Only in Nepal perhaps does the leader of the fourth-largest party in parliament who was just installed as Deputy Prime Minister sit on the asphalt in protest. Photos this week show Kamal Thapa with a befuddled Nepal Army bodyguard confronting riot police who later fired tear gas and baton charged supporters of his Hindu-royalist RPP.
Thapa was there to challenge the Election Commission refusing to accept his party’s manifesto that calls for the restoration of a Hindu monarchy in Nepal. We feel it was no coincidence that the RPP protest this week came right after the dramatic power consolidation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP in state elections, and the installation of a saffron chief minister in Uttar Pradesh. It just went to prove that there must be some truth to the apocryphal adage that when it rains in New Delhi a politician in Kathmandu unfurls an umbrella ... or goes off to China.
After the BJP came to power in 2014, there has been a struggle between Modi’s advisers in the PMO and the Indian foreign policy establishment for policy and control. Some of that is also a result of strained relations within the BJP, particularly between Modi and the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj. This tension has sowed some confusion about Indian policy on Nepal for the past three years.
Indian visitors in Kathmandu have sent conflicting signals while meeting Nepali leaders on issues like Nepal’s secular, federal and republican constitution. The external affairs bureaucracy in India with its intelligence agencies have been the architects since November 2005 of Nepal’s peace process that is now culminating with the constitution. The weakening of the secular Congress-Left could mean that the ascendant Hindu-Right shakti peeth in New Delhi will try to reboot its policy on Nepal.
The new Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is the high priest of the patron deity of Nepal’s former royal family in Gorakhpur. He has been disparaging about Nepal’s secular constitution, and openly spoken about restoring the Hindu monarchy. Other BJP advisers have also made no secret of their antipathy to a secular and republican Nepal.
Political infighting in Kathmandu, the intractable confusion over amendments to the constitution, and some would say even the five-month blockade of Nepal in 2015 were a manifestation of secular leftists and Hindu revivalists working at cross-purposes in New Delhi’s corridors of power. Kamal Thapa and the Khum Bahadur Khadka faction of the Nepali Congress appear to be just foot soldiers in this proxy war.
Nepal’s cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic diversity is our national identity. How Nepalis want to define themselves should not change just because there is a new power balance in New Delhi.
Saffron surge, Om Astha Rai
Modi's India, Guest editorial
A U-turn, Om Astha Rai
After Adityanath, From the Nepali Press