Youth and leadership:
This photograph draws attention to youth leadership, which is so glaringly lacking in Nepali politics today, and discouraged by the establishment, including the Nepali Congress. Apart from the occasional lip service to “yuva shakti” (youth power), we are having to put up with personalities in their mid to late 60’s and 70’s at the helm of a nation that is predominantly young.
It is sad and ironic that the Nepali Congress today, the very party that these young men established, refuses to re-invent itself and pave the way for a new generation. The youth in this photo were promising, dynamic, purposeful and so are the young, aspiring leaders of today.
But they are held back by a coterie of over-the-hill oldsters who were nurtured and educated with outdated, obsolete social and political values. Whether it is the right or left, or the even so-called progressive ‘Maoist’ communists, our present leaders are utterly out of touch with where Nepalis are headed, and what they want.
The young men in the photograph changed the course of Nepal’s history, and ushered in the transition from feudalism to democracy. They were visionaries, ahead of their time, capable of anticipating changes that were sweeping the world during that period of history.
Nepal’s current political elite lacks this vision, and is lagging behind in the collective aspiration of the people of Nepal. There is a massive gap in ideology, in communication, and indeed in comprehension between the populace and politicians.
The people do not understand the motives of their leaders, nor do the leaders address our concerns and aspirations. The current political watchwords seem to be sloganism, nepotism , ‘kursi ko khel’ (literally, a game of thrones) – in all political parties, including the former Maoists in the NCP.
Four stars and the tree, Shri Bhadra Sharma
The other layer in this photograph is its representation of Nepal’s various ethnicities — effectively representing the Himal, Pahad, Tarai. This is something we do not see much of these days, at least within a single political party. Has politics in Nepal become so retrograde when we are supposed to have a progressive and inclusive Constitution?
When did we last see a Sherpa in the leading committee of NC or the NCP? Many will see that there is a non-representation of women in the photograph, but for that one has to bear in mind that this was the 1940’s after all. The fact that the minorities are so well represented is in itself remarkable.
The identity of the man standing on the top left corner has been a subject of debate. On the back of the photograph, a writer has identified him as Lakpa Tsering Sherpa and some have argued it to be Nirmal Lama, both were members of the Nepali Congress in the early days.
Pose and pahiran (attire)
It is obvious how the vestimentary call of the day was defiance and differentiation. These sartorial elements are more than just fashion statements. How one dressed in that generation reflected one’s political, ideological, cultural or social leanings.
When this photo was shown to friends, one of the recurring questions that kept coming up was: why none of these young Nepali men were attired in Dhaka-topi daura-surwal?
The daura-surwal as we know it today is a variation of the Tapalan, something that the Newa people had been wearing for years. The Rana regime declared it to be the national attire, and ordered all Nepali men to wear it for formal occasions.
For these revolutionaries, the daura-surwal represented the oppressive governance of the Ranas, who were often seen wearing them. These young men wanted to steer clear of this image, and depict a ‘newer’ Nepal.
Only after the iconic image of King Tribhuvan waving as he deplaned a Dakota with registration ‘VT-CVC’ at Gauchar airfield in 1951 in a simplified daura-surwal, would the attire get its badge of democratic honour.
Erika and King Tribhuvan, Alisha Sijapati
Sedition and disjunctures
The core of the layered Matryoshka doll in this photograph prompts us to dig even deeper into the bane of Nepali politics since.
We should not just revere these great men, but also critically analyse their shortfalls. Their expressions show resolve and determination, but also exhaustion from having survived the brutal sentence they served for the Biratnagar Jute Mill Strike. In their eyes, we see unity, fellowship and resolve.
However, looking back, we also know that this unity was about to crack. Discord, alienation, treason, alliances and misalliances were in the offing. In 1951, the Mukti Sena which had been established as the NC’s Liberation Army against the Rana regime came into disaccord with BP with regards to the tripartite Delhi Accord.
Further tension between BP and his half brother Matrika created more fissures. It is tragic that they failed to work as a team for a common goal, and it is partly because of this that King Mahendra had the ammunition to be able to carry out his 1960 coup.
Infighting and division seem to be the malediction of Nepali political leadership. This is an invaluable point that the history of Nepal has taught us over and over: our leaders continue to fight among themselves like jackals over a piece of carcass.
Seventy years after this photograph was taken, this is still a burning question, and the curse that defiles, degrades and debilitates our political landscape and actors. We still seem to be stuck in square one.