Kathmandu was abuzz with preparations for a significant local election. Prominent figures from CPN-UML and Nepali Congress were vying for victory. Amidst the established candidates, a refreshing new face emerged—a young man who was not only a talented rapper but also an accomplished engineer. His decision to enter the race filled me with excitement and hope, as I believed he had the potential to bring about meaningful change in Kathmandu. Eager to share my enthusiasm, I encouraged my friends and family to support him, urging them to cast their votes in his favor. Much to our delight, he triumphed by a significant margin!
We have a mayor who will make a difference in many ways, I thought. This was last year.
I regret it now. You will know why after you finish reading this article.
Great start, damp squib
During the election campaign, he released the hit song “Garibako Chameli Boldine Koi Chaina” [There is nobody to speak up for the poor], which became immensely popular in Kathmandu. The song gave people hope and he cleverly used it to canvas voters. In interviews, he promised to work for the poor and improve the city’s living conditions. His song and dedication to helping the underprivileged resonated with the public, leading to his victory in the election.
I was filled with hope, anticipating that his engineering skills would bring about significant changes to Kathmandu. Balen Shah’s triumph marked the beginning of a new chapter for the city, and like me, many were eagerly awaiting his performance as the leader of Kathmandu.
Over the course of more than a year since Shah’s election victory, I confess my expectations have been met with a sense of profound disappointment. First, let me write about his positives.
Shah has undeniably made commendable efforts in transforming the streets of Kathmandu into open spaces and enhancing the management of parking facilities (this, I am aware, might invite adverse reactions or even hateful comments).
Mayor Balen, your initial actions in effectively managing parking in Kathmandu were praiseworthy. Your steps to address the problem of unauthorized construction and encroachment on public land, even by demolishing houses and buildings that violated regulations were decisive. You targeted commercial buildings that were supposed to have underground parking spaces but were being utilized for other commercial purposes.
The unregulated parking situation, with motorcycles and cars scattered haphazardly throughout the city, also contributed to the overall disorder. Your efforts to tackle these issues were met with appreciation, especially from the younger generation who pinned high hopes on you for positive changes. Undoubtedly, this was a commendable start and a much-needed initiative for the betterment of Kathmandu.
One of the notable achievements of your tenure as the mayor of Kathmandu is your unwavering commitment to addressing the issues surrounding healthcare and education, which had become influenced by profit-oriented mafias. Through decisive actions, you have tried to ensure that healthcare and education services are accessible to all and not solely driven by business interests.
Your firm stance against the padlocking of educational institutions by student unions is something to cherish. This proactive approach in reclaiming and revitalizing these vital sectors for the benefit of the city’s residents positions you as one of the most commendable mayors Kathmandu has ever had.
Undoubtedly, your remarkable accomplishments in improving Kathmandu have gained considerable name and fame. People have begun to voice their opinions, suggesting that you should be considered as a potential leader for the government and even lead Nepal. In fact, influential polls on social media have shown that you currently hold the highest level of popularity and enjoy a significant following, particularly among the youth. This growing influence and massive support base further solidify your position as a prominent figure in Nepal.
Your immense fanbase and the hopes placed upon you necessitate that you fulfill the people’s expectations in a responsible and positive manner, rather than merely seeking to expand your popularity. As a figure capable of mobilizing thousands with a single social media post, and whose words possess the potential to ignite a revolution, you must exercise wisdom. Nepal currently stands on fragile ground, with many youths disheartened by the country’s situation.
In this delicate context, even a small spark could lead to disaster. So, you should prioritize utilizing this mass following for the betterment of Nepal, focusing on meaningful actions rather than seeking popularity through populist maneuvers. It is vital that you act with prudence and channel the support you have garnered to bring about genuine improvements, taking into account the well-being and progress of the nation as a whole.
Balen Shah, your one-upmanship is killing the youth movement in Nepal. The hopes of the people, especially youths, are diminishing, and there is a growing sense of disillusionment. Nepal cannot afford to regress to the old conventional politicians. You could have prevented that regression, you appear to be contributing to it.
People voted for you because they trusted you, they thought you would be their voice, as well the voice of the youth movement. It seems you are obstructing the progress of the youth movement.
It increasingly looks like you live in an ivory tower. Mr mayor, you seem to think your Facebook account is the court, and your followers are the judges. You believe that having a large fan base automatically guarantees glory. Only infamous dictators have thought that way in history. Acting as if you alone love this country and labeling others as traitors is a narrow-minded approach. Understand that there are many individuals who love this country just as much, if not more, than you do. Reflect on your actions and consider the impact they are having on the aspirations of the youth and the future of Nepal.
Questions have been raised against you. And you have been avoiding and disregarding these questions, effectively evading the media and their attempts to engage with you. Interestingly, during the election, you actively sought media coverage and willingly participated in interviews. After being elected, there is a perceived change in your behavior, which is arrogance.
In democracy, leaders have to remain open and receptive to questions and concerns raised by the public and the media. Engaging with the media provides an opportunity to address important issues, clarify misunderstandings, and maintain transparency. By evading questions and avoiding the media, you risk creating an atmosphere of distrust and alienating those who once supported you.
You have a Facebook page, with millions of youth followers, which constantly runs positive news about you. Being accountable means more than relying on a Facebook page admin. You must be proud of who you are just looking at the comments and praises you get in those posts. In reality, you appear to be stuck in a ‘popularity bubble’ which can burst anytime.
Now I will write why your stunts are harmful to the society, and how youths are fooled that you are the best mayor Kathmandu has ever got.
First, in a shocking display of moral bankruptcy, you have resorted to a perplexing strategy that directly targets the city’s impoverished population. The city police recently entered into a private property and took away a cart of a vendor. What message and what kind of trend are you setting? What kind of Kathmandu do you want? It is particularly disheartening to witness such actions from a person who, not too long ago, campaigned for votes with a song titled “Garibako Chameli Boldine Koi Chaina” (no one cares for the poor).
Yet, ironically, you are abandoning the very cause you once championed through your song. Kathmandu’s vibrancy and liveliness owe much to the contributions of individuals from diverse districts who have settled in the city. These individuals, regardless of their community or socio-economic background, have played an instrumental role in shaping the cultural fabric and overall development of Kathmandu. Their efforts and hard work should be acknowledged and celebrated, not ignored and forgotten.
You are fixated solely on catering to the interests of the privileged elites.
Second, you denied victims of loan sharks the right to spend the night in Khulla Manch. This is a blatant disregard to their basic human rights. The question arises: Is Khulla Manch a private property or a public space? If it is indeed a public space, then every individual should have the right to seek refuge there, especially those in vulnerable situations.
Igniting a spark among the youth to defy the court and the law can have far-reaching and detrimental effects on Nepali society. Just seeking cheap popularity would lead to a disaster.
The incident not only highlights the callousness of the authorities but also raises questions about your commitment to protecting the welfare of the people. Instead of providing assistance and addressing the underlying issues, you chose to turn a blind eye to the suffering of those in need.
Third, your display of arrogance is deeply concerning and raises questions about your true intentions in holding public office. If your primary motive is seeking publicity and enjoying social media interactions, then you are better suited to pursue a career in music rather than occupying a mayoral position.
Fourth, your refusal to abide by the court’s decision to allow Indian movies to be screened in Kathmandu is not only bizarre but also sets a dangerous precedent. By disregarding a court ruling, you are sending a troubling message to the youth and undermining the importance of upholding the rule of law. After you posted a status regarding an Indian movie, a group of youths even vandalized a movie theater in Kathmandu. Do you want a violent society?
Is it not your responsibility to set an example by respecting and following constitutional decisions? Is it not your responsibility to safeguard the constitution? The mayor, as a holder of such a significant position, should understand the weight of their responsibilities and the impact of their actions. Choosing to ignore a court decision demonstrates a lack of respect for the judiciary. What if youths, who follow you as an idol, choose not to follow the law citing your precedent?
As an individual with a significant following, it deeply concerns me to witness your decision to not follow a court ruling. It is even more disheartening to see that even this irresponsible decision has been praised by thousands of your supporters.
Truth be told, you are where you stand today because of the incompetence exhibited by the mainstream political parties in governance over the years. It is their ineptness and ‘my way or the highway’ attitude that turned the tide in your favor during the local polls last year. But that does not give you the liberty to become an unruly, irresponsible and unaccountable leader. You have got to be different from them in manner, in actions, in conduct and delivery.
I firmly believe that leaders should set an example and prioritize upholding the law, respecting the constitution, and adhering to court decisions. By disregarding a court ruling, you are encouraging young people to question the authority of the judiciary and to disregard the principles of justice and fairness.
You seem to think your Facebook account is the court, and your followers are the judges. You believe that having a large fan base automatically guarantees glory.
The potential consequences of such actions will be grave. Igniting a spark among the youth to defy the court and the law can have far-reaching and detrimental effects on our society. It undermines the very foundations of a functioning legal system and erodes the trust and confidence that citizens place in the judiciary. Leaders, especially those in positions of power and influence, have a responsibility to foster a culture of respect for the rule of law. By prioritizing personal preferences over legal rulings, the mayor is setting a harmful precedent that could lead to a breakdown of our justice system and a culture of lawlessness.
People are giving you the benefit of doubt. They do not question your intention–the advantage and privilege that probably no other politicians in Nepal enjoy.
Apparently you do not care about the discontent developing in the same people who reposed so much hope in you. Apparently, you do not care about the media criticisms about how the ground is slowly shifting against you.
The situation might change from now on. It is up to you whether to maintain the popularity you earned through some of your good works of the last one year or to become the subject of public wrath.
Mr mayor, the choice is yours.