Modi 2.0 and its potential effects on NepalFor all its imperfections, Nepali society is not as bigoted and divided as India.
Late last year, at a family gathering in Pokhara, one of my relatives chastised me for my social media posts critical of Narendra Modi and his government. What'd irked the relative, even more, were my posts appreciative of Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, the fireband JNU student leaders whom the Indian government and a section of the media termed 'anti-national'. I'd essentially become a member of the much-despised 'sickular gang', the 'tukde-tukde gang', the 'Khan market gang' or the 'anti-national gang' although, in the last instance, I'm not sure what it means for a Nepali national to be 'anti-national' in India.
I'd failed to understand, my relative told me, the significance of Narendra Modi for Nepali society and politics. On being asked to elaborate, he said Modi was the only leader who had consolidated the Hindus of the subcontinent and shown the Muslims 'their place'.
Clearly, the Hindutva bug had gotten the better of him. He must feel vindicated now, with Modi's return with a mandate greater than that of 2014 and Kanhaiya Kumar's being shown the door in his electoral debut. Even as the Indian electorate reposes its faith on Modi and the BJP, there are a section Nepalis that feel euphoric at the prospect of a staunch Hindu leader at the helm of affairs in India. But then there is perhaps a greater section of Nepalis that is once bitten twice shy due to Modi's appointment of S. Jaishankar, who in 2015 as the Foreign Secretary landed in Kathmandu to halt the promulgation of the constitution, as external affairs minister.
We'll have to wait for some time to get a sense of how Modi 2.0 will be different for Nepal. But if there's a lesson already to be learnt from Modi 1.0, it is how not to run a country. The recent election, in which 43 percent of the elected parliamentarians face criminal charges, has also shown the dark underbelly of contemporary India, where the politics of fear-mongering and minority bashing, the hallmark of the BJP government in the past five years, is directly proportional to the electoral gain. What else can explain the massive gain in the BJP's vote share in an election that came after five years of relentless neglect of farmers' distress, the twin economic disasters of GST and demonitisation, and unemployment reaching a 45-year high?
Experiments with untruth
Elections generally bring out the worst of politicians, as they escalate the offensive against their competitors for raking up votes. Things get back to normal once the elections are over. But the 2019 electoral battle, arguably the most heinous in Indian history, has left an indelible blot on India's democratic legacy, and here's how.
The Election Commission, earlier considered one of the most unimpeachable of India's constitutional bodies, lost its moral authority as it bent over backwards to the ruling party's favour. The Commission remained a mute spectator even as political parties, especially the ruling BJP, repeatedly violated the model code of conduct.
The BJP's mainstreaming of Pragya Thakur, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case, while exposing Modi's double speak on terror, also showed the BJP's growing confidence in its campaign of militant Hindutva. Thakur's nomination and eventual victory bring to full circle the mainstreaming of militant Hindutva it initiated, earlier in 2017, by appointing Adityanath as chief minister in Uttar Pradesh. With Thakur's mainstreaming also came the mainstreaming of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi. Godse, often labelled as the first 'Hindu terrorist' of Independent India, no longer remains a taboo as television debates this election season focused on Godse versus Gandhi, with panellists often praising the former for 'heroism' and 'patriotism'. Together, Thakur and Adityanath now shadow the bigotry of the party's founding fathers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani.
Narendra Modi in the immediate aftermath of the electoral victory acknowledged the atmosphere of fear and mistrust minorities are living through in 2019. Vote bank politics has created this fear, he said, ‘thereby keeping them aside, keeping them repressed, and only using them during elections. In 2019, I am coming to you responsibly with a certain expectation.’ Although Modi's own party has been the biggest creator, and benefactor, of this fear mongering, his speech brought about hope that he would take the lead in shunning fear mongering and focusing on building trust across communities.
But that was not to be. On May 25, the same day Modi spoke of protecting minorities, gau rakshaks thrashed three Muslims over ‘beef rumour’ in Madhya Pradesh. A day later, Right-wing activists removed the skull cap of a Muslim man in Gurugram, eventually thrashing him for refusing to chant Jai Shree Ram and Bharat Mata ki Jai. Even as Modi retreats to 'mute' mode, the Right-wing vigilante juggernaut is back on Indian streets with full force after a brief electoral lull. The protection of minorities in India will just remain wistful thinking if Modi fails to rein in on the 'cow vigilantes' raiding Indian streets, homes and kitchens.
What, then, would be the significance of Modi's rise as the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ of the subcontinent? Would the imaginary ‘Hindu khatre mein hain’ (Hindus are in danger) narrative so well internalised by the Indian electorate ring true in the case of Nepal? For better or worse, there is, as of now, a negligent Muslim population in Nepal, unlike in India, for an exact replica of the BJP's modus operandi. But that is no assurance that our leaders won't find a formidable 'enemy' to pit themselves against should they wish to follow a politics of hatred. If we are to look for enemies, there are plenty to be found even within our homes. The point, therefore, is not whether antagonistic communities can be exploited for electoral gains but not to follow divisive politics.
Contrary to popular belief that Modi's massive victory will embolden the Rastriya Prajatantra Party to push harder for Hindu Rashtra, it is the Communist Party of Nepal, especially the KP Oli faction, that might look to do a Modi in Nepal. The past year of Oli's rule has seen a poor copy of Modi's modus operandi—be it in controlling of mass media, the exhortation of his cadre to chase his critics like hornets, and curbing of media and free expression. A Modi-style politics of disenfranchisement of minorities, which KP Oli flirted with briefly in the run-up to the 2017 elections and thankfully seems to have deserted now, is no ideal to follow.
For all its imperfections, Nepali society is not as bigoted and divided as India. Despite the obvious electoral gain to be made for the short term by divisive politics, we'd do well by focusing on a politics of cross-sectional solidarity, affectivity. Failure to do so would be to invite doom upon ourselves.
Kafle is a Nepali translator based in New Delhi