By Ram Khatry
23 December 2018
If you are a Nepali expatriate keen on politics back home, you would have noticed one development plain and simple: only the leftists are stepping up to check the re-emergence of Hinduism as the country’s state religion and the smouldering rumour about the rise of some form of monarchy.
There is no doubt the last king of Nepal has lately been active in networking – both within and beyond Nepal. Hindusim as the South Asian nation’s state religion, the other side of the same coin so far as its monarchy is concerned, is simultaneously gaining momentum.
Nepal Communist Party leadership is clearly concerned and have voiced its displeasure at the heightened activities of both Hindu-Nepal supporters and royalists (including the ex-king himself). The communist leadership is so much on edge that recently co-chairman of the party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, made headlines by protesting against the king’s private party pictures splashing in the local media. According to a vernacular news website, Mr Dahal warned Nepali Congress that it would face self-destruction if it engaged in politics of religion. He accused Nepali Congress of trying to destroy the very “pillar of change” (the establishment of secular republic).
Prime Minister KP Oli himself, as recently as last Friday, alluded to Gyanendra Shah’s current visit to Pokhara to warn against any attempt to subvert democracy.
However, Nepali Congress, one of the five major parties that unitedly and peacefully fought against the king leading to his eventual dethronement in 2008, is completely silent both on the king’s activities and the demand for a Hindu state. What is more, a significant number of the members of its general committee (Mahasamiti) are now reported to be in favour of a Hindu state – a line which is ferociously being pushed by the outspoken Rastriya Prajatantra Party boss Kamal Thapa.
The complete silence on the last king’s cross-country activities and the open internal debate about Hinduism – two intertwined subjects in the Nepali context – do suggest the oldest political party of Nepal is increasingly finding itself on the opposite end of the principles that were the edifice of the 2006 democratic movement.
Australia-based Nepali media expert Dr Bharat Raj Poudel agrees few notable leaders of Nepali Congress are openly engaged in the debate about establishing Nepal as a nonsecular Hindu state. “However, this is yet to convince party workers as a matured and viable school of thought given the fact that the party itself led the secular constitution drafting process not long ago.”
Dr Poudel further remarked that if this debate gains ground then it might influence upcoming general convention of the party. “However, to win the next election, Nepali Congress might use Hinduism as a trump card. The current list of collected signatures of more than 30% of the Mahasamiti members (to declare Nepal a Hindu state) may not bring about any immediate changes in the party line. The subject has to be dealt very carefully otherwise uncertainty and confusion will hover over Nepal once again. Instability might arise without complete implementation of the current federal system,” he warned and added, “On the other hand, the influence of Indian politics in Nepal, as always, would begin to resurface. The message from the recent five state elections in India may have less impact in this discourse if the current opinion gets momentum in the upcoming general election.”