Balen Shah: The Nepali Rapper Who Became Kathmandu's Mayor
Explore the inspiring journey of Balen Shah, from a Nepali hip-hop sensation to the Mayor of Kathmandu, and discover how he's making a lasting impact on the city's transformation and urban governance.
Balen Shah, known by his real name, Balendra Shah, is a prominent Nepalese figure who has left an indelible mark in various fields. Born on April 27, 1990, in Naradevi, Kathmandu, Nepal, Balen Shah is not just a rapper but also a structural engineer and a politician. His journey from the world of music to the realm of politics is nothing short of remarkable. Currently serving as the 15th Mayor of Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, Balen Shah's life is a testament to versatility and dedication.
Early Life and Education
Balen Shah's roots trace back to a family deeply connected to traditional Ayurvedic medicine. His father, Ram Narayan Shah, was an Ayurvedic practitioner, and his mother, Dhruvadevi Shah, hailed from a family in Dhanusha. Balen spent his childhood in Kathmandu but maintained a connection to his ancestral home in Mahottari's Ekdara Rural Municipality.
His educational journey began at V.S. Niketan Higher Secondary School, where he completed his 10+2 studies. Subsequently, he earned a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the Himalayan Whitehouse International College. His academic pursuits continued, culminating in a Master's degree (MTech) in Structural Engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU) in Karnataka, India.
The Emergence of a Rapper
While Balen Shah was immersed in his engineering studies, his heartbeat to the rhythm of music and poetry. In 2012, he took a bold step by releasing his first song, "Sadak Balak", which he had written back in the ninth grade. However, it was his appearance on the YouTube battle rap series, Raw Barz, in 2013, that catapulted him into the limelight of the Nephop (Nepalese hip-hop) scene. His lyrical prowess and stage presence garnered him a dedicated fan base.
A Leap into Politics
Balen Shah's involvement in politics was not just a whim; it was a culmination of his passion for social change. Before the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal in 2015, he was an active participant in the "We For Constitution" movement. His aspirations in politics were further evident when he initially expressed interest in running for the mayoral position of Kathmandu during the 2017 local elections, although he later withdrew his candidacy.
Mayor of Kathmandu (2022 - Present)
In 2022, Balen Shah decided to take the plunge into politics once again, this time as an independent candidate for the Mayor of Kathmandu. The decision proved to be historic, as he won the election, defeating candidates from established political parties. As the 15th Mayor of Kathmandu, he assumed office on May 30, 2022, marking a new chapter in the city's governance.
Initiatives and Challenges
Solid Waste Management: One of the foremost challenges he tackled was the management of solid waste in Kathmandu. He committed to resolving this issue permanently and encouraged public participation by segregating waste.
Demolition of Illegal Structures: Balen Shah took a firm stance on unauthorized constructions encroaching upon public property. His office issued notices and proceeded with the demolition of such structures, even in affluent areas.
River Conservation: He initiated efforts to uncover the Tukucha River, contributing to city beautification and river conservation.
Transparency and Nationalism: Balen Shah introduced live telecasts of municipal council meetings, enhancing transparency in city governance. He also advocated for nationalism and expressed his views on social media.
A Deeper Dive into Balen Shah's Journey
Balen Shah's Early Life and Passion for Music
Balen Shah's journey into the world of music and rap began at a young age. Born into a family with strong ties to Ayurvedic medicine, Balen's early exposure to diverse cultural influences in Nepal laid the foundation for his later creative endeavors.
He attended V.S. Niketan Higher Secondary School for his 10+2 studies, where he began to nurture his love for music and poetry. However, it wasn't until 2012 that he took a significant step by releasing his first single, "Sadak Balak," a composition that had its roots in his ninth-grade musings.
His passion for music and his commitment to self-expression found an even wider audience when he participated in the YouTube battle rap series, Raw Barz, in 2013. This platform catapulted him into the spotlight, earning him recognition among Nephop enthusiasts. His freestyle skills and lyrical prowess set him apart in the emerging Nepalese hip-hop scene.
Balen Shah's Academic Pursuits and Transition into Politics
Despite his growing success in the music industry, Balen Shah remained committed to his education. He pursued a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering at the Himalayan Whitehouse International College. His academic journey didn't end there; he continued to excel, eventually earning a Master's degree in Structural Engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU) in Karnataka, India.
While maintaining his commitment to education, Balen Shah also began to explore his interest in politics. His involvement in the "We For Constitution" movement before the promulgation of Nepal's new constitution in 2015 showcased his dedication to social change and his vision for a better Nepal.
In 2017, Balen Shah flirted with the idea of running for the mayoral position of Kathmandu during the local elections, signifying his growing interest in political leadership. Although he withdrew his candidacy at that time, it was a clear indication of his aspirations to make a meaningful impact on his city and country.
Balen Shah's Historic Mayoral Win and Vision for Kathmandu
In 2022, Balen Shah took the plunge into politics once again, and this time, his efforts bore fruit. Running as an independent candidate for the Mayor of Kathmandu, he emerged victorious, defeating candidates from established political parties. His win marked a turning point in the political landscape of Nepal, as he became the first independent candidate to hold the prestigious position of Mayor in the capital city.
As the 15th Mayor of Kathmandu, Balen Shah assumed office on May 30, 2022. His journey from a young rapper to the Mayor's office was a remarkable one, showcasing the power of determination, passion, and a commitment to bringing positive change to his city.
Balen Shah's Initiatives as Mayor
Since taking office, Balen Shah has been a dynamic and proactive Mayor, addressing key challenges facing Kathmandu and introducing innovative solutions:
Solid Waste Management: One of the most pressing issues he tackled was the city's solid waste management problem. Even before his election, this problem had led to protests from residents living near the landfill, who expressed concerns about its impact on public health. Balen Shah made a bold promise during his campaign to address this issue permanently. After assuming office, he visited the landfill site, Sisdol, to listen to the grievances of local residents. He emphasized that no election victory celebrations would take place until the waste problem was permanently resolved. His commitment extended to encouraging the public to segregate degradable and non-degradable waste, a crucial step in facilitating more effective waste management.
Demolition of Illegal Structures: Balen Shah took a strong stance against unauthorized constructions that encroached upon public property. In accordance with Section 11 (2) of the Local Government Operation Act, 2074, his office issued a 35-day notice to the occupants of these properties, urging them to adhere to the law. Subsequently, the mayor's office initiated the demolition of several structures located in affluent areas such as Hattisar and Durbar Marg. These structures included malls, pubs, restaurants, pharmacies, and other private properties, which were demolished within the first week after the notice period had expired. Additionally, Balen Shah's vision extended to uncovering the Tukucha River by demolishing private properties built above the river, as part of city beautification and river conservation efforts. However, this move faced legal challenges, as businesses affected by the campaign filed a writ petition in the court.
Advocacy for Law and Order: Balen Shah did not hesitate to take steps to ensure law and order in the city. He requested the Nepal Police to address issues related to police sub-stations constructed on sidewalks without proper authorization from the municipality. Moreover, his office had conflicts with the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal after removing construction materials, including wire fencing, on the grounds of Tribhuvan International Airport, which were built without proper approval from the city.
Slum Clearance and Riverbank Squatters: Balen Shah's tenure also saw efforts to address issues related to landless squatters on the riverbanks. His office issued a 7-day public notice to vacate landless squatters on the riverbanks, leading to conflicts between the residents and municipal police during the slum demolition attempt. These clashes resulted in several injuries. Balen later expressed his concern about the Home Ministry's perceived lack of assistance during the incident. This episode further highlighted the tensions between the federal government and the Kathmandu metropolitan office. Eventually, Balen directed the cessation of garbage collection from Singha Durbar, the seat of the federal government, as tensions escalated.
Transparency and Nationalism: Balen Shah introduced live telecasts of municipal council meetings, marking the first time such a practice was implemented in the city. This initiative received positive feedback and was praised for its commitment to transparency. As a political leader, Balen Shah has been an advocate for the idea of nationalism and has been vocal in critiquing mainstream political parties and the federal government. He often expresses his views on social media and has been known to avoid engaging extensively with mainstream press after being elected.
Balen Shah's journey from a young rapper to the Mayor of Kathmandu is a story of ambition, dedication, and a commitment to driving positive change. His impact on the Nephop music scene and his endeavors as a political leader have left an indomitable mark on Nepal. Balen Shah's work continues to inspire the youth and serves as a testament to the power of determination and multi-faceted talent.
As he continues to navigate the challenges of urban governance, Balen Shah remains a symbol of hope and change, embodying the spirit of a new generation of leaders in Nepal. His journey serves as a reminder that with passion, education, and dedication, one can transcend boundaries and make a lasting impact on society. Balen Shah's legacy as a rapper, engineer, and mayor is a testament to the extraordinary potential that lies within individuals who dare to dream and act on those dreams.