Gagan Kumar Thapa is a communicator. He connects with the masses through fiery and eloquent speeches and with the elites through tweets and cocktail gatherings. A darling of the media, he writes op-eds as persuasively as he speaks on talk shows—in both Nepali and English. This capacity to connect and articulate, rare among Nepali politicians, particularly leaders of his party—the Nepali Congress—is Thapa’s biggest asset, and what could very well propel his already substantial popularity to even greater heights in 2014.
In 2010, this Tri-Chandra graduate had secured the largest number of votes to become part of the central committee of the NC. And in last November’s general elections, he won the competitive Kathmandu-4 constituency by an impressive margin. People who interact with him laud Thapa as a man armed with specifics. He is well-informed on various issues ranging from the environment to information technology. This is why the NC included him in the team to draft its election manifesto.
But he is no messiah. In the Constituent Assembly (CA), he is just one among 601 members. He was also part of the collective failure of the previous CA. His presence in politics, thus, is not a solution in itself. Within the party, the 37-year-old is only a new central-committee member who is yet to establish his credibility. Senior party leaders sometimes dismiss him easily. For instance, in a recent party meeting, two older leaders derided Thapa along with three other young leaders for being overly brash and pushing unattainable agendas for the sake of popularity. Thapa is sometimes considered an outsider by the party establishment too. He battles the perception that he is an opposition within the party for his reformist views and candid criticism of the leadership. This may make him popular among the masses but could further weaken his position within the organisation itself. And in Nepal, it is difficult to influence national politics without first influencing internal party politics.
So 2014 will be Thapa’s test as a politician. He has more expectations to meet this time: deliver a constitution at the national level and address the day-to-day concerns of his electorate at the local level. This is his chance to shine as a successful lawmaker. In the last CA, Thapa had set an example by refusing his salary on moral grounds after the original two-year term of the Assembly ended. While some dismissed it as another publicity stunt by the goat-rearing politician (literally, the man owns a goat farm), many others appreciated it. This time, he can use his experience and knowledge to avoid a repeat of that. He has the opportunity to lead and expedite the work of different parliamentary and CA thematic committees.
The next big question for Thapa in 2014 will be: will he get a berth in the cabinet? If he does, he will have the opportunity to walk the talk. If he does not, he can widen his political and social activism in and outside the CA. He should use his position to ensure that his party, the largest in the CA, delivers what it promised in its campaign—to promulgate the constitution within 2014. His own poster-less election campaign revolved around one main argument. In his campaign speeches, he repeatedly said that the Congress had “won at politics” by successfully bringing the Maoist rebels into the peaceful mainstream but lacked the number of seats to implement its agendas. It was too weak to pass a constitution of its preference. This time, the tables have turned. His party is in a relatively comfortable and better position to have a say on key issues. As an experienced lawmaker, Gagan Thapa can play a constructive role in prodding his party into action. Nonetheless, constitution-drafting is not a one man show. It is a group effort that demands careful coordination across conflicting ideologies and the ability to make uncomfortable compromises. Though seen as a symbol of change and representative of the aspirations of the young, Thapa is not an island of his own. He needs to win the support of the opposition for his party and take others into confidence. So 2014 may turn out to be the most important year in Thapa’s political trajectory. It might not make or break his career, but it will definitely shape it.
Failure to draft a constitution this time is not an option for the political class. It will not only inflict irreparable damage to the cause of promulgating a constitution through a CA but also crush any little faith people still have in politicians. As someone who aspires to lead the country someday, this is not what Thapa, more than anyone else, would want to see. So here is his chance. Gagan needs to take it.
This article was published in The Kathmandu Post’s New Year Supplement titled ‘Nepal in 2014’. The supplement was littered with advertisements. Therefore, this post unintentionally promotes Sagarmatha Cement and girls ‘fulfilling their desires…anytime anywhere’ too.