Kathmandu: Until a decade ago, they were a name not known to many in Nepal. They were those whose ideas many believed would not prevail amidst politics dominated by a complete lack of accountability and complete disregard for accountability.
When they decided to challenge this kind of politicking by participating in 2013 Second Constituent Assembly elections, they were mocked. Hardly ever it was believed there was a space for new political forces in Nepal and that a new political force could rise and be established.
This is how the Bibeksheel Party was characterized in its initial days. But a group of youth didn’t give up their hopes. They took “dog” as their election symbol and contested the 2013 elections.
Though a very few people recognised them at that time, it was a first attempt in Nepal’s contemporary politics to challenge the big parties.
Bibeksheel Sajha also had a roller-coaster ride. It started as Bibeksheel Dal in 2013. In July 2017, it became Bibeksheel Sajha after a merger between then Bibeksheel Nepali Dal and Sajha Party. In 2019, it suffered a split, to be merged again in 2020, which again suffered a conflict in 2021.
Message of general assembly
The party on Saturday appeared to bury the hatchet of the past and begin anew. Bibeksheel Sajha Party elected Samikshya Baskota as the chairman of the party. The first General Convention of the party elected Ranju Darshana as the party’s General Secretary. Baskota and Darshana are probably the first women leaders to hold the two vital positions of a political party—the chairperson and general secretary.
No other political parties in operation have elected women in the post of chair and general secretary in the country.
The general assembly has given several messages. “The first is the party has sent a message that it wants a comeback in the political sphere,”said political commentator Saugat Gautam. “The general assembly as such can be decoded as the party’s willingness to reemerge in Nepal’s politics.”
It was the first “alternative force” in Nepal. But due to ups and downs, the party lost its original spirit and other new forces including Rastriya Samajwadi Party and some independent candidates emerged in Nepal’s politics. Probably, the Bibeksheel Sajha Party has realized this fact.
The elections of two female leaders in the powerful executive roles can be decoded as a rise above tokenism, Gautam told Nepal Live Today. “This gives an opportunity for other parties to ensure inclusive leadership.”
Leadership change in Bibeksheel can be seen just as a symbolic step for the time being. But it may trigger a demand for change in the long run, Gautam said. “Parties had not expected that new political forces could emerge in Nepali politics until a few years ago. But it is now a reality. I think the election of female leaders in powerful positions will motivate female leaders from other parties to challenge the status quo.”
A ray of hope
Nepal’s big political parties are often criticized for the underrepresentation of women. They are often found to limit women leaders in subordinate roles and powerless positions.
Bibeksheel Sajha party has set a new record by electing female leaders in the most powerful positions of the party.
“I have always been a critic of Bibeksheel Sajha but a supporter of alternative politics. Absolutely welcoming news to see this party elect two established women in the vital positions, Party Chair being one,” said Hima Bista, a right activist. “This gives a powerful message to the uncertain and unstable political atmosphere especially when female leaders within other parties have not been able to make an impact.”
Many see this as a ray of hope in Nepal’s politics.
Bibeksheel has contributed positively on some fronts such as the way of organizing protest, utilizing social media to hold leaders accountable and organizing youth power for the social cause, Gautam said. “It is desirable that the new leaders will also lead by example to set a new standard in Nepal’s politics.”