On April 6, actor Bhuwan KC announced that he would be standing for mayor of Kathmandu in the May 13 local elections, only to withdraw his candidacy days later. It has been over a decade since KC first expressed his interest in politics. He had also toyed with the idea of contesting the Constituent Assembly elections from CPN-UML in 2013.
KC tells ApEx he changed his mind about running for the mayor’s race this time after the Unnat Loktantra Party publicized his name as a candidate without his consent. But KC says he does plan on joining politics someday. Currently, he is not associated with any political party.
“Parties are using politics as a tool to either serve their own agendas or the interests of small groups. I want to join politics to address the problems of ordinary people, ”KC says.
In the view of sociologist Ramesh Parajuli, unlike Nepal, India has a long history of celebrities winning elections, even holding ministerial posts.
In India, there are scores of celebrities — from actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini to cricketers like Gautam Gambhir and Kirti Azad — who have joined politics to various degrees of success. This trend seems to be catching on in Nepal as well. Karishma Manandhar, Rekha Thapa, and Komal Oli are among the Nepali celebrities who have joined politics.
Some Nepali political parties have started actively courting celebrities. But whether they can transform their charms into votes is an open question.
In 2017, celebrated BBC journalist Rabindra Mishra contested parliamentary elections from Kathmandu Constituency-1. He lost to Nepali Congress candidate Prakash Man Singh by a narrow margin of 819 votes. But he comfortably came second, way ahead of candidates from CPN-UML, Maoist Center, and other more established parties.
Currently, no party seems as interested in bringing celebrities on board as UML.
On March 22, actor Manandhar joined the party amid fanfare. UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli himself welcomed her. In her remark, the actor said she was not going to bargain for any post in the party, and would be happy to serve as an ordinary cadre. UML hopes her stardom will help it pull some votes.
Since joining the party, Manandhar has attended quite a few events with Oli.
Popular folk singer Komal Oli is arguably the most successful celebrity-turned-politician in Nepal. She too joined the UML a few years ago and went on to become a National Assembly member.
After serving as a member of the upper house of federal parliament, she is now preparing to contest parliamentary elections from Dang Constituency-3.
Prakash Chandra Pariyar of Sajha Bibeksheel Party says there is certainly added charm when celebrities run for elections.
“Our old mainstream political parties have failed to deliver, so people gravitate towards new faces. And with celebrities, people can connect, ”he says. “Celebrities with new vision and vigor could bring about some much-needed social changes. People want change. ”
Celebrities’ embrace of politics could also help change common public opinion that politics is no more than a dirty game.
“If more celebrities join politics, we can minimize such a mentality, creating a positive atmosphere for all politicians,” says singer Oli.
Still, Nepal has a long way to go before a celebrity here can be a successful politician. It is still hard to imagine celebrities winning direct parliamentary elections. But why?
“What you see in India is that some of its celebrities represent language and cultural politics — that is not so in Nepal,” says social commentator Hari Sharma. With India’s gargantuan population, they invariably attract large followings. You do not see the same kind of mass fan-base in Nepal.
“Usually, celebrities who want to succeed politically should have a solid social and cultural foundation but our celebrities lack such a foundation,” Sharma adds. “So I do not see our celebrities turning into successful politicians.”
Sociologist Parajuli says it is relatively easier for celebrities to join UML because it is a cadre-based party, and there is also some possibility in Madhes. “In the case of other hill- and mountain-based parties, it is not easy to contest and win elections,” he argues.
Echoing Sharma, Prof. Ram Krishna Tiwari, head of the Central Department of Political Science, agrees that it is difficult for Nepali celebrities to establish themselves in politics.
“Ours is a highly politicized society, from the center to the grassroots,” says Tiwari, “and as such people tend to follow established politicians instead of new celebrity candidates.”
Tiwari adds that Nepali celebrities who are currently in politics also have no good vision.
Speaking on behalf of celebrities, both actor KC and singer Oli are skeptical about the commitment of political parties to ensure greater representation of celebrities in their ranks.
“As the election season draws close, politicians approach us and seek our help in their campaigns. But we are forgotten soon as the elections are over, ”KC says. Arguing that Nepali political parties discourage the entry of celebrities into politics, KC laments the lack of realization on the part of political parties that “we are known and established faces who have won the hearts and minds of millions.”