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How ‘Hindu’ is ‘new’ Nepal?

A badly mismanaged transition phase in Nepal’s politics is coming to an end. But there is no clear exit from the disorder yet

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Updated: July 25, 2015 1:25 am
Nepal, Hindu state, Nazma Khatoon, Hindu monarch, hindu monarch, Nepal Hindu, iecolumnist, The Indian Express Despite being called a “Hindu state” in the constitution since 1962 with a “Hindu monarch”, the old Nepal was a more liberal society, tolerant of all faiths, although with strict laws against conversion.

Nazma Khatoon, a member of the Constituent Assembly (CA), put on a riot helmet before she occupied a chair to solicit public opinion on the preliminary draft of the constitution on Tuesday. Khatoon took the necessary precaution as top leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal and Prachanda had faced public fury a day earlier, having to be rescued by security forces. People are divided on both the content of the draft as well as the manner in which public opinion is being solicited, with just 48 hours allotted to it.

An overwhelming majority wants Nepal declared a “Hindu” state. This deals a near-fatal blow to the radical agenda imposed by the forces that have come to power since April 2006. India had mediated a settlement between the Maoists and seven other parties, bringing them together against the direct rule of King Gyanendra. The euphoric parties had thereafter refused to seek a larger public debate on crucial issues and unilaterally declared, in a phased manner, that Nepal would be federal, secular and a republic. Due process was not followed when these radical changes were made. The international community, led by India, had readily endorsed these changes, little realising that the direct involvement of the people was the best guarantee for institutionalising the changes.

In fact, these nine years of change have been the most intolerant phase in Nepali politics, when anybody asking for democratic norms and respect for due process and dissenting voices was branded “regressive”. It was practically an eight-party dictatorship in Nepal, which had a brute majority in the CA and yet failed to deliver the constitution. A CA member having to wear a riot helmet shows the level of distrust between the people and their leaders. Public lack of trust in the constitutional draft is likewise growing in the same proportion.

Despite being called a “Hindu state” in the constitution since 1962 with a “Hindu monarch”, the old Nepal was a more liberal society, tolerant of all faiths, although with strict laws against conversion.

But the parties that assumed power in 2006, Nepal’s foreign donors, the international community and civil society appeared to be swayed by the argument that if Nepal had to become a republic, its “Hindu” identity must be done away with. The idea of secularism was never debated. Moreover, the West, international NGOs and some UN organs openly advocated the right to conversion as an integral part of secularism. Then British Ambassador Andrew Sparkes had to resign when the Nepal government reprimanded him for his open letter to CA members to lobby for the right to conversion. This episode had also demonstrated the unwarranted extent of engagement foreign diplomats had with the constitution-writing process, which fell squarely in the sovereign sphere of Nepal’s people. The international community had earlier extended its support also to “ethnic federalism”, which implied breaking Hindu groups into “ethnic units” to demarcate provinces. With Nepal’s political parties now completely discredited, Hindu groups, together constituting more than 85 per cent of the population, have become vocal in sharing their perception that they are being divided and persecuted. The “new and progressive” Nepal now needs to settle the question of religion and its role in politics, including constitution-writing.

The undue involvement of outside powers on the issue of secularism seems to have brought hitherto unorganised groups together, demanding the restoration of Nepal’s Hindu status. “Why are outsiders being allowed to speak their mind and extend monetary, diplomatic and political support to secularists, and why are we, the people of Nepal, not being allowed to have our say?” asked Kumar Regmi, a constitutional lawyer and member of the Nepali Congress, who has now joined the national campaign for a “Hindu” Nepal.

If the matter is taken to a referendum, the outcome is easily anticipated. Ignoring public sentiment, which has now been clearly articulated, will further discredit the failed constitutional process. This seems to be the end of a badly mismanaged radical phase in Nepali politics, but without a clear exit from the mess the actors, domestic and foreign, have created.


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More From Yubaraj Ghimire
  1. Lawrence Latchman
    Feb 20, 2016 at 9:26 pm
    That's terrible, your no different from radical islam or a cult if there is no right to conversion, people should be free to choose to believe what they want so long as that belief isn't violent, you can't have that without the right to convert and the right to convert is not forced to convert. You're pretty much holding a gun to everybody's head to keep them from leaving the faith. This is pretty much the hindu version of Shariah law, sad, no wonder Nepal is so poor.
    1. T
      Apr 13, 2016 at 12:09 am
      You're absolutely incorrect, in Nepal there are diverse people with diverse religions, there has never been a religious riot in Nepal. I know several Hindus who converted to Christianity, several Muslims to converted to Hinduism and so on. Talking about Nepal's wealth and calling it poor, visit it first and see, we have respect for each other in society and we all live in peace.
      1. Anirban Ghosh
        Aug 24, 2015 at 8:26 pm
        I like Nepal to become a Hindu State with strict policy on Conversion by Foreign Religion.
        1. Bibek Chhettri
          Jul 28, 2015 at 11:57 am
          Mr Yuba Raj Ghimire, I think you should join Bajrangi Dal or VHP - not as general member but as trident-wielding one - instead of polluting opinion spaces of newspapers like The Express. You have turned Annapurna Post into a miserable trash and you are constantly misusing the Express platform to vent your frustration about the political changes in Nepal. An "overwhelming majority" in favor of Nepal as Hindu state? How did you measure? Where's your "due process" here? Perhaps you are the only genius in the world who argues political uprisings and big political changes ought to follow "due processes".
          1. B
            Bihari Krishna
            Jul 25, 2015 at 7:48 pm
            The problem has its roots in Delhi providing safe haven to the Nepali Maoists as they went through their killing spree for a full decade between 1996 and 2005, and then, engineering the 12-point accord that emboldened them so much as to impose secularism on the Nepalese society. Otherwise, it has been the Hindu beliefs and practices that have shaped Nepal's overall societal milieu for millennia and have provided the basic philosophical moorings for the people and the essential principles for statecraft even as it also evolved with the capacity to embrace and relate with ethnocentric distinctiveness in terms of their own beliefs and practices in the country. This Hindu pattern of living has successful and painlessly coexisted in Nepal with two major religions of the world too, the Buddhism and the Islam, the former even mutually sharing the pantheons to considerable extent. When Nepal's politics became amenable to foreign tampering, mainly at the hands of mindless meddlers in Delhi and the politicos hosted and promoted by them, the international imperialistic religious brigade could buy their way into the consution making process in Nepal leading to the present chaos. Three compensatory imperatives stand out for India to right the wrong. First, overall, New Delhi must exercise judicious discretion while dealing with Nepal with the overriding aim to help the Nepalese live in peace. Secondly, due to current chaos, China is now much more active in Nepal and we do not want Nepal to be turned into a battleground between these two major powers. Therefore, India must positively respond to the recent Chinese overtures to consult with each other for their mutual support for Nepal. And finally, due to international meddling, the Nepali politicians are now used to look up to foreign support for their ascent to and longevity in power with no sense of accountability to their own voters. Just about every single politician in Nepal is a corrupt man (or woman) today. The international community must help change the polity in such a way that these crooks are forced to disappear from Nepal's political firmament once and for all.
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