We must defend Kamal Thapa’s right to maintain his party’s position on Hindu state but we should reject his call for Nepal as Hindu state.
Kamal Thapa, Chairman of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), is the luckiest person in contemporary Nepali politics.
Fresh off the unification of the RPP, elevation to the post of party chairman and reintegration into the government as Deputy Prime Minister, Thapa faced the risk of being marginalized in a crowded political field with local election looming.
The Election Commission then abruptly decided to expunge RPP’s positions on ‘Nepal as a Hindu state’ and ‘constitutional monarchy’ from the party’s manifesto. The commission said the positions contravened the constitution, which had clearly established a secular republic.
Why the commission wanted to be distracted by taking on Thapa at a time when it is struggling to print ballot papers on time remains a mystery. It is not clear that the commission has the authority to adjudicate on a party’s poll plank in the first place. So the commission was wrong on its decision on the RPP’s manifesto.
Thapa stuck to the commission’s decision like super-glue on steroids. In a fiery speech denouncing the decision, he said he would approach the Supreme Court seeking recourse but promptly sent his party workers spilling on to the streets. He announced mass agitation across the country.
The commission’s decision provided Thapa the perfect launch pad to use his stands on Hindu state and constitutional monarchy to jostle for space in a crowded political field. That night, before he went to bed, Thapa may have prayed to his Hindu Gods, thanked the commission and sipped his favorite single-malt in celebration.
Defending Thapa against the commission’s arbitrariness doesn’t make him correct. His case for a Hindu state is faulty and if adopted, would risk fundamentally destroying the most sacred essence of Nepal, our Hindu religion.
Writing in the party’s website, Thapa asserts that the demand for secularism was never a part of the people’s movement. He argues that it was rammed through at the last minute by Western powers. He singles out the British Ambassador and the European Union (EU) for actively lobbying for secularism. Political parties at the time, he asserts, accepted secularism because they benefited by pushing the interests of external powers.
Thapa is being disingenuous. Like other politicians in Nepal, he is quick to blame “external powers”, never questioning his own limitations and failures. As foreign minister and deputy prime minister, he has had ample authority to investigate the British, EU or other external powers for any misdeeds, including influencing the adoption of secularism. He never did.
Thapa continues to claim that external powers are intentionally pushing secularism for their own interests. But at no point, even while in power, has he publicly stood up to these external powers and initiated action—nor will he ever. Blaming foreign powers while never actually standing up to them doesn’t make Thapa a Hindu warrior; it makes him either a coward or a liar.
Thapa estimates that 94 percent of Nepalis belong to Sanatana Dharma, the broad family encompassing Hinduism. He argues that not explicitly upholding the beliefs of this overwhelming majority would undermine the very identity of Nepal, erode Hindu values, encourage conversion to other religions (through monetary enticements, of course) and run the risk of communal conflict. In short, without Hinduism as the religion of the state, there will be no basis for peace or stability, he argues. Thapa’s case for a Hindu state is based on false fear.
He makes the false assumption that being secular would be the same as not protecting Hinduism. He is wrong—secularism protects all religions. Besides, as the dominant religion of Nepal, Hinduism is likely to require the least amount of state protection.
I can understand a small marginalized group needing a formal banner to remind themselves and others of their existence. But why will 94 percent of the population need a formal banner to show the remaining six percent they are Hindus?
Then there is Thapa’s concern on conversions. Even if we were a Hindu state and conversions were illegal, there would still be conversions. It is a bit like getting people to stop drinking by banning booze. The reality is that conversions are currently widespread across Nepal.
But conversions aren’t occurring because Hinduism is not the state religion; they rather reflect deeper, systemic social and economic injustices. A better way to reduce conversions is for Thapa and the political establishment to spend more of their time figuring out how to reduce injustices and enable progress.
Thapa’s argument that Nepal’s identity would be undermined if it were not a Hindu state is fatally flawed.
Nepal has no singular homogenous identify. We are a celebration of diverse, multi-ethnic communities, languages and cultures. To simply reduce it to any one singular identify, Hindu for instance, would be to callously discount the multitude of Nepali identities that have blossomed over the past two decades.
Thapa has never explained what a Hindu state would do. He has only said what it would not do. It would not, for instance, persecute other religions or make policies based on religious beliefs. That, we agree. As a Hindu state, Nepal is unlikely to discriminate against or persecute other beliefs.
But what exactly would Nepal as a Hindu state do? Will it make Thapa and our political class more responsive to the needs of Nepalis? It won’t. More than the state of Nepal, the people of Nepal need Hinduism.
Nepal is in a deep moral crisis. We are increasingly losing our ability to judge between right and wrong. We are losing our ability to empathize with the weak and stand up for what is correct. The depravity of our political system reflects our own weak moral compass.
Take corruption. It is endemic. We indulge in corruption, grudgingly perhaps, because we have come to accept it as part of our system. In schools and in homes, we teach our children “not to be corrupt but what to do, the system is like that.” So, we continue, a little erosion of values here, a little there and before you know it, the line between right and wrong is blurred. Our ethical standards drop.
Nepal needs a spiritual reawakening. Institutions, systems, checks and balances alone won’t root out corruption. We also need moral persuasion—individual responsibility—to tell us that something is morally unacceptable even though it might be convenient.
Hinduism is not to be found in Singha Durbar or in our parliament, but rather in our hearts, minds, souls and in our private spaces, giving us the wisdom and courage to do what is right.
The danger of Thapa’s Hindu state is that it would simply politicize our belief system. Like everything that the political class has touched, it will corrode and corrupt our beliefs to the point where they will be worthless to us.
If Thapa wins, we will get a Hindu state but there will be no Hindus left.