Monday, August 5, 2013

Resurgence of Youth Militancy in Nepal

Safal Ghimire

Inspiring youths to participate in politics is one thing but radicalising them towards militancy is unforgivable.

Nepal’s 10-year insurgency ended seven years ago but a war psyche and belligerence remains prevalent in politics. Many political parties and organisations have formed paramilitary outfits to intensify their socio-political influence. Recently, CPN-UML leaders and cadres blocked a highway in Dhading and demanded the release of a notorious gangster. Similarly, UCPN (Maoist) supremo Prachanda has ordered his party’s youth wing to be ready to confront ‘anti-election elements’. In the same vein, the Nepali Congress (NC) is reportedly in an internal discussion to form a ‘security outfit’. Such a fondness for militancy recalls the gory enmity between youth outfits in the immediate aftermath of the insurgency.

Along with the prolonged transition, mass frustration and unemployment spiralled after 2006. A political tug-of-war diminished hopes for a better life in the young population. On one hand, resorting to violence and intimidation became an easy way to earn daily bread. On the other, the absence of rule of law encouraged them. Nepal saw a massive influx of youths into paramilitary groups after the political parties began to form youth outfits. Fuelling the fire, the mother parties allured them with immediate financial returns. Parties guaranteed their protection and supplied ‘revolutionary’ slogans. But none of them thought about the violence, mistrust and hostility that such polarisation could bring. This political myopia has cost the peace process greatly.

The formation of political youth wings seems to have begun since 1950 when Ganesh Bahadur Gurung formed the Nepal Chhaatra Sangh, which raised its voice against the autocratic Rana regime. Later, the NC and UML formed their own student unions—the Nepal Student Union and the All Nepal National Free Students’ Union—during the 1960s. Thereafter, youth groups were at the forefront of all democratic revolutions in Nepal. They were major actors in bringing the changes of 1980, 1990 and 2006. But their role has been controversial since their massive militarisation after 2006.

Letter to the Editor | The Kathmandu Post | Published on 9/8/2013
Now Nepal has more than a dozen paramilitary youth outfits, including the Young Communist League (YCL), Youth Force (YF), Madhesi Youth Force, Churebhawar Shanti Sena and others. Some of them are limited regionally while others have national influence. The UCPN (then CPN) (Maoist) was the first to form such an outfit. Even after signing the peace agreement in 2006, it declared the ‘revitalisation’ of the YCL. The party has since formally accepted that this group “incorporates both military and political characteristics”. Thereafter, other political forces also felt obliged to form such militant youth outfits. Hence, the Maoists should take responsibility of beginning such militarisation but the other parties also cannot escape from shouldering the blame. Inspired by the political parties, several social groups also formed youth outfits. The Khas Chettri Society has formed its ‘security mechanism’, which reportedly included 1,200 members.

The YCL claims that it has 500,00 youth members. Among them, 450,000 were general and 50,000 were active members, along with 6-7,000 whole-timers. The Youth Force has asserted that it has 600,000 members. The Nepal Sadhbhawana Party (Mahato) also followed this trend in Birgunj in December 2007 with a paramilitary youth outfit reportedly numbering 23,000. This strength of numbers is doubtful but it is obvious that the political parties have mobilised numerous youths to expand their own partisan interests.

Many countries still necessitate military training for their citizens but the formation of militant outfits and their political support conveys a different message. Many youth outfits have mobilised minors. More seriously, a mushrooming number of criminals have resorted to such groups to fulfil personal and financial interests. They are involved in gang fights, kidnapping, violence and intimidating competitors for big corporate tenders. For instance, a clash between youth groups during the tender process for the Mid-Marshyandi Hydropower Project in July 2008 compelled local authorities to impose a curfew. In August that same year, authorities had to impose another curfew in Dhankuta to stop a brawl between the YCL and Youth Force. In April 2007, 27 people lost their lives in Gaur as a result of clash between the MPRF and YCL outfits. Such groups have posed a grave challenge to maintaining security and rule of law.

Forming political groups is definitely a democratic privilege. But the way Nepali political parties are supporting criminal gangs is leading us towards a bleak future. Parties claim that their youth wings are doing laudable deeds. They praise activities such as curbing the smuggling of red sandalwood, custom irregularities and corruption in public offices. But most of such activities have aimed at increasing authoritative influence rather than facilitating good governance.

Inspiring youths to participate in politics is one thing but radicalising them towards militancy is unforgivable. It not only misleads youths but also indoctrinates them with enmity and places society at risk. Furthermore, defending violators of the law is sheer irresponsibility towards democratic governance. It is an insult to the established security system and the people’s political favour. At its most beautiful form, democracy needs a struggle of minds not that of arms. But the recent resurgence of partisan youth militancy seems to be dragging us towards a democratic abyss.
First published in The Kathmandu Post on 2013-08-04 under the title: Hazards of Youth

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