02 October 2004

Inside Nepal II: Uneasiness about the 'Hindu' tag

2 October 2004
The Hindu

Inside Nepal - II

Uneasiness about the 'Hindu' tag

By Siddharth Varadarajan

Kathmandu: When an angry mob attacked and burnt a historic mosque in the heart of the city on September 1 last, many here wondered how such an incident could have occurred in a high security zone so close to the Royal Palace and Army headquarters.

The country was in mourning over the execution of 12 Nepali hostages in Iraq but some political parties saw an opportunity to further their own interests. There are unconfirmed reports that goons from the Nepali Congress were the first to arrive on the scene but they were soon outnumbered by activists from the Hindu extremist Pashupati Sena and Shiv Sena. The police idled nearby and their refusal to act is now the subject of an inquiry. ``We are taking action against those who did this,'' the Nepal Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, told The Hindu . ``But until the inquiry report is complete, I can't say anything about the role of the police.''


``In the 700 year history of the mosque, there has never been such an incident,'' says Madhav Kumar Nepal, leader of the Communist Party (UML), adding that the Pashupati Sena had openly bragged about its role. At least one leader of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh is already behind bars. A day after the killing of the hostages in Iraq, Ashok Singhal of the VHP wrote a provocative letter to King Gyanendra in which he said the killers were ``particularly brutal because the victims were Hindus.'' Asked about the increasing profile of extremist groups linked to the Indian Shiv Sena, the VHP and the RSS, Mr. Deuba said: ``Nepal is a liberal, tolerant country. We can't afford to tolerate extremism, whether it is Hindu or ideological.''

Hindu extremism

``Hindu extremism has entered the head — the state machinery — and is going slowly to the ground,'' says Shyam Shrestha, editor of Mulyankan magazine.

During the Vajpayee Government's rule in India, King Gyanendra openly patronised the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. His honorary ADC, Gen. Bharat Keshari Simha, is convener of the Indian outfit's Nepali offspring, the Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh.

Political observers say the King's decision to emphasise his `Hinduness' — he took great pride in being felicitated this January by Mr. Singhal and others as King of the World's Hindus — is exposing another faultline in the country's fragile polity.

The country's Buddhists and Dalits resent the Hinduisation of the State, as do the janjatis, or linguistic minorities, who dislike the compulsory teaching of Sanskrit.

``The King is not a guarantor of the unity of Nepal, as pro-palace politicians like to say, but a symbol of imposed division because of the non-recognition of those who are not Hindu or whose language is not Nepali,'' says Mr. Shrestha.

Ethno-linguistic biases

Scholars such as Deepak Thapa argue that the ethno-linguistic biases of the modern Nepali state are partly responsible for the growth of Maoists. He says it is not a coincidence that the Maoist strongholds are in the western districts of Rolpa and Rukum, where the Magars are dominant. The Maoist demand for a Constituent Assembly thus finds an especially sympathetic echo with those who feel excluded by the formal, constitutional primacy accorded to Hinduism and the Nepali language.

A Maoist leaflet written in 1996 to explain the need for `People's War' said that ``to maintain the hegemony of one religion (i.e., Hindusim), language (i.e., Nepali) and nationalist (i.e., Khas), this State has for centuries exercised discrimination... against other religions, languages and nationalities and has conspired to fragment the forces of national unity...''

According to Mr. Thapa, author of `A Kingdom Under Siege', the 1990 Constitution did not provide true representation to all population groups despite popular demands at the time for Parliament's upper house to be turned into a `house of nationalities.' ``The janjatis, Buddhists and others are demanding the restructuring of the state so that there is equality,'' says Mr. Shrestha. ``The Constituent Assembly may be a platform which can unify the divided communities of Nepal.''


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