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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Once, there was a Hindu Nation

13 Jun, 2007 l 1001 hrs,IST,

Tarun Vijay

Nepal used to be the only constitutionally declared Hindu nation on this planet। Last year in a quick change in the state's governance, it removed the word Hindu and became secular। This beautiful country, Shangri-La of the East, and in many ways as charming and scintillating as Kashmir or even better than Switzerland, lost more than 12 thousand lives under a bloody 10-year long 'Maoist peoples' war' which culminated in a joint interim government last May. The first thing that this new set of governors did was to remove the celebrative tag of a constitutional Hindu nation from her name. Very soon after the formation of the new constitutional assembly, they may get rid of the constitutional monarchy system too. With a population of 27.1 million and a life expectancy rate of 62, Nepal's only 46.8 per cent population above the age of 15 can claim some literacy. And all this happened when the constitutional monarchy was in saddle firmly and a democratic movement had taken shape to have 14 Prime Ministers in last 16 years. Still it seemed working better than a direct and dictatorial regime of the King. But the development issues remained mired in growing corruption, nepotism and unfocussed policies with continuous brickbatting within the political parties leading to the growth of a violent Maoist movement that promised a 'revolutionary rule of the proletariat' . It did garner support amongst the rural masses, through selling dreams, guns and a systematic annihilation of the Opposition, thus creating an atmosphere where to be with them was life and to remain aloof meant a bullet. Now they are running the show in Kathmandu. Nobody questions that if there can be a hundred Islamic and Christian nations with their 'Christian or Muslim only' constitutional provisions for their head of the states, and democracy and pluralism can still flourish in a royal Britain with a Church of England taking care of the faith officially and a US president taking oath on Bible without murmurs from citizens belonging to other denominations, why on earth, a lonely Hindu nation was looked up as a threat to democracy and egalitarian values, while it ensured full freedom to all for propagation and practice of whatever they believed in? One can't even imagine a temple in front of the presidential house in Pakistan; leave aside Saudi Arabia, where passengers are not allowed to carry a copy of Gita with them. In its previous avatar as a Hindu nation, Nepal saw the construction of a highrise Jama Mosque facing the Narayan Hitti palace, the abode of the King, traditionally equated with Vishnu. There were madarssas , a regular flow of religious Tablighs from India and Pakistan and always a Muslim cabinet minister in the Hindu kingdom. But the Maoists and their shadow democrats felt that the Hindu nation tag is obscurantist, hence they got rid of it. The key point is whether removing such innocuous labels as Hindu Nation has helped the new regime to move ahead in development and providing security and stability to its people? Has it helped Nepal's ranking amongst the comity of the nations go up as a more progressive, forward-looking and futuristic nation? Or on the other hand, has it demoralised its own majority and demonstrated that to show the Hindu tag means being less progressive? Can a deeply religious Hindu majority land claim this flagellantism as a path to neo nirvana? Known and respected world over for their valour, brilliance and dynamism, Nepalese never felt this low in their glorious history. Everything Maoists and their cohorts have done carries an inseparable and often an overriding hue- hatred for Hindus. They attack Hindu sensibilities and icons freely in the name of 'reforms', 'revolution', 'progress' etc. Their reformist zeal, read changing Hindu traditions through a declared atheist methods, knows no bound only for Hindus, while other religious communities are untouched by it, as if they need no reform. Or are they afraid of their foreign fund-raisers?

So Hindus being a soft target and Indian Hindus proving themselves incapable of helping neighbours, Maoists had enough courage to stop age-old Sanskrit schools in the villages, prohibit Brahmins having shikha (small tuft), targeted only one community –Hindus in their 'war ', desecrated Hindu temples and prescribed beef and buffalo meat to their recruits in the Maoist 'guerilla army'. This has enraged the deeply religious and pious Nepali people but the fear of the gun and a change in the regime, with no organisation willing to take on the violent Maoists, nothing much has come to the fore. Having been a regular to Kathmandu and other distanced areas, this time I found people resigning hopelessly to their fate. They don't talk about the great future any more but lament that perhaps in coming days, relations with India will further sour. The new generation is no more interested in India. They yearn to go to US or Australia and China provides cheaper and easier access to its educational facilities. Previously, India was the hub of Nepal's education and religious instructions. The older generation had received education in Indian colleges and universities and the Nepalese democratic movement got inspiration and strength from Indian friends and connections. No Hindu can complete his essential pilgrimage cycle without visiting Pashupatinath and the temple priest comes from Kerala's Nambudiri community. Nepal's trading and enterprising community overwhelmingly belongs to India's original Marwaris and even the royals trace their lineage to the Rajputana's Shishodia blue blood. Such is the strong cultural relationship between the two nations. Apart from this, the security aspect is too significant to be ignored. It's the most important buffer between India and China. With Nepal's more than ninety per cent population being Hindu, India has a natural bond with this tiny state that is now to be severed by the Maoists for reasons not unknown. Foreign powers see destabilising Nepal as another step to over-stress India -an emerging world power. The first step towards this can be achieved by reinforcing disaffection and hate against India amongst the common people and leaders. Today, thanks to Indian negligence, it pays to speak against India in contemporary Nepal. The younger ones, having no India connection like their forefathers, love to criticise Delhi for everything bad that has happened there. Obviously the Pakistanis and the western Christian donors reap the hate -harvest to their benefit in a war of influence. There was a time when marrying in India was a matter of pride and status. No more now. Recently, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's granddaughter married a Bangladeshi Muslim in Kathmandu with such lavish fanfare that it invited a wide-ranging criticism with Maoists boycotting the ceremony and winning further public applause. But as Vivekananda said you can't worship God or save dharma with empty bellies. The malnourished, underdeveloped people cannot be fed on culture and great traditions of the past too long. It's the failure of the monarchists and the democrats both who remained Kathmandu-centric and ignored the pains and anguish of the Nepalese people and their burning issues for too long. The democratic parties do not have charismatic leadership, and hence had to agree on an octogenarian Koirala to head the interim government. Most of the political parties do not dare to reach the rural population for fear of the Maoist attacks and have lost touch with the ground-level workers, who have shifted their loyalties too. After one year of the 'revolutionary change over' in Kathmandu, the people have got only new slogans, clichés and Young Communist League (YCL), whom Koirala described as the Young Criminals League, inviting the wrath of the Maoists in harsh language and burning his effigies. In the last one year, the Royal Nepalese Army had to be rechristened as the National Army, the King's powers were taken away and there was a public scramble for lucrative postings and ministerial berths between Maoists and the other seven-party democratic alliance.
Nepal has not been able to depute a single ambassador in any country, including India, in the last twelve months. The formation of the new constituent assembly has been delayed, the Prime Minister is asked to perform the duties of a head of the state (like administering oath, receiving credentials from ambassadors etc). Even as the 'extortion Raj' of the Maoists continues unabated, their youth wing, Communist Youth League, has become a law unto itself. It 'resolves' citizen's problems, arrests and hands over the 'corrupt' officials and leaders to the police in public meetings, removes illegal encroachments with bulldozers and enforces a 'moral , lawful, honest ' behaviour on the citizens. Maoists want their own old time guerrillas to be incorporated in the Nepalese army, in a move to 'purge' it from the erstwhile royal and hence 'anti-people' influence. The Koirala government has resisted so far because that may create a clash within the army. But the Maoists don't care. In any case, they know that Koirala is a passing phase and after him, they may project Madhav Nepal, the youthful and energetic general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal, which had earlier been in opposition to the Maoists’ violent methods and has a wide acceptance in India too. Last week he was in India and got virtually a welcome from treasury as well as opposition leaders befitting a 'would-be Prime Minister.' He is seen as the future hope for Nepal by South Block and even BJP leaders accorded him an affectionate welcome, loaded with trust. There are leaders in Nepalese Congress like Chakra Bastola and Deuba, who are promising but have not been given a chance to prove the mettle. The lack of non-political intellectual leadership, immature polity, misplaced revolutionary zeal and a corrupt officialdom have contributed to this mess that offers lucrative market to the foreign vultures with strategic goals. The Terai belt, Madhesh, is burning under a fierce people’s movement on the pattern of Bihar's JP movement against the injustices and discriminatory attitude of the ruling hill elite of Kathmandu. This has emerged cutting across all party lines and has claimed more than forty live in clashes with the police. Madheshi leaders demand development and have threatened to form their own Madhesh parliament and retain revenue within Madhesh boundary. Maoists were quick to sense the mood of the people and one of their leaders, Matrika Yadav, who holds the forest portfolio in the interim government publicly declared that a 'people’s' war ' would be unleashed if Madhesh's problems were not addressed by the Kathmandu government. To whom was he sounding 'revolutionary', people wondered, as he is presently a part and the controller of the governance in Kathmandu. Such hysterical dramas unfold in Nepal every day making the commoner more depressed and disillusioned. The first signs of the decay began appearing long back in the mushrooming number of foreign-funded NGOs. Like Bangladesh, Nepal, too, is fast moving to become an NGC country. Madhav Nepal accepted the inherent dangers in this trend in a talk with me in Delhi and said once their republic gets going; they shall ensure NGOs do not change the character of Nepal taking advantage of poverty and backwardness. He was clearly hinting at the concerns of the Hindu organisations who fear a big harvest 'for Christian proselytizers who have made their presence felt n a big way in rural and less developed areas. Said Rameh Pokhrel, an engineer, who had come from a stint in a US-based firm, “We have fallen from the anarchy of monarchy to Maoist megalomania, with hardly any future. We are angry at India because we had high hopes from you. You did nothing to help us stem the rot, neither your government nor your great Hindu organisations that were seen as clapper boys of the Raja rather than representing the Hindu people’s desire for a change'” From an anarchic Royal rule to another anarchic Maoist regime, that seems to be the fate of this lonely planet once identified as the Hindu kingdom.

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