The Himalayan landlocked country, Nepal, is bordered on three sides by India encompassing it with its 1770-kilometre border. While China shares a 1390-kilometre border with it only on the north side.
Being declared a secular country in the 2015 Constitution of the country, there is a more salient rise in the use of religion for politics and identity in a country otherwise constitutionally secular but having a Hindu majority of 82 per cent followed by Buddhists, Muslims, and other followers of the religions in the country.
In the last three months of August, September, and October of 2023, the federal government of Nepal was compelled to impose curfews in the different parts of the country due to law and order situations.
The reason was the communal tension between Hindus and Muslims in the country. Muslims were protesting over a social media post which they claimed was posted by some Hindu extremists ridiculing the Nepalese Muslim. As a show of muscle, Nepalese Hindus also rallied against the Muslims who are in the minority.
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The former Maoist guerrilla leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal more commonly known by his nom de guerre, Prachanda, the coalition government had no option but to recall paramilitary forces for the restoration and maintenance of peace and order in the turbulent parts of the country.
India being the neighbouring and most populous country with a Hindu majority in the region sees the surging of religion-oriented nationalism in Nepal as a strategic asset that could be used to leverage more power and influence for New Delhi in the region.
The leader of the Nepal Janata Party (NJP), Khem Nath Acharya, visited India in August and met with the BJP chief, J.P. Nadda, vowing to make Nepal a Hindu Rashtra for Hindus.
Found in 2004 NJP has been struggling to revive Hindu nationalism and turn constitutionally secular Nepal into a religious and Hindu-based country, Rashtra, a Sanskrit word meaning ”nation”.
The rich and elite strata of society are now leaning more and more towards religion and its political use for their identity-based politics making other minorities of the country uneasy and uncomfortable.
The two consecutive landslide victories of the BJP and Modi in India have served as thumping to the Nepalese Hindu nationalists seeking to challenge if not entirely erode the secular credentials of the country.
Traditionally, a Hindu monarchy governed by a “warrior king ” or Kashtriya king as was called, had to face guerilla-type attacks by Maoist insurgents trying to change the political structure of the country for themselves and other ethnic and religious minorities.
However, their decade-long guerilla attacks from 1996 to 2006 with a total death toll of more or less twenty thousand persons from both sides ended with a peace pact in 2006.
The only gluing force that joined them was their shared belief and struggle to weaken and change the political and constitutional structure of Nepal from a Hindu monarchy or “Hindutva” to a secular, federal and republican type.
However, the process of secularization is not as simple and an off-on option as it is considered to be.
The ambiguity in the framing of the new Nepalese Constitution provides too many lacunae for hand-wrangling and misinterpretation. The country is secular but the slaughtering of cows, the most revered animal in Hinduism, is punishable.
An interesting point is that historians report that the banning of cow killing in Nepal was imposed as recently as 1805 by King Rana Bahadur Shah to show his virtuosity and staunchness being a true follower of the religion.
Nonetheless, the decade-long civil war and destruction brought all the stakeholders to the table talk to discuss some way out and integration of the country, a mixture of more than 125 ethnic groups at the time of the new constitution in 2015.
Hindus being in the majority did not feel any difference after the promulgation of the new constitution, the minorities, being in 20 percent, saw it as a success and getting more space for themselves.
But like all other developing democracies, the new democratic political system of Nepal was not free from blemishes and problems.
The most rampant disease of underdeveloped countries is malpractice and corruption.
The failure of democracy to deliver could be seen in the foxiness of the Nepalese ruling elite, for which they were charged and tried in June 2023.
At least 875 Nepalese were rubbed by them for making forged documents for their entry into the USA under the pseudonyms of Bhutanese refugees.
The case has been quoted as a pinch of salt to show the abysmal and dismal condition of Nepalese having no links or access to high-ups for doing their work even if they might be legal and genuine.
This sterility of the newly emerging Nepalese democracy diverted the masses to look to something else that may act as a saviour for their ails. Thus, giving space for their resurgence and reappearance in the national politics of Nepal.
That’s why in the general elections held in November 2022, the Rashtriya Pranjantra Party (RPP), a right-wing political party believing in Hindutva or Hindu nationalism led by Rajendra Lingden, won 14 seats in the House of Representatives giving them a decisive power in the coalition government of Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
As is common in all political setups, emotionalizing voters for one reason or another is a most used tactic, Nepali politics are, too, not immune from this.
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The hammering down of the belief in the general masses by political demagogues that Nepali is a Hindu-majority country and that we, the Nepali Hindu, have full right to choose and decide whatever system and setup we want is the new phenomenon in a constitutionally secular country.
Nepal with 147,516 square kilometers of area has always been a utopian Hindu monarchy for the Indian Hindu extremists, governed by Hindus who have never been invaded by any foreign non-Hindu force like the Indian subcontinent had been done in past.
This sentimental political situation in the domestic politics of Nepal made other mainstream political parties cautious about their political future and the cost they would likely have to pay for this rising Hindu-oriented identity politics.
The late prime minister of Pakistan, Miss Benazir Bhutto, once referred to such lurking dangers in any society by pointing out that the failure of a political system to uplift and develop the lives of its participants creates a vacuum which is then finally filled out by the extremists and dictatorial forces!
This is what happening in Nepal to a varying degree now.
Recovery from the Setback
The steers of the Indian BJP, a political front of Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh (RSS), see their Nepali counterpart, NJP, as a strategic asset for them.
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When Nepal was declared a secular state with the abolishing of 240-year-old monarchy on 28 May 2008, the Indian extremists saw it as a setback for their cause.
They actively supported their Nepali cousins, and their cousins too did not despair them.
The former Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, was the first communist who worshipped in the temple in Kathmandu in January 2021. The present one, Pushpa Kamal Dahal in his June 2023 visit to India, did a “magnified” worship in a temple at Ujjain, India.
However, the internal cast and ethnic differences within the Nepali society may amplify the potency of this Hindutva or Hindu nationalism in the country.
Both like and dislike
Some contradictory factors that may quietly contribute to slowing down the rising movement of Hindu nationalism in Nepal are the dislike for the New Delhi regional aggrandizement which even the Nepali Hindu nationalists abhor.
Moreover, there is no readily available minority group in Nepal like India that has to be scapegoated for Nepali Hindu nationalism or Hindutva. The country was purely ruled by the Hindu monarchy and the majority
Before it was declared a secular one in the 2015 constitution.
This condition is wholly opposite to that of the Indian one.
The situation may be tense for the new fledgling secular and democratic set-up of Nepal, but uncertainty is the refuge of hope!!!