Balen Shah’s next battle

Shah’s decision to run for Kathmandu Mayor has struck a chord with Nepali youths.

Prasun Sangroula

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Last week, rapper Balen Shah announced that he will run for mayor of Kathmandu in the upcoming local election. Shah, who shot to fame from the popular rap battling league Raw Barz, has released about a dozen originals since his breakout performance in the competition, all of which have struck a chord with the audience, especially youths. His songs often touch on politics and call out the degeneration of Nepali politics. In his 2020 number “Balidan”, Shah opens the song with these lyrics: “Desh ko rakshya garne jati sabai chutiya chhan/ Neta jati sabai chor, desh luti khachhan” [Those who are supposed to protect the country are idiots/ The leaders are all thieves, gobbling up state coffers…]

Shah’s musical credentials and sensibilities were never in doubt; yet when he announced that he would vie for a public position through elections shocked many, radiating positive energy among his fans, inspiring hope.

“This is our Kathmandu,” he wrote on Facebook, announcing his decision. “We will make it by ourselves.  #BalenForMayor #AbaYuvaKoPalo [It’s now turn for youths]”

Shah has already won some major endorsements from the music fraternity. Swapnil Sharma, frontman of the rock band The Shadows Nepal, announced on a Facebook status: “I am ready to carry Balen’s bag. #youthonpolitics

These are heady days for Balen Shah and he is excited to see all those motivating posts and messages, he recently told Nepal Live Today.

“Those supportive messages and posts have motivated me all the more and emboldened my resolve—to do better things for the society,” he said.

For a long time, Nepal has remained a gerontocracy. The country’s incumbent chief executive is 75 and his immediate predecessor is 69. All the chiefs of major parties are over 65.

Shah’s announcement comes at a time when Nepali Congress, the country’s oldest democratic force, elected two of the comparatively younger leaders Gagan Thapa, 45, and Bishwa Prakash Sharma, 50, as general secretaries, the party’s second most prized position.

Might it be anything more than a freak coincidence? The enormous fanfare the news of the two leaders’ election was received with and now the support tumbling down for Shah confirms as much: Nepalis are fed up with the same old faces and are desperate to see young guns taking charge of the corridors of power.

Shah has thought through Nepal’s present situation for the last couple of years, he said. The frustration created by leaders, by not fulfilling their duties responsibly, was a catalyst to his decision, he added.

The enormous fanfare the news of the two NC leaders’ election was received with and now the support tumbling down for Shah confirms as much: Nepalis are fed up with the same old faces and are desperate to see young guns taking charge of the corridors of power.

“To start with, we face a lot of hassle if we go to a ward office to make a simple, basic document,” said Shah. “This situation must be changed and I believe I have the potential to do that.”

He added, “I want to cash in on the hope that the youths, if given a chance, can make a significant impact,” he said.

Balen holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and a master’s in Structural Engineering. His academic background in engineering has also pushed him to stand up for change.

In Nepal, it is difficult to vie for a public position for someone who is from a non-political background. Shah, who is from an engineering and musical background, does not have any political background. But he is not worried about it.

“To become a mayor means to serve the public,” he said. “It is more than politics for me. I think it would be easier for me to work without being associated with any political party.”

Shah said that, if he gets elected, he won’t give lofty promises. “They will be very simple. I will not lie to the voters by showing the dreams of monorails and such.”

Shah wants to “make people happy and mentally healthy”. The state of the infrastructure and hassle one has to face everywhere they go to in the capital can take a toll on one’s mental health, and Shah recognizes this. “It is a disorienting situation when you do not get results from your representatives and your promises are broken,” he said, adding that people get mentally affected as they get stuck in a traffic jam for hours and have to inhale dust and smoke.

Shah is very soon making his election manifesto public. “I will convince my voters by explaining my visions which are simple, practical, and logical,” said Shah. “I will explain all my plans and vision in detail to my voters. I will not leave a single question unanswered.”

Shah has admirable honesty and modesty about him. Ambition, too. (As he raps in his song “Nepal Haseko”: “Ma Nepal haseko herna chahanchu/ Nepali ko mann nacheko herna chahanchu/ Ma Nepal haseko herna chahanchu/ Nepali khusiley bacheko herna chahanchu—I want to see Nepal smiling/ want to see Nepalis’ hearts dancing/ I want to see Nepal smiling/ want to see Nepalis happy and thriving.”)

But winning in politics perhaps takes more than honesty, modesty and ambition. It certainly is a bit harder than throwing jibes and disses. All these things, Shah will soon find out. It will be interesting to see if Shah’s ambitions will materialize and whether his simplicity will stand out and catapult him to power.