The pedagogy of spiritual secularitySecularism is necessary to secure the fundamental freedoms of the downtrodden.
It is business as usual in what was once celebrated as the city of temples, valley of gods. Buddhist shrines and Hindu temples still dot the cityscape, but their presiding deities seem to have gone up to the mountains to escape from the corrupting influence of realpolitik in Kathmandu.
Restored for the second time through a judicial verdict, the Pratindhi Sabha has done little else in over the past year other than electing a deputy speaker. Parliament is yet to resolve the impeachment motion against suspended Chief Justice Cholendra Shamsher Rana. Startling revelations of the rot in the judiciary have failed to break the slumber of the legislature.
The less said about the shenanigans of the federal government the better. Serious charges of budget leaks against the then finance minister Janardan Sharma have not been taken to its logical conclusion. He had allegedly tweaked tax rates under the influence of lobbyists.
When the line that separates one branch of the state from another begins to blur, political parties are expected to debate its implications, take a clear position and inform the public of their decisions through the media. Almost all political parties of Nepal have been reduced to being mere platforms for contesting elections.
The Young Turks of the dominant party in the ruling coalition as well as the main opposition have collectively failed to reform—let alone dislodge—the capricious, dated and dictatorial politicos from their leadership positions.
The surviving signatories of the 16-point conspiracy seem to have forgotten that other than the republican system, almost every provision in the contested statute needs to be justified through public campaigns to increase their acceptability. Chief Minister of Madhesh Province Lal Babu Raut has been pointing out since September 2018 that the federal government has been treating provinces like "an unwanted baby". He repeated the same charge at the Kantipur Conclave in Janakpur. Not even the chief ministers of the other six provinces have taken the trouble to corroborate his expositions.
In the midst of all this confusion, the second most important leader in the ruling coalition was in New Delhi discussing party-to-party relations between Maoist radicals and Hindutva fanatics! Snafu is an acronym in Americanism that describes a state of utter confusion behind apparent normalcy—"situation normal, all fouled up". The expression captures the directionless pandemonium of governance—six cabinet reshuffles in a year—like no word in any of the local languages.
It is never easy to modernise governance anywhere in the world. The United States is still struggling with political concepts such as equality between the races, the liberty not to bear a child or the idea of the state having complete monopoly over instruments of violence. A century after the veneration of the “two gentlemen” of the May Fourth Movement—Mr Science and Mr Democracy—the Chinese have not yet been able to get rid of entrenched elitism, and even Mao failed to destroy the “Four Olds” despite the tyrannies of the Cultural Revolution.
The most startling illustration of the power of tradition is India’s rapid descent into the darkness of the regressive politics of Hindutva. In a country where Turks, Afghans, Persians and Mughals ruled for over a millennium, and which is home to the third largest population of Muslims in the world, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party has no Muslim member in Parliament.
What is even worse, nobody seems to be ashamed of the fact that the most diverse and multi-national country in the world is headed towards an oxymoron—a Hindu theocracy. Hinduism has no holy book with a monopoly over the revealed truth, no hallowed messenger of God and no priesthood with the divine right of interoperating the scriptures.
The concept of blasphemy is alien, and nothing like an apostate exists in the family of faiths known as Hinduism. One can be an agnostic, an atheist, a sceptic or even a heretic, and still be free from any fatwa or strictures. Caste groups exercise the traditional authority of social boycott through archaic practices such as “hukka-pani band”; but no guru of Shakta, Shaiva, Vaishnav or Vedant has the power to throw someone out of the sect. Renouncement is the privilege of the believer.
In the materialistic tradition of Lokayat, perception is the only source of true knowledge. It rejects afterlife, liberation, scriptures and immortality. Despite opposing everything that the Sanatanis venerated, sages of Sanatana Dharma accepted Rishi Charvaka as their equal. The ideology of Hindutva is a political project drawing its inspiration from European fascism. It has nothing to do with the flexibility of faiths within the Hindu family.
In times of uncertainties, the lure of fascism is strong. The open border, cultural similarities and social bonds between India and Nepal offer innumerable advantages. The downside of the close relationship is that the power elite of Nepal adopt methodologies of the Indian establishment pretty fast to entrench their control.
The clamour in the mainstream politics that Nepal be declared a "Hindu" state is getting its fuel from three principal sources—the nostalgia of the permanent establishment in Kathmandu, the tactic of opportunistic politicos and the insidious propaganda of the Indian media and society. The risk of Hindutva politics being enormous, it is necessary for Nepal to remain steadfast in its resolution to be a modern republic that is federal, democratic, inclusive and secular.
In a skilful manoeuvre of concerted disinformation, the idea is being propagated that the hegemony of Hindus in Nepal is under threat from Arabic Islamists, European Christians and godless communists of China. Such propaganda against secularism sounds too much like geopolitical gas lighting to check the influence of Washington and Beijing in Kathmandu.
Secularism is necessary to secure the fundamental freedoms of the downtrodden in a caste-bound society where hierarchy in the social order is bequeathed rather than acquired. Secularity offers ideological, intrinsic and instrumental advantages to a nascent republic trying to modernise its society, culture, economy and politics.
Ideological goals are easiest to list. Unlike the French concept of laïcité that seeks to eradicate all religious symbols from public life and produce an uniform citizenry, secularity implies complete freedom of religion, no preference for the faith of the dominant majority and the primacy of humane concerns. Secularism is thus the central and inalienable feature of a democratic state.
The intrinsic advantages of secularism in a multi-national state are no less compelling. Most Dalit and Janajati traditions permit eating beef which is anathema to some Hindus. Vaishnavs are vegetarians while Shakta worship is often incomplete without ritual sacrifice. Vaishnavs visiting Kathmandu for the first time are startled when they see eggs being broken upon the trunk of Ganesh, a ritual that perhaps dates back to animistic practices.
In an economy drawing its sustenance from remittances, the risks of religious dogmatism do not need enumeration. Islamic states employ millions of Nepali workers. Donor countries and lending agencies are staffed by people of multiple faiths. It makes little sense to antagonise them just to please Hindutva zealots.
The Nepali polity has chosen the noble aim of becoming secular. The idea needs to be constantly propagated to widen and deepen its acceptability in society.