Holding a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in structural engineering, rapper Balen Shah seems to have been able to strike a chord with the younger generation of voters. The popularity of his songs and election promos on the internet proves this.
This is election time in Nepal. The local polls slated for May 13 are just about a week away. Local elections are taking place for the second time after the country adopted federalism five years ago. Election fever has gripped the whole country and Kathmandu is no exception. In fact, elections in Kathmandu always draw national and international attention simply because Kathmandu is not only the country’s federal capital but also the center of power in the country. Yes, that is true for even the new, federal Nepal!
This time, the election for the mayorship of Kathmandu has drawn a lot of attention. The candidacy of popular rapper Balen Shah who in December 2021 had announced that he would be running in the race for the capital city’s mayorship, has made it interesting. And trust me, with the elections just eight days away, it seems the candidates of even the major political parties are afraid of Balen and take him as a threat.
What UML candidate and two-time mayor of Kathmandu, Keshav Sthapit said recently will make it even clearer. “There is this kid called Balen Shah. He is an international fraud. Youths, please take note of the fact that he is not a Thakuri Shah of hilly origin. He is a Shah from Madhesh,” Sthapit, who has been accused of sexually harassing women, told a gathering of his party cadres earlier this week.
It seems Sthapit loves controversies and is a communalist, not necessarily a communist. Only a few days before making this communalistic statement, he had said to a girl who dared to question him in public for his alleged involvement in sexually harassing women, “You are a nice lady but you have a sharp tongue (tapaiko thutuno thik chhaina)!” Pointing to the daring girl Sthapit went on to ask, “Shall I get news reports published that say she is involved in prostitution?”
The videos of both these controversial and undeserving remarks are already doing the rounds on social media, drawing criticism. However, the aim of this write-up is not to focus on what Sthapit said but to expose why he said what he said.
First, the ‘thutuno chalaune’ saga. Sthapit knows that Nepal is still a largely patriarchal and male-dominated society where women have been traditionally ridiculed and lampooned for no reason by the male chauvinist pigs (MCPs) who make such statements just to make fun of women or to feel superior over them. Though Nepal has made a lot of progress in terms of gender equality over the past couple of decades, the country still faces a long journey to completely root out all forms of gender-based discriminations.
But what about the capital Kathmandu, arguably the most educated, civilized and aware city in the country? Hasn’t Kathmandu already freed itself from the filthy claws of gender-based discrimination? The result of the election for the mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City will go a long way to tell us if the answer to this question is affirmative.
Now, time for some light on why Sthapit stressed the fact that Balen Shah is not a Thakuri Shah hailing from the hills but a Shah from Madhesh. Does it really make a difference? Well, for Sthapit it seems it does. Because he thinks that the Nepali society still discriminates against Madheshis and other communities which have been on the margins historically.
This is most likely why no political party has fielded a candidate of Madheshi origin from a hill constituency while many candidates of hill origin from various political parties have won elections from Madhesh. Just to take a few big names as examples - Madhav Nepal has been fighting and winning elections from Rautahat. The Koiralas of Nepali Congress have been contesting in elections from Morang and Sunsari and winning most of the times. KP Oli himself fights elections from Jhapa. Pushpa Kamal Dahal himself contests from Chitwan. The late NC leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai contested in the parliamentary election from Bara and won after he was defeated from Kathmandu in two consecutive general elections.
These are just a few examples of some political heavy-weights of hill origin fighting and winning elections from the Tarai-Madhesh. There are many such instances involving the second-rung leaders of various parties. All these instances show that Madhesh has embraced and even elected politicians of hill origin. But so far, no political party – big or small – has fielded a Madheshi candidate in the hills. Nor any independent candidate of Madheshi origin has ever fought elections from a hill constituency, fearing defeat.
Balen Shah has dared to break this odd tradition by filing his candidacy for the mayorship of Kathmandu. Holding a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in structural engineering, he seems to have been able to strike a chord with the younger generation. The popularity of his songs and election promos on the internet proves this. But clearly, that alone will not be enough to win the election. He will need significant support from the older generation as well if he is to win the polls.
And let’s have no qualms about the fact that the older generation means the generation of Sthapit! What will the voters of this generation do? This question does not trigger a positive answer immediately. However, a fact that perhaps no one can ignore is Nepal has already picked a politician of Madheshi origin as its President, the head of state. Dr Ram Baran Yadav, the first President of Nepal, completed his five-year term without courting any big controversy. But we all know how the current President Bidya Devi Bhandari has fared on this front.
So, will Balen Shah who has won several rap battles win this battle for KMC mayor? Only time will tell.