In a surprise turn of events, Balendra Shah, the 33-year-old winner of Kathmandu’s mayoral election in May 2022, has made it to TIME magazine’s prestigious 2023 TIME100 list. Shah, known for his distinctive black-and-gold sunglasses, emerged as an unlikely but inspiring leader, and his journey has captured the hearts of many in Nepal’s capital.
Balendra Shah, armed with a master’s degree in structural engineering, took an independent route in his political journey, relying on social media platforms such as TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram to rally voters disenchanted with the status quo. His campaign ignited what is now referred to as the “Balen effect,” a phenomenon that propelled 385 independent candidates to victory over established politicians during last spring’s local elections.
The seismic impact of the 2015 earthquake still lingers in Kathmandu, and Shah’s campaign addressed the city’s pressing needs with simplicity and urgency: efficient waste disposal and sanitation, access to safe drinking water, well-maintained roads, and the delicate balance between preserving cultural heritage and pursuing urban development.
Since assuming office, Mayor Shah has embarked on a series of transformative initiatives:
1. Waste Management: Balendra Shah’s administration has tackled Kathmandu’s persistent waste management issues head-on. Key initiatives include optimizing landfill sites and announcing plans for the separation and proper disposal of nondegradable waste, contributing to a cleaner and healthier environment for the city’s residents.
2. Cultural Preservation: Mayor Shah envisions a Kathmandu that harmoniously integrates modernity with its rich cultural heritage. His leadership seeks to ensure that historical sites and traditions are preserved and celebrated, fostering a unique blend of old and new.
3. Access to Clean Water: Addressing the challenge of safe drinking water, Shah’s administration has undertaken projects to upgrade the city’s water supply infrastructure, guaranteeing residents reliable access to clean and potable water.
However, Shah’s tenure has not been without its share of challenges and controversies. The demolition of illegally constructed buildings, while aimed at fostering responsible urban development, has sparked debates over its impact on marginalized communities and the urban poor. Critics argue for a more nuanced approach, considering the complexities of urban development in a city with a distinctive historical fabric.
Balendra Shah’s remarkable journey, from an unconventional independent candidate to TIME’s 2023 TIME100 list, reflects the influence of citizen engagement and the pivotal role of social media in contemporary politics. As he guides Kathmandu towards a promising future, his leadership will be closely monitored for its transformative potential and its effects on the lives of the city’s diverse populace.
The “Balen effect” endures as a symbol of change and hope, epitomizing Kathmandu’s pursuit of progress while preserving its cherished cultural identity—an intricate balancing act that Mayor Balendra Shah is committed to achieving on a global stage.