India’s Hindutva politics influencing Nepal

Disillusionment with established parties increases support for religious right

In addition to the many commodities India exports to Nepal, it is now also sending across its brand of Hindutva politics. 

Journalists at an interaction in Kathmandu on Wednesday expressed reservations about how the nationalistic Hindutva ideology of India’s ruling BJP was influencing Nepali politics as well. 

The 'Hindutva politics and Indian-Nepali Media’ interaction was organised by Free Press Nepal with its editor JB Pun Magar moderating a panel that included Deshsanchar editor Yubaraj Ghimire and journalist-author Kanak Mani Dixit.

The speakers said Hindutva had historically disrupted communal harmony and encouraged religious and political extremism in secular India, saying that its proliferation across the open border into Nepal was “alarming”. 

Ghimire explained that the Hindutva ideology applied the Hindu faith in politics and rejected the concept of secularism. Hindutva became part of Indian socio-politics with the establishment of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925. 

In 1951, the RSS established the Bharatiya Jana Sangh as its political wing to expand its right-wing, Hindu nationalist ideology to mainstream politics. The Jana Sangh broke off and merged with other parties, and an iteration became the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980, having carried over much of the original rank and file into the new political collective. 

The BJP established itself as an influential political party after the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by leaders of the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1992. The party cemented itself as a mainstay in mainstream politics after Narendra Modi, a former full-time member of the RSS, became Prime Minister of India in 2014, and his re-election in 2019.

Meanwhile, in Nepal, parties like the royalist-right Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) have long called for the abolishment of secularism and the re-establishment of Nepal as a Hindu state. 

The RPP was considerably weakened after Kamal Thapa split and established his own RPP-N which was not for a restoration of the monarchy but backed the demand for a Hindu state.

The party itself has gone through periods of the Nepali public taking its ideology with various degrees of seriousness. Nepal’s public sphere, disillusioned with secular-republican politicians, has seen a shift to pro-Hindu and sometimes monarchist public discourse corresponding with Hindutva in India. And Nepal’s political leadership and aspirants have taken notice.

Political experts and analysts have said that Nepal’s Communist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal himself is trying to endear himself to India’s leadership by visiting Hindu temples in India and Nepal, while India is using Nepal’s political leadership to control national affairs. 

Dixit, founding editor of Himal Southasian, said Hindutva politics was giving continuity to long-running interference of the Indian establishment in Nepal’s affairs. 

“To understand Nepal’s Hindutva politics, we must go back and study India’s interventions in Nepal since 1951,” said Dixit, noting that Delhi’s involvement can be seen ever since the fall of the Rana regime.

“At present, the effects of Hindutva intervention can be seen in our water resources and aviation sectors,” he added. 

Dixit described the increasing effect of Hindutva in Nepali politics as a “clear and present danger”.

He added, “Indian intervention is the elephant in the room that we refuse to address instead we focus on other mice in the corner.” 

Ghimire also delved into how India’s governing party has had an impact on Nepal’s rulers by questioning the visits to the offices of the BJP by Prime Minister Dahal and his predecessor Sher Bahadur Deuba during their official visits to India.

"Why was there a need to call on a specific party’s office during a state visit?” asked Ghimire rhetorically.

Dixit said Nepal’s media had yet to report on how Foreign Minister NP Saud’s wife is the vice-president of the Nepal chapter of the Hindu advocacy group World Hindu Federation. He said such gaps in coverage showed that the media is itself being influenced by the Hindutva ideology. 

“The RSS does not interfere in Nepal’s affairs in a way that is visible, but I know that Nepal’s political leadership has welcomed its representative in Nepal without exception and with open arms,” said Ghimire in an answer to a question from the floor. 

Former Kantipur editor Sudheer Sharma also had a question to the panel on the objectives of the RSS in Nepal. Ghimire answered that the organisation wants to spread its worldview and ideology to countries outside India. 

“In Nepal, the organisation wants people to learn not about Prithivi Narayan Shah, but about Shivaji Maharaj,” Ghimire said, referring to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ,a 17th-century Indian sovereign idolised and celebrated by the RSS as a ruler who defended his Hindu empire from invasion. 

Disillusionment with Nepal’s three mainstream parties manifested in the rise of the independent RSP, while the RPP is trying to ride the Hindutva wave to back Nepal reverting to being a Hindu state. 

Even leaders thought to be progressive like former BBC Nepali Service journalist Rabindra Mishra have called for a referendum on secularism, leaving his Bibeksheel Sahja Party to join the RPP.

Ghimire concluded, “We must learn from India’s secularism. If we do not want what is happening in India’s socio-politics to impact Nepal, we must carefully study their weaknesses and where they have gone wrong so that we might avoid the same mistakes here.”