Jumping on the Hindutva bandwagonBereft of all ideological commitments, Nepali Congress has nothing to offer the electorate save its history.
History bears witness to the legendary forbearance and stoical resignation of Nepalis. The Ranas kept the country bound in the chains of subjection and superstition for over a century. Except for a democratic interlude of 18-months in 1959-60, the Shahs ruled in an autocratic manner for close to four decades after the overthrow of their Rana cousins.
Morphed into oneness with close kinship and nuptial ties, the Shah-Rana clan retained the country in impoverished and backward condition by design to strengthen their stranglehold over the state and society. People went about their lives with bowed heads and broken spirits. It’s extremely difficult to extricate oneself from the inherited custom of generations of slavery.
Perhaps that’s the reason respect for authority is so ingrained in the psyche of most Nepalis. Unlike elsewhere in the world, the public outcry against the ruling regime for its colossal mishandling of the pandemic is conspicuous by its absence despite the longest, most stringent and highly obediently observed lockdown in South Asia.
Mercifully, the days of dynastic succession are now past, and Nepal has formally been a democratic republic for over a decade. Nepali Congress seems to have finally realised that it’s no longer acceptable to publicly plead for the restoration of kingship of any kind. So a significant section of the grand old party has begun rooting for the next best tool of social control that the ancien régime had used successfully for centuries—readoption of Hinduism as the official religion.
The ruling party has its own discontentment with the controversial constitution. The erstwhile Maoists wanted a presidential form of government. Apparatchiks of the then Unified Marxist-Leninist campaigned for an all-powerful and directly elected prime minister. After coming together, paramount leaders of the Nepal Communist Party find that they are stuck with a hybrid statute of the parliamentary kind.
The charter came in the way of re-appointing Yubaraj Khatiwada as finance minister, and a roundabout way had to be devised to retain his services. The court has put ministerial ambitions of Bamdev Gautam on hold for now.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is also the indisputable Supremo of the ruling party and the unchallenged chieftain of the dominant Khas-Arya ethnonational group. However, he finds that even his redoubtable credentials aren’t enough to protect him from occasional censure.
If the dictatorship of the plutocrats that Supremo Oli seems eager to institutionalise in the name of dictatorship of the proletariat is to succeed, the charter has to be amended to serve the purpose of his political and diplomatic patrons. He will have little reservation in doing away with secularism to get the Nepali Congress on board in modifying the statute to suit his ambitions.
In choosing Narendra Modi as one of the 100 most influential people of 2020, Time magazine writes, ‘First elected on a populist promise of empowerment, his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party rejected not only elitism but also pluralism, specifically targeting India’s Muslims. The crucible of the pandemic became a pretence for stifling dissent. And the world’s most vibrant democracy fell deeper into shadow’.
Unlike the global appeal of the political economy of Beijing Consensus, Nepal is the only place in the world where the bigoted ideology of Hindutva holds any attraction. In fact, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the progenitor of the Hindutva campaign, was so enamoured by inherent charms of the Hindu kingdom that he envisioned in 1940 that its ruler might make ‘a bid for the Imperial throne of Hindusthan!’
Prominent members of the Shah-Rana clan have remained silent but ardent patrons of Hindutva politics in India as it progressed from being Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its various front organisations such as the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In addition to politicos, prominent professionals and influential technocrats in New Delhi seem to be under the impression that only the Hindutva ideology can wean Nepal away from the grasp of Xi Jinping Thought. All-round failures at home and humiliation of criticism abroad may embolden Prime Minister Modi to look for some succour in the neighbourhood to lift the spirits of his hardcore Hindu support base.
Adherents of the Hindutva ideology in Kathmandu fear that some European missions may come in the way of the declaration of the only Hindu republic of the world. However, such apprehensions have little merit. Avowal of secularism is even more pretentious than the adoption of socialism as the constitutional principle. For all practical purposes, Nepal remains a Hindu country where the state is constitutionally bound to protect cows and Brahmins (gau-Brahman pratipalak), which is the essence of Sanatana traditions.
Being a commercial empire, the Chinese couldn’t care less about the religious identity of its client nations. Pakistan is an Islamic state that prosecutes its own Ahmadis. Myanmar and Sri Lanka are militantly Buddhist. In addition to giving a moral high ground to Beijing that it doesn’t intervene in the internal affairs of any country, a Hindu Nepal will complement the rainbow coalition of supplicants of the Belt and Road Initiative in South Asia.
Befitting an alt-right and faux-left organisation that is wedded to the demagogic ideology of asinine xenophobia and jejune jingoism, the Nepal Communist Party would have had little hesitation in dumping secularism and embracing the religion of the majority as the founding faith of the republic. The problem, however, lies with the past of the ruling party.
Supremo Sharma Oli was baptised into Marxism-Leninism through the fire of Jhapali communists patterned after the Indian Naxalites. Even though the leadership consisted primarily of Bahuns, the Jhapalis radicalised the Buddhist Newars of the Kathmandu Valley and the animist Janajatis of the eastern hills. They have already tolerated the tyranny of Bahun hegemony for far too long. Formal adoption of Hinduism as the state religion might prove to be the last straw.
The newly christened executive chairman of the ruling party drew his political sustenance from the western and far-western parts of the country. Ostracised and oppressed for centuries, Dalits flocked to the Maoists in the hope of socio-cultural redemption. The Janajatis of the Rapti and Karnali belt dreamt of breaking the yoke of twice-born (Dwij) Hindus. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has already reneged on his promise to deliver social dignity, ethnic identity, political equality and economic opportunity to the minorities. It’s difficult for him to regress any further without inviting a backlash.
Howsoever they may desire, it isn’t easy for the largely Bahun and mostly male leadership of the Nepal Communist Party to disavow secularism altogether. Nepali Congress, on the other hand, finds it expedient to cultivate the Hindutva constituency, particularly in Madhes where it once held sway.
Bereft of all ideological commitments, Nepali Congress has nothing to offer the electorate save its history, which lost much of its lustre during the promulgation of the divisive constitution. The fascination of the Nepali Congress leadership with Hindutva deliverance is thus understandable, but it will push the party from the frying pan of oligarchic authoritarianism into the fire of theocratic anarchy.
Forced to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea, the future of the people of Nepal at this point looks as bleak as its past. Little wonder, the air of the country is currently thick with despair.