The idea of ‘alternative politics’ is failing in Nepal. What went wrong?

While critics say that Nepal’s alternative forces have failed to do politics differently, proponents of alternative politics argue that it’s too early to judge them for they have not reached the position to deliver yet.

Photo: Freepik

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 6 min.

Kathmandu: Bibeksheel Sajha Party, which claims to be the flagbearer of the alternative politics in Nepal, has not been sparking much hope for the upcoming election. The party had created a buzz in Kathmandu in the previous election cycle of 2017. The party that once inspired youths across the country is mired in conflicts, factionalization, and turmoil even before it could take firm ground.  

On July 26 last year, party chair Rabindra Mishra proposed a referendum on secularism and abolition of federalism, riling up many of his party patrons. After that, the party witnessed internal conflicts, turmoil, and a split. 

It was originally founded on July 26, 2017, after the merger of the Sajha Party and Bibeksheel Nepal Dal. But it split on January 11, 2019. The two parties again merged on December 9, 2020.

In the 2017 elections, Ranju Darshana from the Bibeksheel Nepali vied for the mayor of Kathmandu. Looked up to as a candidate of hope by many, she secured third position garnering 23,439 votes. 

During the early days, Bibeksheel Sajha had emerged as a ray of hope. It had claimed to become the alternative force, carrier of alternative agendas for reforms, development and good governance–the reason why it had found support from a large section of the youths across the country. 

History shows that new parties are often formed around the idea of alternative politics but these parties soon fizzle out or become much less influential a few years down the line. 

Baburam Bhattarai–once the ideologue of the Maoists–while forming the Naya Shakti Party in 2016 also dubbed his party as the alternative political force. But the party disappeared into thin air in no time. In the 2017 elections, only Bhattarai did make it to the parliament. 

The party later merged with Upendra Yadav-led Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum in 2019. The Samajbadi Forum also later merged with Rastriya Janata Party Nepal in 2020 to form Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal. The party leaders boasted that it would be an alternative force. Now the party has split vertically, suffers factionalization and has not even been floating alternative agendas. 

The right-wing Rashtriya Prajatantrik Party also had sought to present itself as an alternative to major parties but after the split it is losing influence on the ground. However, Rajendra Lingden, the chair of RPP, following the split with Kamal Thapa (now the chair of RPP-Nepal)  is still talking about alternative politics.

So why do the political parties, which advocate for alternative politics, fail on their agendas? Why do they soon slacken? 

Critics say the ‘alternative political forces’ are turning out to be nominal alternatives, adopting the same old ideas and styles, following in the footsteps of the traditional political forces, and becoming person-centric rather than ideology-centric. Political analysts agree that the political parties who had claimed to be the alternative forces have miserably failed to become one. 

Why they fail 

Tula Narayan Shah, a political analyst, explains that alternative politics has been a significant contributor to all the major political changes in Nepal. Alternative politics was vibrant during the Panchayat regime, advocating the restoration of the multiparty democracy, he says. After that, Maoists and Madheshi parties emerged to champion the agendas of inclusion in the multiparty democracy. “These political forces are now major players in mainstream politics. They have been the mainstream players in the political landscape,” he said. 

According to Shah, alternative politics is the quest for alternatives as per the time and situation in the existing political system or party. 

Unfortunately, in terms of agendas, the contemporary advocates of alternative politics such as Bibeksheel Sajha and earlier the Naya Shakti party have been no different than the old and established political parties, he added. “The parties formed to carry on alternative politics can win the election only if they are able to lead a great movement, and defeat or change the existing system in some way,” said Shah. He argues that the parties that claim to advance alternative politics only boasted about the alternative politics in speech but failed to lead a great movement. “That’s why they have failed,” he said. 

According to experts, alternative political parties require alternative agendas and reform agendas and they need to be able to challenge the larger established parties which have been controlling the state affairs for a long time without accountability. Only then they can prove themselves. 

Dr Indra Adhikari, another political analyst, says that they have failed because they appear to follow more regressive than progressive agendas. “There is no newness in their ideas. They even appear to undermine the achievements of the political changes,” she said. According to her, in terms of character and culture, the alternative forces are no different from the old and established political parties. “Alternative politics should reflect in ideas, policies, programs, ideologies, characters and actions. But that is not the case here,” she said. 

All parties claim to fight against corruption. But they lack clarity in programs and plans. “The alternative political forces lack clear proposals, convincing and concrete structure, and plans,” she added. This is why, argues Adhikari, it is better to call them ‘new’ rather than ‘alternative’ political parties. 

According to experts, alternative political parties require alternative agendas and reform agendas and they need to be able to challenge the larger established parties which have been controlling the state affairs for a long time without accountability. Only then they can prove themselves. 

When they fail to execute change, the country suffers for the larger and established parties will not face any challenge even if they misuse political power and are involved in wrongdoings. As a result the status quo remains. “When the alternative forces fail, the old and established parties will not face challenges. And they would never feel the need to change their ways or do politics in a better way,” said Adhikari. “Which, in turn, sustains the status quo.”

Learn from AAP

With the landslide victory in Punjab assembly polls back in March, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Arbind Kejriwal has emerged as an alternative force in Indian national politics. Kejriwal’s AAP and its good governance is a matter of envy for many in Nepal.

The party born out of the Anna Hajare-led 2011 anti-corruption movement has now proven that alternative politics actually works. AAP’s works and achievements in the development of Delhi are exemplary. 

With extraordinary performance in Delhi, AAP has changed the face of the Indian capital.

Regrettably, Nepali alternative forces do not seem to have learned from the success of AAP in India. However, political analysts say Nepal’s ‘alternative forces’ need to learn from the success story of AAP.  

AAP is in the global discourse now. The reason behind its success is the character, transparency, plans, good governance, visions for economic advancement, and fulfillment of the commitments with honesty, Adhikari explains. “The success of AAP has forced other political parties such as BJP and Congress and other regional parties to at least think about delivering good governance, prioritizing action over speeches,” said Adhikari. “AAP emerged after challenging the established parties in India and it became an alternative for the people across India. Nepal’s alternative forces must learn from AAP.”

Kejriwal saw where the problems lie and worked to address those problems. “But in the case of Nepal, the self-proclaimed flag bearers of alternative politics do not seem to know how to address the problems. Nor do they show the will to do so,” said Tula Narayan Shah. “They should know that coming up with a new name alone does not help. They have become an alternative force by deeds,” he added. 

‘Give us a chance’

Leaders of the ‘alternative political forces’ in Nepal, on the other hand, say it would be unfair to judge them for the members of alternative forces have not yet been given the opportunities to rise to power and deliver. 

Samikchya Baskota, a Bibeksheel Sajha leader and a candidate for mayor in Kathmandu, said that they have not yet reached a position where they can intervene and make a difference.  Bibeksheel Sajha has three lawmakers in the parliament who, Baskota believes, are doing their best in the role of opposition by taking the public issues to the parliament. “We have been actively engaged, as an alternative force, in the campaigns against corruption and to save the heritage, for example,” she said.

She admits that hopes are high among people from Bibeksheel Sajha. “But we are not in the position to deliver because we are not in power,” she said. “We are ‘outside, yet we are raising voices and fighting for change. We have never deviated from that commitment.” 

According to Baskota, alternative politics in Nepal is actually evolving, maturing, and emerging stronger slowly and gradually. 

For Baskota, the exemplary AAP also emerged by facing conflicts and factionalization. “AAP could deliver because people voted it to power,” said Baskota. “This is not the case with us here in Nepal.”

Baskota says that Bibeksheel Sajha is also determined to work in the similar spirit of AAP. And then when they rise to the position to deliver, they will spare no stone unturned, she says. “To be able to deliver like AAP, alternative forces should first be voted to power so that they can deliver,” she concluded.