The fire of Hindutva upsurgeThe combustible mixture of religion and politics is likely to widen the gulf between different communities.
In the lunar calendar of Bikram Sambat, the month of Poush is called Kharmaas and is considered to be an inauspicious month. But Poush is thought to be propitious for political adventures as it is also the month of Lord Vishnu, the wiliest deity of the Hindu trinity. Perhaps some calculative astrologers had advised King Mahendra to stage the royal-military takeover on December 15, 1960, the first day of Poush in BS 2017. The day is etched in the memory of almost three generations of Nepalis as Putsch Ek, the first coup in modern history.
Loyalists of the Shah dynasty from the thar-ghar aristocracy, a few remnants of the ancien régime and some ambitious urbanites of the White Shirt variety have turned Poush into a month of jingoistic nationalism. The burst of xenophobia and chauvinism in the guise of nationalism begins with the veneration of King Mahendra's statue at Durbar Marg on the day he strangled the nascent democracy. The nationalistic fervour continues with the adoration of King Birendra at Jawalakhel Roundabout on his birth anniversary. Apart from conferring post-facto legitimacy upon the power-grab of his father through the referendum in 1980, he is remembered as the king whose "reign began in absolutism and ended in uneasy partnership with democracy".
The zealotry reaches a crescendo with Prithvi Jayanti that eulogises the victorious ruler of Gorkha who forcibly amalgamated various principalities and created what he called "Asali Hindusthana" with Nepal Valley as its capital. It is conveniently forgotten that the original version of the royalist national anthem prayed for "Great victory to we Gorkhali, let's always keep control over Nepal, with bravery". The entreaty of Gorkhalis has been amply rewarded. The nobility from the House of Gorkha and their supplicants continue to exercise hegemonic control over polity and society. Little wonder, all ethnonationals want a national holiday on Prithvi Jayanti.
In the month of Poush, the chauvinistic eruption over a statement that Indian actor Hrithik Roshan never made drove the wedge between Pahadi and Madhesi communities deeper into the psyche. Neo-nationalists of social media have since invented yet another day in Poush to flaunt their ethnic hubris: The so-called "International Dhaka Topi Day" to be marked on the new year of the Gregorian calendar. The combustible mixture of religion and politics, patterned after the Hindutva ideology in India, is likely to widen the gulf between the different communities of Nepal, and worsen the drift in governance.
From the outside, the political sphere of Nepal appears to be washed in the crimson of revolutions. The Nepali Congress continues to swear by socialism, and its Chairperson Sher Bahadur Deuba currently heads the coalition government. The United Socialist Party, the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the People's Socialist Party are alliance partners of Prime Minister Deuba. The main opposition party in Parliament calls itself United Marxist-Leninist. Like several ideologues of the United Socialist Party and the Maoist Centre, senior cadres of the UML have been trained in Xi Jinping Thought by Chinese experts. The most vocal members in the legislature belong to the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party that publicly avows its admiration for the Juche ideology of North Korea.
There is another pigment that binds almost all mainstream political parties—the yellow of ethnonationalism. Put together, the progressive red and conservative yellow produces the orange tint of reactionaries. With the possibility of a vertical split between pro-monarchy and pro-Hindutva forces, the political platform of Panchas appears to be losing ground. However, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party's religio-centric ideology of Hindutva centralism—"One Country, One State, One Legislature, One Executive" in the rhetoric of MS Golwalkar of Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh—has been mainstreamed.
The royal nationalism of the Panchayat years that insisted on homogenising the country through "one language, one costume and only one ruler in the domain" was re-invented in 2017 through "Oliological arguments" that are neither logical nor illogical but purely obdurate. The demagogic populism of neo-nationalism plays upon the inherent xenophobia of a country widely perceived by its people as weak. It incites jingoistic fervour to oppose federalism, contest inclusion and detests secularism. The Moditva template of governance adds crony capitalism, strongman leadership and intolerance of criticism to the fundamental Hindutva ideology. Despite anti-Indian postures of the political class, the lure of Moditva is proving to be almost as strong as fascinating promises of Xi Jinping Thought once was.
The success of the Chinese experiment in political economy has shown that a totalitarian government has to eliminate market competition to institutionalise state capitalism. The crony capitalism model requires a slightly different but similar process of centralised control: A combination of ethnonationalism and majoritarian authoritarianism in politics, almost complete reliance on remittance in the economy, and the manufacture of imagined glory of the past in culture produces eagerness to consume demagogic populism of the alt-right in Nepal. Former Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, the ethnonational chieftain of the combative section of the Khas Arya community across party lines, sees no contradiction between delivering Marxism-Leninism rhetoric and ad libbing Hindutva slogans. Lapsed Maoist Pushpa Kamal Dahal retains the idea of centralised control but has greedily embraced saffron politics of multibillionaire marketer Ramdev.
Alarming as they are, the affinity of Bahun politicos with Hindutva ideology isn't entirely surprising. Reaffirming existing prejudices, inciting collective narcissism and glorifying an imagined past are some of the proven ways of rising fast in politics. A section of the Nepali Congress, too, has been consistently harping upon the Hindu Rastra theory without realising that it is inherently incompatible with its plan of democracy, socialism and nationality. The caste-hierarchy intrinsic to Hindu Rashtra is antithetical to the four pillars of republican aspirations—equality, liberty, fraternity and secularity. Socialism, even of a diluted variety, requires putting the state above the religious authority of priests and preceptors of the faith. The concept of civic nationalism in a culturally multi-national society cannot survive with the majoritarian steamroller of hegemonic uniformity.
According to census data and updated estimates, almost 14 percent of Nepalis are Dalits, a little over 35 percent are Janajatis, nearly 5 percent are Muslims, and more than 1 percent are Christians. Many other Hindus toiling in distant lands have to learn to eat meat traditionally forbidden in the Hindu faith. In such a diverse population, it makes no sense to ban beef and criminalise cow slaughter in the name politics of Sanatan Dharma. India is going through the twin processes of 'Kashmirification' and 'Gujaratification', institutionalising a rigid police state and intolerance of diversity. Arzoo Rana Deuba is free to dress in saffron and call upon her "Rakhi brother" Vijay Chauthaiwale. There is nothing wrong in Premier Deuba's attending the annual Vibrant Gujarat jamboree. But Nepali politicos need to be careful in playing with the fire of hate-based Hindutva and militant Islamism in the South Asian neighbourhood.