US report: BJP pays politicians to lobby for Hindu NepalPro-monarchy and pro-Hindu groups in the country dismiss the Department of State claims as baseless.
The latest report of the US Department of State has said right-wing religious groups associated with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been providing funds to influential politicians of all parties in Nepal so that they speak in favour of Hindu statehood.
In its International Religious Freedom Report-2022, the State Department, quoting civil society sources, stated that some politicians associated with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party have been using anti-Christian sentiments to garner populist support.
The report touched on various discriminatory practices being observed in Nepal, particularly against Christians, Muslims, Tibetan refugees and other religious minorities.
“Civil society leaders said influence from India’s ruling party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and other Hindu groups in India continued to pressure politicians in Nepal, particularly the RPP, to support reversion to a Hindu state. According to NGOs and Christian leaders, small numbers of Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) supporters endeavoured to create an unfriendly environment for Christians on social media and encouraged “upper-caste” Hindus to enforce caste-based discrimination at local political rallies,” reads the statement.
The RPP advocates restoration of Hindu statehood and monarchy that Nepal overthrew in 2008. The US report did not identify the civil society leaders who claimed that India’s BJP has been funding Nepali politicians to advocate the restoration of Hindu statehood.
The report adds: “Civil society leaders said what they characterised as right-wing religious groups associated with the BJP in India continued to provide money to influential politicians of all parties to advocate Hindu statehood.”
Sagun Sundar Lawoti, a RPP spokesman, responded that the claims regarding the RPP were baseless. “We are surprised to see such a biased report from a friendly country like the US,” he said.
The report itself is abstract and vague, Lawoti commented. “We have no knowledge of anyone receiving money from foreign forces like the BJP. The report quoted some civil society members, but who are they and how can they make and prove such allegations?” he said.
Some other individuals who have been vocally campaigning for restoration of Hindu state in Nepal also dismissed the US claims about Indian funding. Dipak Adhikari, the chief of the national campaign of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh Nepal, a foreign offshoot of the BJP-affiliated Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), told the Post that the US report is baseless.
No social organisation, political party or individual leader in Nepal gets donations from India’s BJP, claimed Adhikari, adding, “this is a totally baseless claim.”
“There is no relation between the BJP and Nepali political parties and social organisations when it comes to restoring Nepal as a Hindu state. Maybe the Americans are trying to influence the Indian general elections scheduled for next year. They want to see the BJP out of power,” said Adhikari.
Christian religious leaders continue to express concerns about anti-Christian sentiments of the royalist/monarchist RPP, which seeks to reestablish the country as a Hindu state, the report claimed.
The report goes on to claim that Christian groups report difficulties operating as nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and multiple religiously affiliated organisations reported increased challenges when renewing or registering their entities in 2022. Christian groups said they faced difficulties in buying or using land for burials, especially within the Kathmandu Valley.
The report, while giving references of human rights groups, NGO activists and others, also highlighted the problems being faced by various religious minorities and Tibetan refugees. In one chapter, the report stated that in February, an informal parliamentary group in the United Kingdom issued a report saying that freedom of religion is under threat in Nepal because “criminal laws are being excessively used or abused against persons because of their religion or belief.”
[US] Embassy officers continued to highlight how anti-proselytism and conversion laws could be used to arbitrarily restrict the right to the freedoms of religion and expression and worked to ensure the safety and fair treatment of US citizens accused of religion-related crimes, said the report.
They repeatedly emphasised with government officials the importance of bringing legislation and practises in line with the country’s constitutional and international obligations. Embassy officials continued to engage with religious leaders and representatives from civil society groups to discuss concerns about the prohibition against “forced or induced” conversion, discrimination, attacks on social media, inflammatory rhetoric by Hindu nationalist groups, and access to burial grounds, said the report, adding that the US has been working to protect the rights of religious minorities in Nepal.
The report also highlighted the problems being faced by the Tibetan refugees living in Nepal.
“The government (Nepal) allowed Tibetan Buddhists to celebrate nonpolitical events including Lhosar (Tibetan New Year), the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and other religious events, but with the stipulation that they celebrated in small numbers within refugee settlement compounds.”
“In a departure from previous observances of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, government authorities did not prohibit the display of the Dalai Lama’s portrait as the highest spiritual leader and former head of the state of Tibet. The ambassador and visiting US government representatives, including the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, met with government officials to express concern regarding restrictions on the country’s Tibetan community, which is majority Buddhist,” said the report.
Uzra Zeya, the US under secretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights, who is also a special coordinator for Tibetan issues, had visited Nepal in May last year and met with Tibetan refugees while visiting in the Tibetan refugee camps.
“The [US] embassy used social and traditional media platforms to promote respect and tolerance, communicate religious freedom messages, and highlight the country’s religious diversity. Embassy outreach and assistance programs continued to promote religious diversity and tolerance,” the report says.
Police surveillance of Tibetans and the number of security personnel monitoring Tibetan cultural and religious celebrations markedly decreased from 2021, the report says, citing members of the Tibetan community in Nepal.
“Knowledgeable Tibetan observers said this was due to the government’s more relaxed posture, compared to its predecessor’s, towards Tibetan refugees’ cultural and religious expression. Unlike at the March Lhosar celebration, however, local media were reportedly not allowed to cover the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebrations. The ambassador and visiting US government representatives expressed concerns to political leaders and senior government officials from multiple ministries about restrictions on the country’s Tibetan community, which is majority Buddhist.”
During her Nepal visit last May Zeya had raised concerns with Nepali officials regarding religious freedom of the Tibetan community. She had also met Tibetan leaders to discuss challenges faced by their community in Nepal.
Meanwhile, the State Department’s annual report was also highly critical of persecution of India’s religious minorities like Muslims and Christians, urging the country to stop ‘continued targeted attacks’ on them. In response, spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi said such reports are “based on misinformation and flawed understanding.”