New changemaker

Manushi Bhattarai Photo: Vivek Bendre   | Photo Credit: Vivek Bendre

Politics is in her blood. Though no one forced her to be in politics, it is a family legacy that she has been carrying and really well at that. As the only daughter of Baburam Bhattarai and Hisila Yami — the first couple of Nepal's revolutionary movement — the only dream worth it is to see an equitable and progressive Nepal.

Manushi, in her early 20s now, has not had an ordinary childhood. From changing eight schools across three countries to becoming politically active at a very young age, to living with a separate name in India to hide her original identity, her life has been an adventure. “I still remember my mother being taken away when I was just three and was ill with high fever,” she says.

In a free-wheeling conversation, Manushi talks about her dreams, her journey in politics, her association with Arundhati Roy, her views on Nepal and India, the social problems, the youths, the glossiness and the dark side of India's development, her favourite Bollywood movies and much more...

At 24, you are a District Committee member of Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). You are also the first woman secretary of the Students' Union of Tribhuvan University. You are a Central Committee member of the All Nepal National Independent Students' Union (Revolutionary) as well. What drew you to politics?

I have been politically conscious from a very young age. The atmosphere around me has always been political. (Manushi's father is the former Finance Minister of Nepal). Though there was no pressure on me to enter active politics, I must admit that my parents' political background was a big influence. Entering politics was a conscious decision. The ongoing people's movements, armed struggle against existing inequalities, injustice drew me towards politics.

You became politically active immediately after Std X...

Yes. I was studying in India then with a separate name — Asmita Singh. I enrolled myself with the Forum for the Protection of Nepalese People's Rights in India. At first, my role was indirect in nature. I used to work with the organisation's magazine and write articles. Even today, I am the editor/publisher of a quarterly journal Raato Jhilko (Red Spark). Now am thrilled to be in Nepal and be a part of the active politics.

Give us an insight into your political activism and on the background of the condition in Nepal.

We, as a society, are going through the most significant phase in the history and development of Nepal — the transitional period. We have to answer important questions like what does a republic actually mean for the people? The rights of the people still have to be institutionalised. The UCPN (Maoist) has a very strong presence in the country, but at a political level, we are still struggling. I think a lot is at stake for our generation. We have already sacrificed a lot in terms of losing our near-and-dear ones. As the youth, we are the most affected by feudalism; the issue of unemployment touches us.

This is a period to focus on the institutional gains that we have made in the past decade to guarantee that they are not snatched away. We are committed to development. We want industrialisation and progress. We are also aware of the importance of our geopolitical location and our proximity to India and China. We want economic development and stability. A stable Nepal will also be in the interest of India.

People criticise us for using violent means, but we have to understand that, historically, the Nepalese society was not a peaceful one.

There was a lot of dissent and suppression among the majority. Our movement is only a response to the oppression of generations. In fact, we are the ones most committed to the peace process.

You have stayed and studied in India. Your political activism began here. And now your political aspirations are being nurtured in Nepal. How do you find both the countries?

I think the disparities in India are sharpening. I am aware of the growing middle class and the service sector. But can we forget the majority so easily? The glossiness for me does not shadow the dark part, the majority. The initiatives are being taken at a very slow pace. Though Nepal is not very developed, I find that the rural people and the women are lot more politically conscious there.

Belonging to a political family, you have been able to observe the politics of Nepal from close quarters. But what has your personal life been like?

My personal life has been inextricably linked to the public. My parents had to go underground soon after I was born. I was used to their absence from the beginning. When I was seven, my mother went to United Kingdom for her Masters in Architecture. She took me with her. Those were the two years I spent with my mother. We got to know each other during that period. She used to say, ‘I didn't know my daughter had such habits, that these were her likes/dislikes'. I did some of my schooling there. After we returned, both my parents had to go underground again due to the revolution.

For my education and safety, I was taken to India where I joined a small school at Pedong, Kalimpong in Sikkim. My parents would meet me in between. Since then, I have been on the move. I changed eight schools by the time I was in Std. X. Later I graduated from LSR College, Delhi. My father wanted me to do my post-graduation from Jawaharlal Nehru University, just like him. In fact, both my parents studied in India. It was here that they met. Arundhati Roy is my mother's friend.

Did you meet Arundhati Roy then?

Yes, I did. But we did not have any one-to-one interaction. At a time when no one knew who I was, she recognised me. I felt very inspired by her. She is very powerful vocally. She was very warm to me. She gave me her books to read.

How did you meet your parents amid all this?

Though not very frequently, we did meet. But more importantly, we were in regular touch. Both used to write long letters to me. I still have many of those. Whenever they came down to meet me, we went for movies. My father likes old Hindi movies of Dev Anand, Govind Nihlani, Shyam Benegal. We all enjoy entertaining cinema.

What is your favourite movie?

I like Tabu (actor). I used to watch her movies. We also liked “Munnabhai” and “3 idiots”.

What are your hobbies?

I like reading. In fact, that is what I miss the most. I don't get to read and write as much as I should. I am more of an activist now. I wish to go back to books and read the experiences of Latin America, Nepali books and novels.


Young Turks

VIEW FROM INSIDE Young politicos give us an insight into life in politics.

Karthikeyan V., 23,

Tambaram-29th ward Youth Congress President

He's from a family in which the last two generations have been in politics, so getting into it was not path-breaking. Yet it was a choice he made. Hearing of elections coming up at the local ward for the post of party president, Karthikeyan - encouraged by his friends - contested and won in April 2010. “Being a youngster, it is tough to get elders to take us and our propositions seriously, but with the right amount of persistence, we get things done. When the message is put across, higher officials also take it up seriously,” he explains. “Not many are aware of such opportunities for youngsters. Earlier that wasn't the case. People never thought of politics as a career option because of the lack of avenues.”

Speaking about the stereotype associated with being a ‘politician', Karthikeyan says “There's no point saying I want to be a clean politician and I want to make a change in society; you should show it in your actions and win people's confidence. As of now, I do not face such bias from my friends.”

M. Loganathan, 30,

13th ward DMK Youth Wing Joint Secretary

“It was for my love for Tamil and ‘Kalaignar' that made me join politics 12 years ago. I basically want to do social service and promote the cause of the Tamil language. Even though there are other venues to do that, politics gives me greater opportunity.”

Vishal Sinha,

Member, Legal and Human Rights Department, AICC

I am from Champaran, a remote village in Bihar and the site of the famous Satyagraha struggle. My grandfather was involved in that freedom struggle and worked closely with Gandhiji. I was greatly influenced by this. I wanted to participate actively in social work too. I was the National Secretary for N.S.U.I (National Students' Union of India) and currently I'm a member of the legal and human rights department of AICC (All India Congress Committee).

There are certain specific issues on which I want to work. The one I consider most important is equal reach of justice to every citizen. There isn't any lack of awareness, just a problem with channelising it. Someone who wants to enter this world has to be ready to make numerous sacrifices. You have to find the driving force within yourself, something that will encourage you to leave the comforts and luxuries of life. Running this country is all about managing contradictions; not just degrees from colleges that make good managers. We definitely need more young people.

Hassan J.M. Haroon,

former member of AICC, Tamil Nadu

Mine happened to be a relatively well off family. We did a lot of charity work and since then I wanted to enter politics so that I'd be able to make an even greater difference to the lives of the underprivileged.

To begin with, I wanted to contest student elections but couldn't, having crossed the age limit by two months. So I began to help and back people who could, youngsters with a passion and drive for politics. I also began to help my father, an M.P., with his constituency work. I work at the grassroot level, visiting villages, generating awareness about issues relevant to these areas. I will enter mainstream politics again.

I don't agree with the belief that the current generation of youngsters are not too keen on entering politics. There was a time that it was, but now people are driven and a lot of youngsters are entering politics. Most are inspired and encouraged by Rahul Gandhi. There is space for them now and, unlike once upon a time, you can hope to make a difference without having a political lineage or background in the family.



Game for politics?

NXg asked some yougsters if they would choose to enter politics and for their opinion about the field. Here's what they had to say…

Politics is not my cup of tea. So, a career in politics is not an option. I feel most politicians today are involved in corrupt activities rather than on improving our nation. People who really want to uplift the nation are not given an opportunity. I don't say all politicians are bad. I really look up to people like Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru. I want to work for the development of the nation despite corruption reaching its zenith. As a responsible citizen and young blood of the nation, I will do every bit to improve our country.

PRACHI N. SHAH, II Year, M.O.P Vaishnav College for Women

Every youngster has his/her views about politics and bureaucracy in this country, most of them negative and derogatory. I'm no different. Unhappy with the way things are in our democracy and the unending corruption among unscrupulous law makers, I too am of the opinion that the current generation has to step up and take the onus upon themselves to bring about a change. I would prefer not to join full time politics; at least not right now, because it's not the kind of profession and source of income that I envisage for myself in the years to come. But that doesn't rule out my being a part of India's progress ahead. With appropriate time and funds allocated to the right causes, every individual can make a contribution that would collectively matter at a macro level.

ARSH SHAH, II Year, B.Com and CA, pursuing Articleship at KPMG

Yes, definitely I would consider a career in active politics. Normally we always complain about the situation in our country, lack of infrastructure and the rampant corruption and blame it on the politicians, which is quite true. Becoming a politician will give me the power to take responsibility in my own hands and do what I want to make India reach its goal of becoming a developed nation. It's high time the youth became actively involved in our country's politics and relieve some or rather most of our ageing politicians.


A big NO would be my answer since the system itself is very slow and corrupted. The recent 2G and Commonwealth Games scams stand testimony to this. Also, everything moves at a snail's pace. Right from getting a peon's job to a license for steel plant, most of the payment is done under the table.

Practically speaking, it is very difficult for a single person to change the political scene. One way to change is by increasing the salary of the politicians. This may reduce corruption to a certain extent.

PAKSHAAL SHAH, II Year, Civil-Infrastructure Engineering, SRM University

Yes, I would like to get into politics which is usually shunned by today's youth simply to make a difference. We've cribbed and fretted over the system enough and to see some change I think it's now time to act! I have been exposed to the field of Chartered Accountancy for the last four years and resource administration in a massive country like India is something that has always kindled my interest. Better administration makes law stringent and less prone to exploitation of resource management.

PALANIAPPAN ALAGAPPAN, Completed Internship (CA)

Taking up politics as a career does not appeal in the first place. Politics is not a very popular career choice due to the extent of corruption that comes along with it. Though being a leader sounds fascinating and appealing ,no one in their right mind would want to be associated with a tag of being corrupt. Also the cut-throat competition in politics does not offer a fair chance. Politics has lost its competitiveness completely and the chances of a starter making it big look dull. I would find it very difficult to smile into the cameras and promise people to satisfy their every need. I sincerely feel it's high time experienced politicians retire so that the young blood can take politics to greater heights, seeing it only as a means to serve the public.

VIDYUTH KADIRESAN, Final year, Mechanical Engineering, SRM Easwari Engineering College

Active part in politics in near future, I find, is a crude consideration, as the game of politics in our country has its own rough and tumble. As an individual I would emphasise on ethical and moral values. I would bring about the change in manipulative motives of citizens who love to grab power. I would also insist on bringing student power into active politics; giving the young an active role.

AMITHA M., III Year, ECE, Rajalakshmi Institute of Technology

As told to GAURAV DANGI (II, B.Tech Nanotechnology, SRM University) and PRAVEEN IYER (Final year, Information Technology, Rajalakshmi Engineering College)

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 12:25:04 AM |

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