Our established politicians are not capable of change

  • Interview Ranju Darshana

May 1, 2017-With local level elections slated for May 14 and June 14, parties have started announcing their nominees for the position of Mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City. Bibeksheel Nepali’s choice of candidate, 21-year old Ranju Darshana, has been making waves as the youngest nominee for Mayor till date. Shashwat Acharya and Supriya Gurung spoke with Darshana about her candidacy, her strategy for running, the plans and policies she wants to introduce, and the issue of her political inexperience.   

How would you convince people to vote for you?

Giving me your vote means that you are voting for change. Those politicians who we are familiar with have already shown us what they are capable of; they have already shown us what they can—and what they cannot—do. 

I represent an entire generation of youth. As many as 82 percent Kathmandu’s total population comprises those under the age of 45. The median age of the population is 21.9. These are the groups that I am trying to appeal to. 

While older generations have had to deal with a number of issues, the youths face numerous complications as well. This period of time belongs to the new generation; it is our turn to tackle the problems plaguing our nation. Our generation can ensure that the past, current and future generations are well provided for. It is my hope that the future generations will not view past leadership with distaste, as we have come to do. 

What attracted you specifically to the post of a mayor?

The constitution states that once a citizen is 21, they are eligible for candidacy. But legal issues aside, I think that I cannot delay. Kathmandu is called a metropolitan city, but the criteria for this title has not been fulfilled. The roads are horrible; there isn’t enough water; Teaching Hospital is the only government hospital that provides marginally acceptable services. Turning Kathmandu into a true metropolitan city will be the main agenda of a mayor. 

How would you respond to critics who say you lack the kind of political and leadership experience necessary to manage the capital city?

What they are saying is true; I am new to the scene. Experience can only be gained through work. But look at the unity, dedication and effort shown by the youths in the aftermath of the earthquakes. On April 25, 2015, there were youths who joined relief efforts 30 minutes after the earthquake struck. Compare this with the 72 hours that the ‘experienced’ leaders took to even issue a statement of sympathy. This zeal and commitment of youths like me produced many positive outcomes When relief efforts first started, we had no concrete plans or modes of operation. All we knew was that work had to be done, and that our energy was needed. We were motivated, and we helped. 

Do you think your energy and enthusiasm can compensate for your lack of experience?

It has only been four years since I started my political career with Bibeksheel Nepali. I realise that this is a very short time, but I have learnt a lot in these years. Bibeksheel Nepali has allowed me to assume leadership and gain experience. In this party, I have met a lot of likeminded people who want to bring about positive change in the country. I was recently told that I was about to go into a political snake pit. I am. But I am not going into this pit with a defeatist attitude. Yes, I’m just an individual, but I represent a whole generation. I am going in with the energy and backing of the youth, and it is this support that will help me win.

Assuming you win, what next?

It is the mayor’s job to keep the city’s people motivated. A mayor does not have to possess specialist skill-sets, but should be able to motivate skilled citizens to work together and get things done. As a mayor, I will be backed by a team of experts who will make recommendations in their areas of specialisation. 

Should I win, I will approach specialists and solicit their help. There are numerous experts that the government can ask to use their skills to improve the current state of Kathmandu. I will approach Dr Sudarshan Raj Tiwari, for example, who is an expert in urban planning. Kishor Thapa, the Sajha party candidate for Kathmandu’s mayor, is an expert himself, with more than 30 years of experience under his belt. As a mayor, it would be my duty to approach these specialists and ask for their help to improve Kathmandu. I don’t think they’ll say no.  

Why did the negotiations between the Sajha party and Bibeksheel Nepali over a possible partnership for mayoral elections fall through?

I am happy that certain people have stepped out of their comfort zones to form “alternative” political parties, whether it be Rabindra Mishra or Baburam Bhattarai. Bibeksheel Nepali pioneered this trend. We received a lot of suggestions that Bibeksheel Nepali and Sajha party, as alternative forces, should be partners in the elections. Many have suggested that in the local level elections, [our] energy should be backed by [their] experience. 

We have had meetings with the Sajha party. I have also sat with Kishor Thapa [Sajha’s mayoral candidate in Kathmandu] to discuss the possibility of a partnership. We proposed that I could run for mayor, while Thapa could run for deputy mayor. Sajha party did not agree. They told me that the position of 

the deputy mayor was also a good one, to which I replied that I felt I was being patronised. If I did not believe that I had a chance to be the mayor of Kathmandu, I would not have dared to take this step.  

What’s your electoral strategy?

We have seven strategies to reach out to our voters: phonathons, a door-to-door programme, social media, mainstream media, the Bibeksheel manifesto, ground-team campaigning and endorsement. I believe we can win if we apply all of these effectively. 

Do you think the people of Kathmandu are ready to go that far?

I have met people on the streets who have told me that I am ready for this post and that they will support me. Kathmandu is a city that embraces change. Whether it be through giving the Maoists a huge number of votes in the first Constituent Assembly elections, or to the Rastriya Prajatantra Party in the second CA elections, Kathmandu’s voters have shown that they embrace novelty.  

Do you have specific policies that you will introduce if you win?

We will be focusing on four areas to improve the lives of citizens: bikeability, open public spaces, efficient public transportation and walkability. We want to create a city that will be free of hassles and pollution, that will be pedestrian-friendly and that will embrace diversity. The first thing we will do if we win is expedite the Melamchi Water Supply Project. Though this is not within our jurisdiction, we can still work to make 

the installation process easier for the relevant ministries and other stakeholders.

We will prioritise the establishment of a system of ground water recharging. We will also make it compulsory for houses to install rain water harvesting systems; building plans will only be approved if these systems are adopted. They can be used easily and obtained through a one-time payment. The bore water that is increasingly being used could eventually dry out—this is already happening in Kalanki. We need to circumvent this possibility. We will use the space at Narayanhity palace to build a 

“central park” in Kathmandu. 

Published: 01-05-2017 08:12

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