In the history of Nepali politics, university students have played an important role in the country’s revolution. There is a long history of student unions’ involvement in politics in Nepal, which dates back to 1960. In various stages, while fighting for democracy, the students stood as the powerful medium to revolt for change.
It is evident that with the help of the students, the political parties were able to propagate their values and their future programmes. Since then, student leaders and organisations (student unions) have been a part of every political movement led by parties allied to them.
So, in the general elections this weekend, are the student leaders associated with various political parties working for elections or simply paving their own path for the future in politics?
Student leaders and unions in election
Currently, almost all government colleges have units of student unions supporting various political parties. While their roles in academic institutions are often criticised as they are frequently seen demonstrating and protesting in colleges and vandalising property, they become more active during political campaigns of their mother parties. It is hence apparent that the student unions have a significant role to play in the run-up to the elections.
Sunita Baral, the chairperson of All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), the student wing of the CPN-UML, says that the students associated with her union are preparing to make the elections free and fair. As such, the union has deployed their students in all the voting booths to play a supporting role in making security strong.
The ANNFSU has formed an election mobilisation committee of 11,111 members. “Likewise, in coordination with local governments and the Election Commission, we also conducted a voter education programme in different parts of the country,” she says.
Dujang Sherpa, the president of the Nepal Student Union, the student wing of the Nepali Congress, also agrees with Baral. He says the union’s central committee has deployed its leaders as volunteers in all 165 federal constituencies and 330 provincial constituencies. “We have also recently completed a Mechi-Mahakali tour to promote voter education,” says Sherpa.
He informs that the NSU even conducted a campaign to make people aware of their voting rights.
According to him, in rural areas, people are interested in election campaigns but they are unknown of the voting procedure. They do not know how to vote and whom to vote for and get confused about ballot papers too, she says.
However, in urban areas, the public is well-literate about the voting procedure but is less interested in casting a vote. He says the student unions can play their roles in both situations.
Like the ANNFSU and NSU, the National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), the student’s wing of CPN-Unified Socialist, is also working on promoting voter education, says Ashok Thapa, the deputy secretary-general of the union.
Students and student organisations can play an instrumental role to educate people about their voting rights and help them choose the best candidates, according to union leaders.
According to Thapa, their role during the elections becomes even more essential at this moment. “In addition to urging people to vote for our candidate, we urge them to exercise their voting rights by voting for the persons of their choice.”
However, experts feel that the student unions are still unaware of their significance in the elections. According to political analyst Jagat Nepal, the ideal job of a student union, particularly during the elections, is to educate people about the election and its significance.
They should have run several programmes to encourage election literacy. However, he has not found them doing so.
“They are entirely busy canvassing votes for their parties and candidates close to them,” he says, “To do so is their compulsion as well. ”