Dilem­mas of Hindu state­hood

People's Review - - COMMENTARY - By Maila Baje

The mo­men­tum the Hindu state­hood agenda seemed to have gained against the back­drop of the Uni­ver­sal Peace Fed­er­a­tion-spon­sored Asi­aPa­cific Sum­mit at the be­gin­ning of the month slack­ened with the de­feat of In­dia's rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in key state elec­tions. Osten­si­bly buoyed by the pub­lic's re­vul­sion at the gov­ern­ment's overt sup­port of a con­tro­ver­sial Chris­tian or­ga­ni­za­tion's ini­tia­tive, Nepali Congress gen­eral sec­re­tary Shashank Koirala urged the na­tion to ad­dress the is­sue of restor­ing Nepal's Hindu iden­tify through ref­er­en­dum. Al­though his com­ment was not new, it prompted Ras­triya Pra­jatantra Party Nepal pres­i­dent Ka­mal Thapa to pro­pose joint ac­tion with the Nepali Congress. A fort­night later, on the eve of the Nepali Congress' cru­cial ma­hasamiti con­fer­ence, the BJP lost key state elec­tions seen as a bell­wether for next year's na­tional elec­tions. Al­most on cue, Koirala stepped in to clar­ify that he had never sug­gested that Nepal be de­clared a Hindu state again. In the changed at­mos­phere, Ut­tar Pradesh Chief Min­is­ter Yogi Adityanath's much­hyped trip to Janakpur be­came just an­other re­li­gious visit. Thapa, for his part, hasn't quite budged from his an­nounce­ment that the RPPN would launch a de­ci­sive cam­paign for the restora­tion of Hindu state­hood. To be sure, he finds him­self in the per­fect place. In power, the RPPN was too in­con­se­quen­tial to make a dif­fer­ence. In op­po­si­tion, it is too in­signif­i­cant to heat up the streets. Thapa has ac­knowl­edged that the RPPN blew the chance Nepali vot­ers gave the party in the 2013 con­stituent as­sem­bly elec­tions. In that sense, its de­ba­cle in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions last year was de­served. Still, keep­ing the Hindu state­hood agenda alive helps Thapa keep his party alive. His ad­vo­cacy of restor­ing the monar­chy re­mains tepid, which gives Pashu­pati Shamsher Rana and his Ras­triya Pra­jatantra Party fac­tion solid points for po­lit­i­cal scrupu­lous­ness. Rana wants to re­des­ig­nate Nepal as a Hindu state be­cause an over­whelm­ing part of the pop­u­la­tion pro­fesses the faith but re­tain the coun­try's repub­li­can char­ac­ter. The Nepali Congress, how­ever, has a more ar­du­ous job. Hav­ing helped to le­git­imize the Uni­fied Marx­ist Lenin­ists as well as the Maoists dur­ing the post-2006 years, the party was late in re­al­iz­ing that the com­mu­nists no longer needed demo­cratic crutches. Demo­cratic so­cial­ism need not nec­es­sar­ily be in­com­pat­i­ble with overt es­pousal of Hin­duism, as the Chris­tian So­cial­ists in Europe at­test to. Still, re­li­gion puts the Nepali Congress in risky ter­ri­tory. When the party re­mained wed­ded to con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy, its link with Hin­duism was an­cil­lary. For a party that had to re­sort to the cre­ative am­bi­gu­ity of a comma in the 1990 Con­sti­tu­tion on re­li­gion and state­hood, full-blown em­brace of Hin­duism would be, well, a gi­ant leap of faith. And we haven't even started ad­dress­ing the more ele­men­tary is­sues of­ten re­counted in this space. Can the mere fact that the ma­jor­ity of Nepalis hap­pened to be born Hin­dus be ex­trap­o­lated to mean that the state's char­ac­ter should be des­ig­nated as such? Sure, most Nepalis are Hin­dus. But didn't they vote re­sound­ingly three times for par­ties ex­plicit in their sec­u­lar af­fir­ma­tion and ori­en­ta­tion? And don't of­fi­cially athe­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions to­day hold the largest num­ber of elected seats? Then, there's the in­evitable ques­tion of the monar­chy. Granted, not ev­ery Hindu is a monar­chist. (Nor can ev­ery sec­u­lar­ist be deemed a repub­li­can.) But when you start talk­ing about the restora­tion of Hindu state­hood, you have to con­sider the in­di­vid­ual/ in­sti­tu­tion needed to of­fi­ci­ate such a state. True, our pres­i­dents have presided over Da­sain and other re­li­gious ob­ser­vances with ad­mirable gusto. (This year, the pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter seemed to have been car­ried away by their zeal.) But the pres­i­dent is do­ing so un­der a sec­u­lar dis­pen­sa­tion. A Hindu state would have very lit­tle room for either in­sti­tu­tional ten­ta­tive­ness or the va­garies of an in­di­vid­ual's tem­per­a­ment. A Hindu re­pub­lic by def­i­ni­tion won't have a king, who has tra­di­tion­ally sol­em­nized Hindu state­hood. We also would lack a bada gu­ru­jyu and mool puro­hit. We do have the mool bhatta at Pashu­pati, but, then, we al­ready want some­one more indige­nous there, don't we? Maybe Yogi Adityanath chose to be cir­cum­spect for rea­sons other than In­dian state elec­tion re­sults.

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