmacy in Patan. When asked, he said he was a Nepali Congress freedom fighter who carried out dangerous activities at night under the influence of alcohol to topple the autocratic Rana regime.
Excessive use of alcohol made him bold and reckless to take inordinate risks. He bitterly complained that his leaders had given him nothing but neglect after the end of Rana rule while alcohol gave him trembling hands.
Leaders use youth to fight their political wars and, when they succeed, neglect or defenestrate their fighters. As in 1950, it happened in 1990 and 2006 and in the wanton Maoist bloodshed from 1996-2005. The young so involved have paid a heavy price in death, lost limbs and health, and in leaders’ indifference. Former US President Herbert Hoover has aptly said, “Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.”
Elections—low-intensity political wars—extract a similar price from youth. As CA II election scheduled for November 19, 2013 looms, political parties have already begun priming this pliable group for the battle. To be sure, politics cannot be vibrant, vigorous and continuous without new blood. But leaders encouraging youth for a healthy involvement in politics is different from sacrificing this impressionable section at the altar of their greed for power and pelf.
Leaders shamelessly manipulate and use voters because, as the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli has said, “In politics nothing is contemptible.” Especially, politicians target students and other youthful souls, for they are easy to influence, quick to organize on campus and in clubs and teashops, simple to mobilize through peer pressure, and inexperienced, idealist, and desperate enough to be reckless.
More so in poor countries like Zimbabwe and Nepal. Both are the hotbeds of student/youth activism in politics. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has recently secured a fifth term in a highly rigged election by using the callow students and intoxicated and unemployed youth who were part of his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).
In Nepal, young people have been a political football after the collapse of the Rana rule. Panchayati leaders propped up the party-less system, grooming the youth to become Mandales. They bribed the Mandales with public resources, immunity for private extortion and other excesses, and stimulants—jingoism, sex, impunity, booze, guns, etc. Political parties too set up their student organizations and youth wings, which now enjoy similar privileges.
Maoists have surpassed all other parties in this realm. To fight their bloody insurgency, they corralled abducted children and disenchanted youth into their guerilla force. After the peace process started, they have enrolled in the Young Communist League most of the guerillas and dangerous criminals evading justice. YCL members are different from the Mandales and similar other organizations only in that they are more militant, more criminal, and more immune from law, thanks to political protection.
While it is good for political parties to have their sister outfits, it is bad to excessively politicize and unscrupulously exploit vulnerable youth, to the extent that they become skill-deficient, permanently unemployable, and parasitical—dependent on donation, extortion and other crimes. This is horrendously criminal.
Such exploitation takes different forms in Nepal: Strikes, shutdowns, militancy, street fights, vandalism, etc., each serving one or the other political agenda. Such strikes and shutdowns, often accompanied by vandalism, are more regular than classes in colleges. Many students cannot complete their education. Those who complete do not have employable skills. Many youth lose their life and limbs in fights with rival groups and parties. Parents that can afford to send their kids abroad for studies and the country loses talent and resources. All this results in a huge national loss.
Leaders overlook the national loss for personal power and wealth. Their deplorable attitude has been as responsible for our slow growth as corruption, lack of infrastructure, pro-progress policies and stability. Leaders have, despite their sky-high promises, tried to deliver just enough development to win the next vote, but not more, because they do not want people to be less interested in and less dependent on politics, which comes with economic take off. As the developed and fast developing countries show, once the economy picks up, students focus on studies and acquire skills necessary for employment, non-student young people work, and the employed raise their family and go on vacation; and leaders lose mercenaries to fight their battles.
All over the world, youth are angry with their selfish political leaders. They are aware that political battles often come in the way of their aspirations and their need to be competitive in national and global markets for skills, services and goods in a flattening world. Still, they fall prey to devious political stratagems. Why? We believe the youth’s idealism, quest for identity, and high responsiveness to stimulants in the midst of vulnerabilities virtually force them into the embrace of politicians.
Idealists at heart, youth seek opportunities to change the world for the better. Politicians apply scare and sop to distort their universally oriented idealism into narrow idealism— jingoism, fundamentalism, racial supremacy, etc. Chinese leaders had successfully stoked such warped idealism into children to inform against their parents for stamping out dissent during the Cultural Revolution. Islamist leaders are doing it today.
Grown up under the shadow of adults, youth want their independent identity as individuals. Politicians deploy flattery, fiery rhetoric, and even guns, to convert this admirable desire into the morphine of tribal or dogmatic identity to build vote banks. Turkish, Malaysian and Egyptian leaders have used this strategy to convert their liberal populations into conservative Islamists and British and American leaders have applied anti-immigrant slogans to win votes.
Restless and impulsive, young people want freedom and action. Leaders calibrate the youth’s testosterone with stimulants and channel it into populating their political platform and inculcating intolerance towards others. Soviet communists used Vodka and sex to keep their young people at bay for nearly 70 years. Mugabe has been harnessing his gung-ho gangs to put him in the presidential palace, while the country continues to slide into poverty and chaos. Long and excessive use of stimulants harms the addict physically and mentally.
The famous psychologist Carl Jung has rightly said, “Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” Yet people, lacking experience, embrace such addictions and hold the coattail of politicians, who promise employment and other economic opportunities, out of desperation and insecurity, which high youth unemployment generates. Leaders exploit youth vulnerabilities.
In Nepal, politicians have converted the youth’s idealism and quest for identity into sectarianism and ethnic identity, respectively. Consequently, tribalism and intolerance have made a roaring comeback and leaders are busy building their support niches. Political protection for excesses; hatred of other parties, ethnic groups and ideologies; and the free flow of alcohol, especially at times of polls, have become the norm. Politicians have extracted a pound of flesh from Nepali youth in exchange for their pledge to help them with jobs and other economic opportunities. Nearly 50 percent young people are unemployed and underemployed in the country.
British cleric and author Charles Caleb Colton believes, “The excess of our youth are checks written against our age and they are payable with interest thirty years later.”Obviously, the man with trembling hands at the pharmacy in Patan was paying through the nose for his youthful and reckless activism. Unless the country develops quickly, many other youth activists of today will follow suit, while leaders enjoy ever more power and perks.
Published on 2013-08-25 01:40:29