By Maila Baje
Whatever the reasons behind the precipitous unification of Nepal’s two major rightwing parties last week, one thing is pretty clear. The development is not part of the wave of rightwing populism blowing across the West and elsewhere. So let’s start by not rushing to anoint our version of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen, shall we?
Then there’s the stark reality that our former panchas can neither live united nor divided. In fact, the party was born split, largely along hardline and more moderate remnants of the partyless regime that collapsed in 1990. These men and women tend to do well when united. But political power – or even the prospect of it –immediately divides them.
To be sure, the ranks of the RPP factions these day are an assortment of diehard royalists, conservative Hindus and, yes, republicans. (Although the republicans seem to be more of realists.) This time, there seems to be an ideological glue binding Kamal Thapa’s Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal and Pashupati Shamsher Rana’s Rastriya Prajatantra Party.
The newly unified party pledges to restore Nepal’s Hindu status in the constitution. On the major issue that divides the two factions – restoration of constitutional monarchy – the leaders have decided to let the upcoming national conference take a decision.
How democratic of them! But let’s dig a little deeper. Rana, who leads the republican faction, said the party could not accept a constitution that calls Nepal ‘secular’ when the country by all means is Hindu. “If the government does not take into account the sentiment of the majority, we will be compelled to lead a movement.”
Why, then, accept republicanism just because the constitution says so? Can the mere fact that the majority of Nepalis happened to be born Hindus be extrapolated to mean that the state’s character should be designated as such? Sure, most Nepalis are Hindus. But didn’t they vote twice for parties explicit in their secular commitment? And don’t officially atheist organizations hold the largest number of elected seats?
Granted, not every Hindu is a monarchist. (Also, are we really sure that every secularist is a republican?) But when you start talking about the restoration of Hindu statehood, you have to consider the individual/institution needed to officiate such a state.
True, our first female president has been presiding over Dasain and other religious observances with admirable gusto. But she is doing so under a secular dispensation. A Hindu state would have very little room for either institutional tentativeness or the vagaries of an individual’s temperament.
A Hindu republic by definition won’t have a king, who has traditionally solemnized Hindu statehood. We also would lack a bada gurujyu and mool purohit. We do have the mool bhatta at Pashupati, but, then, we already want someone more indigenous there, don’t we?
With 37 members in the 597-member legislature, the unified RPP would still remain the fourth largest political force. At a time when the Big Three can’t agree on amending the constitution or impeaching a recalcitrant anti-corruption monitor, surely the fourth party can afford to wallow a bit longer in some amusing ambiguity.
If you think not, close your eyes and consider this image for a moment: Kamal Thapa and Dipak Bohara are the parliamentary party leader and deputy leader of the united party in an assembly hurtling toward a new Nepal. How does that make you feel? No, seriously.
Running on the right track?
By Maila Baje