Project HindutvaThe blockade shows Indian displeasure at Nepal not being declared a Hindu state
It is evident by now that one of the reasons for the current Nepal-India imbroglio is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s disgruntlement over ‘some’ top Nepali leaders failing to live up to their promises, particularly those made to him right before the promulgation of Nepal’s new constitution. One of them, purportedly, was to declare Nepal a Hindu Rastra in the constitution if possible; and if not that, not to call it a ‘secular state.’ Neither of the two promises was fulfilled.
The official position India has maintained is that “Indian government does not have any position on Nepal being secular or Hindu Rastra, but ‘some’ groups or forces might have wished so.” The group is Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the force is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament. It is, therefore, neither a trivial nor fringe ‘wish’. Since its inception 90 years ago, the ideological bastion of the RSS has invariably been a fiercely guarded Hindutva, with ‘selfless service to motherland.’ The BJP in its current form is, in fact, a political offshoot of the RSS. The overarching influence of the RSS, thus, is evident both in the rhetoric and functioning of every BJP government. The two prime ministers the BJP has so far installed in New Delhi—Atal Bihari Bajpayee and now Narendra Modi—are devout cadres of that paramilitary outfit, the RSS.
Hindus to the fore
Its founding fathers termed the RSS a civil movement aimed at promoting cultural nationalism based on Hinduism. The fuel for such promotion largely emanates from the notion that Hinduism is the most inclusive and oldest among the faiths, yet the most scientific, which allegedly makes it superior to all other religions. MS Golwalkar, who became the head of the RSS in 1940, defined Hindus as including Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, tribals, untouchables, Veerashaivism, Arya Samajis, Ramakrishna Missionaries and others as a community. In later years, organisations such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Dharma Jagaran Samiti, Bajrang Sena, among others also promoted the cause of a rather radical form of Hinduism, akin to RSS principles.
It is no longer a secret that the RSS, with the help of the BJP in power at the centre, is keen to declare India a Hindu Rastra. Ever since Modi became prime minister, he has made a deliberate attempt to seek recognition of Hindu practices, culture, scriptures and symbols from world leaders and international fora. He gifted copies of the Bhagwat Gita to his global counterparts. He observed a full nine-day Navaratra fast while he was a state guest at the White House last year, and most prominently convinced the UN General Assembly to set a date for World Yoga Day with almost instant success. As if that was not enough, he invited visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a follower of Buddhism, to Dashashwamedh Ghat on the banks of the holy river Ganga at Varanasi for evening prayers and ‘aarati’ last month. The religious significance of this event is utterly clear. Modi perhaps wanted to reinforce the RSS interpretation that Buddhism is a mere supplemental bloc to all-encompassing Hinduism.
The acrimonious debate triggered by none other than the ruling BJP in the Indian Parliament on the constitutional relevance of secularism and socialism surely impregnates some potentially explosive transformation in the Indian socio-political landscape. The recent epiphany of ‘akhanda Bharat’ (an undivided India), some determined steps to build a Ram Temple at a disputed site in Ayodhya and the proposal for ‘a cultural federation of unions’ of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are some indications of the direction in which the BJP-RSS thought process is heading. This regardless of whether such grand projects will actually materialise in the foreseeable future. However, putting all these aspects together, it can be safely argued that a ‘Project Hindutva’ is in the offing in the subcontinent, determinedly and decisively.
Scenario in Nepal
Against this backdrop, it is but natural for the Indian prime minister to expect Nepal to continue her identity as a Hindu Rastra (as an extension of the earlier epithet of Hindu Kingdom). Also, after the first draft of the constitution was released to the public for feedback, more than 80 percent of the opinions collected nationwide supported retaining the Hindu Rastra status. Despite this, the Nepali political leadership did not dare to incorporate the same in the new constitution. But there was a catch which Modi did not take into due consideration. Since the Madhes Andolan of 2007, the concept of Hindu Rastra had been despised as being one of the three instruments of Nepalisation of Madhes (the other two being monarchy and Nepali language). Arguing for a Hindu Rastra was construed as advocating for a revival of the abolished monarchy. In this sense, India’s moral support for the Madhesi cause and expectations of Nepal reverting to a Hindu Rastra is apparently paradoxical.
For the last eight years, South Block has supported the agenda of secularism, though tacitly. Leaders of Nepal’s major political parties and Madhesis alike invested a lot of time and energy to convince their rank and file to discard the idea of a Hindu Rastra. But when the BJP formed the government in Delhi, the position of the Indian establishment made a 180-degree turn with regard to a Hindu Rastra. Nepali leaders could not keep pace. Whatever the reason, it was too late for Delhi to ask for a U-turn. India mounted a blockade of an inhuman nature against Nepal for non-compliance with this belated advice.
Weighing the options
Whatsoever, Nepal undoubtedly missed an opportunity to retain its unique cultural-religious identity as a Hindu Rastra. This is not to conclude that retention of the Hindu Rastra status would have positioned Nepal better to reassert her sovereignty. Regardless of whether Nepal will be able to implement her secular constitution or not, the Hindutva undercurrent is sure to gnaw at Nepal. Had the Hindu Rastra identity not been diluted, it might also have retained an edge of dignity of being the only or first among such states. But Nepal will only remain a shadow of a perceived large Hindu empire, if that materialises at all.
The RSS-BJP design and ambition of overpowering all existing religious sub-groups may not leave space for a much needed nuanced debate on the strengths of Hinduism (understood differently than Hindutva), of the sort advanced by the nuclear physicist Dean Brown or Sir Meghnad Desai in his book, ‘Who Wrote Bhagwat Gita?,’ Project Hindutva in its emerging guise has all the force and ingredients of becoming hawkish rightwing politics in the subcontinent. This will have a significant bearing on the diplomatic, security and economic priorities of the BJP-led India as the crusader of the project, the precursor to which is being experienced by Nepal now. In any case, Nepal has no alternative but to weigh its options vis-a-vis Project Hindutva that has just begun to unfold.
Wagle is a former editor of Arthik Abhiyan, an economic weekly