Nepal’s Communists Worried Over Misuse Of ‘Secularism’ To Attack Sanatan Dharma, India’s Left Need To Learn From Them

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jul 10, 2024, 01:12 PM | Updated Jul 11, 2024, 11:40 AM IST

Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, centre, offering prayers at the Mahakaleshwar Mandir in Ujjain last year.
Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, centre, offering prayers at the Mahakaleshwar Mandir in Ujjain last year.
  • Even the Maoists in Nepal are worried about the “abuse” of the Constitution’s secular provisions by evangelists to carry out largescale conversions. 
  • This may sound strange to most Indians, but it is true. Leaders of Nepal’s largest communist party — the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) or CPN-UML — are worried over the misuse and misinterpretation of ‘secularism’ that was incorporated in the country’s new Constitution about nine years ago. 

    Like in India, constitutional secularism has been misused in Nepal by Christian missionaries and Islamic preachers to convert a large number of Hindus to Christianity and Islam. Also, as is happening in India, secularism is being misused in Nepal as a shield to abuse and attack Sanatan Dharma. 

    Non-communist parties have been vocal about such misuse of secularism to attack and erode Sanatan Dharma and some like the pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) have been demanding that Nepal should revert to the status of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. 

    Surprisingly, CPN-UML leaders have now become vocal against the misuse of secularism. The stance of the CPN-UML, the second largest party in the country’s Parliament, was well articulated by the party’s deputy general secretary, Pradeep Gyawali, in an interview to a leading English newspaper of the country. 

    Answering a question on the demand by some sections to review the ‘secular’ nature of the country’s Constitution, Gyawali admitted that “some sections of society have often tried to misuse and misinterpret the new constitutional provisions”. 

    Gyawali, who is close to his party chairperson Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, went on to make statements that would make not only India’s leftists, but also the so-called ‘seulars’ and ‘liberals’ see red. 

    “Some people try to misinterpret secularism as an open licence to indulge in rampant religious conversions, and some have made it an excuse to attack our age-old Sanatan Dharma,” said Gyawali. 

    What’s more, he lambasted the hypocrisy of the country’s pseudo-secularists who, quite like their counterparts in India, have an ill-concealed antipathy towards Sanatan dharma.

    “If the President or Prime Minister visits Lumbini, a gurdwara or a shrine of any other faith on certain occasions, that is taken positively, but when they visit Pashupatinath Temple, a section of people raise questions,” said Gyawali.

    That is why, he added, many are thinking that the country’s new secular Constitution has given a licence to some people to attack Sanatan dharma. The constitutional provision making Nepal a secular country has an explanatory note stating that ‘secular’ means religious and cultural freedom and also “protection of religion and culture handed down from time immemorial”. 

    “But some extremist activities are giving the wrong impression about secularism,” the communist leader who had also served as the country’s foreign minister said. 

    CPN-UML senior vice president Ishwar Pokharel not only endorsed his party colleague Gyawali’s views on misuse of secularism, but also opined that some laws may need to be strengthened to prevent large-scale conversions. 

    “Secularism is being misused for large-scale conversions by Christian missionaries who are taking advantage of people’s poverty, gullibility and backwardness. This has to be stopped,” he told Swarajya over phone from Kathmandu. Pokharel served as the country’s deputy prime minister and also defence minister during Oli’s premiership. 

    CPN-UML vice chairman and former finance minister Surendra Pandey told Swarajya  that the misuse and misinterpretation of secularism by some people has invited a backlash from Hindus in Nepal. “The backlash is understandable,” he said. 

    Even the country’s Maoists are worried about the “abuse” of the Constitution’s secular provisions by evangelists to carry out largescale conversions of people to Christianity and Islam. 

    “These largescale conversions, especially to Christianity, are creating social tensions and disharmony and need to be checked. Secularism does not give a licence to missionaries and others to convert. Secularism means everyone is free to practise their own faith,” said Janardan Sharma, a sitting MP of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre or CPN-MC. Sharma had served as the country’s finance and home minister. 

    Other parties like the Nepali Congress and Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) are also very concerned over the misuse of secularism by proselytisers to convert Hindus belonging to the backward communities and economically disadvantaged sections to Christianity. 

    “A very disturbing trend of disparaging and abusing Sanatan Dharma, making fun of and dismissing Hindu rituals and ceremonies and belittling Hindus has emerged among some people. They are acting at the behest of the Christian missionaries. By slowly spreading poison against Sanatan Dharma and sowing the seeds of doubt among Hindus, the missionaries hope to convert more and more Hindus to Christianity,” said Nepali Congress (NC) central working committee member Shekhar Koirala. 

    “This misuse of secularism has to stop and if necessary, the Constitution needs to be amended to ban conversions through dubious means and also make abuse of our ancient Sanatan Dharma a punishable offence,” said Arjun Prasad Joshi, another NC central working member. 

    The Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), which openly advocates making Nepal a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ again, wants a constitutional amendment to drop the term ‘secular’ from the country’s Constitution. 

    “Secularism has damaged us immeasurably because missionaries took it as a carte blanche to harvest souls. Agents of missionaries are using secularism as a cover to abuse and run down our Sanatan faith. This has to stop and the only way to stop it is to make Nepal a Hindu Rashtra once again,” said RPP chairman Kamal Thapa. 

    Why All Nepali Politicians Are Defending Sanatan Dharma

    The reason behind even Nepal’s communists unabashedly defending Sanatan Dharma is that unlike their Indian counterparts, they are not apologetic about their faith. Many of them are practising Hindus and none of them are militant atheists like India’s leftists. 

    Also, all communist leaders, including those of the CPN-Maoist Centre, regularly visit temples and can be seen sporting tikas or celebrating Hindu festivals. 

    What’s more, top leaders of the CPN-UML and the CPN-MC visit the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu before all important occasions like taking oath or when faced with political or personal crises. Oli and Dahal regularly visit the Pashupatinath and other temples. 

    Even during visits to India, Nepal’s communists do not shy away from visiting temples and offering pujas. Prime Minister Dahal, for instance, visited the Mahakaleshwar Mandir in Ujjain during his visit to India in May last year. 

    India’s communists, on the other hand, would never be seen visiting a temple or participating in any Hindu festival or ceremony. All Hindus in the two main communist parties of India are atheists. However, most Muslim and Christian communists in India openly practise their faith and participate in their own religious ceremonies. 

    CPI(M) leaders like former Bengal Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim, former minister Abdul Rezzak Mollah and former MP Mohammad Salim, among others, have often been seen in Muslim religious gatherings. 

    But then, hypocrisy has been the hallmark of India communists, especially the ones with Sanatani names. Nepal’s communists, on the other hand, do not suffer from this blight.  

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