Nepal Premier Oli’s Recent Moves Kindle Hindutva Hopes Of Himalayan Country Turning Hindu Rashtra Once Again
Oli’s self-projection as a devout Hindu, say political observers, is a signal to the Modi government that he is willing to play ball with India.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli created quite a stir in the already volatile politics of the Himalayan country by visiting the revered Pashupatinath Mandir on Monday (25 January) and offering a special puja for over an hour.
Oli is the first communist Prime Minister of Nepal to visit the mandir that draws lakhs of Hindus from all over the world.
None of his predecessors — Pusha Kalam Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai, Jhala Nath Khanal and Manmohan Adhikari — have visited any Hindu shrine.
Oli’s temple visit has triggered (read this) speculation about the leader joining forces with the country's monarchists, who demand restoration of the constitutional monarchy and Nepal’s status as a Hindu state.
Oli has been hobnobbing with the monarchists ever since he started facing a challenge to his position from Dahal and other leaders within the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
Nepal has been witnessing demonstrations by monarchists, whose support amongst Nepal’s masses appears to have increased of late (read this), demanding amendment of the country’s constitution to restore the monarchy and junk the country’s ‘secular’ status.
Oli, and his closest aides, have been meeting leaders of the pro-monarchy and pro-Hindutva Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), and have obtained the RPP’s support for Oli’s move to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections.
Oli has always had good ties with the RPP. During his first stint as Prime Minister between October 2015 and August 2016, he had appointed RPP chairperson Kamal Thapa as his deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
Oli followed up his special puja at Pashupatinath temple on Monday with express directives to officials of the Pashupati Area Development Trust to beautify the temple and its surroundings and develop world-class facilities for pilgrims.
Oli is learnt to have told the Trust officials to develop the entire area around the temple on the lines of Varanasi’s Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project that is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream project.
Oli has been playing the Hindutva card for some time now. In July last year, he triggered a controversy by claiming that Bhagwan Ram was born in Nepal. He also asked officials to build a grand temple to Bhagwan Ram at Ayodhyapuri in Chitwan province in Nepal and develop it as a pilgrimage destination.
Apart from the RPP, influential sections within the Nepali Congress (NC), the principal opposition party in Nepal, are also in favour of junking Nepal’s ‘secular state’ status and reverting to its status as a Hindu state.
NC general secretary Shashank Koirala has been demanding a referendum on making Nepal a ‘Hindu rashtra’ once again.
Shekhar Koirala, another senior NC leader, was quoted by The Kathmandu Post as saying: “Nepal as a Hindu state seems to be very much on the cards. It may happen during Oli’s regime or some time later”.
Bollywood actor Manisha Koirala, who is the daughter of former NC minister Prakash Koirala and granddaughter of former Prime Minister Bisheshwar Prasad Koirala, participated in a massive rally in Kathmandu earlier this month demanding restoration of the constitutional monarchy and Nepal’s ‘Hindu rashtra’ status.
Many in the country’s political establishment point to the fact that senior Supreme Court advocates who are representing Oli in Parliament dissolution case before the apex court are all pro-monarchists and pro-Hindu rashtra.
Sushil Pant, Surendra Bhandari, Balkrishna Neupane and Bishnu Prasad Bhattarai, who have been publicly demanding scrapping Nepal’s status as a ‘secular republic’, are arguing on behalf of Oli.
“This is further proof of Oli developing close links with monarchists and Hindutva forces,” said a senior NCP leader who belongs to the anti-Oli camp.
Talk about Oli planning to amend the Constitution to restore the constitutional monarchy and make Nepal a Hindu rashtra once again gained currency when the letter written by Oli to Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari explaining the reasons behind seeking dissolution of Parliament and seeking a fresh mandate became public.
In the letter, Oli said he wants fresh elections so that he can get a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Such a majority is required to amend the Constitution.
Oli’s self-projection as a devout Hindu, say political observers in Kathmandu, is also a signal to the Modi government that he (Oli) is willing to play ball with India.
Oli came to power in February 2018 on a nationalistic plank, which saw him indulging in anti-India rhetoric. Oli had turned against India during the 2015 Nepal blockade which caused hardships in that country.
Oli blamed India for imposing an undeclared blockade for his adopting a Constitution which India felt discriminated against Madhesis (people living in the plains of Nepal who have close blood ties with people of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar).
Oli also accused India of toppling him in July 2016 after the Maoists led by Dahal withdrew support to the coalition government.
After coming to power in 2018, Oli determinedly pursued a pro-China path and steered his country away from India while allowing China to increase its footprints in the country.
But China’s interference in the crisis arising out of Dahal’s challenge to his leadership displeased Oli. Beijing had been openly advocating rapprochement between Oli and Dahal and, at one point, Chinese envoy to Kathmandu Hou Yanqi even suggested to Oli that he step down from the PM’s post in the interests of party unity.
An incensed Oli asked Yanqi to stop interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs. New Delhi, very judiciously, refrained from interfering or taking sides in the leadership crisis and this has apparently made Oli do a rethink on ties with New Delhi.
Oli apparently feels that the ruling BJP will be happy with his pro-Hindutva stance. After having brushed off one powerful neighbour (China), Oli will need all the support he can garner to not only stay in office, but also win the parliamentary polls later this year.
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