Piety and poison: the insidious spread of HindutvaThose flirting with the idea of a Hindu state need to look at how quickly India has changed.
Six years. Six years is what it took for a pluralist democracy like India to become an outright Hindu supremacist state. The mob violence committed upon New Delhi’s Muslims in the last week is an example of what happens when a state and its representatives tacitly and outrightly encourage violence in the name of nationalism and majoritarianism. India is nationalism gone haywire; a saffron-hued hydra that is built upon years of careful nurturing of hate towards its minorities.
India is a lesson in why such ideas must be nipped in the bud. Because fascism does not suddenly appear on your doorstep. Instead, it creeps up, slowly revealing its form under layers of deception. The first is to control the media, so that those who are supposed to tell you the truth only reveal one side of the story. India’s news television today may be a joke, but it remains the vanguard of Hindu nationalism. Then comes the rest: stoking the fires of history to create a feeling that history itself must be avenged; positioning a leader or a party as the only ones who can take the nation to greater heights, and all those who oppose them are traitors in the way; then standing by while an act of violence like a lynching is conducted far away from the living rooms of the middle class, thus normalising the rising polarisation and the violence against minorities; and finally, creating legislation that encourages segregation, so that those who oppose it are simply criminals, and must be treated accordingly.
India is also a lesson in why our infant republic must be extra cautious; for, beyond an extant population that is in awe of Narendra Modi and his BJP’s politics, some of our leaders are courting Hindu supremacists like Yogi Adityanath who has expressed his disdain for a secular Nepal several times. Secularism is being derided by urban middle-class parties with no ideological mooring and few principles, for whom the agenda of a Hindu state is conducive to taking the party beyond the cities. In any case, there is already an existing populace that believes secularism to be a ‘western’ agenda, as if republic Nepal has shunned the trappings that made it a Hindu state to begin with. After all, the President still presides over Hindu religious functions, and the popular protests against the Guthi bill were a signal the people will not tolerate any turmoil in the existing socio-religious order.
Despite that, the confusion surrounding what secularism means in Nepal—for example, does it mean the state will treat all religions equally, or that the state will not interfere in religion at all?—has given ammunition to its opponents. A question journalist Prashant Jha asked long ago comes to mind: ‘Is it right for the president to attend Hindu events? What if we have a Muslim or a Janajati president (who happens not to be a Hindu)?’ In this confusion, there is the prevalent theory that the current dispensation in New Delhi—backed by the RSS—would like to see the return of a Hindu state in Nepal.
Back in 2011, I’d met with individuals from the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the international wing of the RSS, here in Kathmandu. There were kids as young as nine practising their drills and praising Nepal aama’s greatness. At the time, the HSS demanded a return to a Hindu state, a ban on cow slaughter and a law that ensured only Hindus could be appointed to the country’s highest posts. Almost ten years later, individuals have been criminally charged for killing cows, and the constitution’s preference for sanatan dharma has pretty much assured the primacy of Hinduism at the top of the pyramid. Religious conversion has been banned. In a sense, the lawmakers have addressed Nepali Hindutva’s demands without doing so, and negated HSS’s feeble attempts at clustering the discourse into communal brackets.
I’d also argued at the time that in Nepal, Hindutva movements will target the Christian community here as the ‘other’ rather than Muslims. Such a pattern has continued. Opposition to secularism has converged around religious conversion and the spread of Christianity, albeit some South Korean Christian groups have received political backing. There is, of course, a pro-monarchy crowd that pushes the agenda of a Hindu state for no other reason than the belief that the king’s primacy will be restored in such a state; the worry for Nepal will be if anti-secularism and pro-monarchy ideals come to align. However, because of the opposition to a monarchy (despite many in Kathmandu believing otherwise, the country does not want the king to return), the anti-secular crowd will find it difficult to mobilise the population if it aligns itself with the raja lyau desh bachau crowd.
The irony in Nepal is that the current social structure—one in which Hindu upper-caste men from the hills dominate—is itself a safeguard against Hindutva’s insidiousness. For, the Hindutva ideology draws support from the idea that Hindus have been weakened in a society in the name of secularism and minority appeasement. What Hindutva supporters seek is a return to a utopian Brahminical hierarchy, where only the ‘right’ minorities can find a place, and where history is ‘righted’ to reveal the ‘wrongs’ committed upon Hindus. It is an ideology that thrives on perceived emasculation, essentially.
However, such social stratification is already prevalent in Nepal. The Hindu caste hierarchy here has not been eroded by social justice movements based on Ambedkar and Periyar’s ideas as in India. Minority appeasement is barely an issue here (with existing discriminations based on class, gender and religion already prevalent), and our lawmakers continue to push the asal Hindu-sthan narrative of Nepal through Mahendra nationalism. The continuation of such a status quo will mean Hindutva proponents will find it difficult to penetrate Nepali society as widely as it has in India, where such imagined wrongs have been permeated in society since even before Indian independence. And finally, if Nepali Hindutva gathers enough numbers to make a point, it needs to be labelled as an Indian construct and import to whip up anti-Indian opposition to it.
In politics, when all else fails, leaders turn to religion. That is exactly the scenario the Nepali Congress and the Sajha Party have found themselves in, hence their flirtations with anti-secularism and the RSS’s Hindutva. Perhaps saner heads within their own parties will be able to suppress such instincts; perhaps not. But Nepal needs to be wary of Hindutva’s poison, with or without such short-sighted politicians.
Remember, six years is all it took for India to mutate into a Hindutva state.
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