Nepal: Militant Hindutva raises its ugly head - as historic elections approach

General es 08/04/08

By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


HISTORIC ELECTIONS: THURSDAY 10 APRIL

On 10 April, Nepalis will vote in historic constituent assembly elections. And
this is no routine election -- it is the culmination of three years of
upheaval and peace process. The constituent assembly elected on 10 April will
draft the new secular constitution which will replace the 1990 Constitution
which describes Nepal as a Hindu Kingdom.

BACKGROUND

On 1 February 2005 Nepal's King Gyanendra, backed by the Nepalese Army,
dismissed the Prime Minister and his government and seized absolute power in a
bloodless coup. Anti-monarchy sentiment subsequently soared and in November
2005 the previously disparate opposition parties joined forces to form the
Seven Party Alliance (SPA) in opposition to direct, totalitarian royal rule.

In April 2006, crippling mass demonstrations in Kathmandu ultimately forced
King Gyanendra to step down and hand power to SPA. The Maoists then declared a
ceasefire. On 18 May 2006 Nepal's new parliament publicly declared that Nepal
would no longer be a Hindu Kingdom but would now be a secular state. An
interim government was formed that included the Maoists.

On 21 November 2006 the Maoists and the SPA signed a Comprehensive Peace
Agreement committed to advancing human rights and equity, bringing to an end
the decade-long civil conflict. Constituent assembly elections were slated for
June 2007, after which a new Constitution would be drafted. (See LINK 1)

Various setbacks, including insecurity and political fractures with the
Maoist, forced the postponement of the elections in June 2007 and then again
in November 2007.

Over recent months various anti-democratic, anti-secular and marginalised
ethnic groups have been escalating their protests, militancy, and violent
intimidation of voters in the run-up to the historic elections, forcing Prime
Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to appeal to all political parties to put an
end to the violence.

Security has been bolstered and some 135,000 police are being deployed to
polling booths in Nepal's 240 constituencies. There is also considerable
concern that after the elections, powerful, armed, not-so-democratic losers
might undo Nepal's tentative peace.

MILITANT HINDUTVA RAISES ITS UGLY HEAD

Needless to say, not everyone was excited by the 18 May 2006 declaration of
secularism. Nepal's Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) elements, with backing from
Hindutva forces in India, immediately increased their intolerant rhetoric and
exploited the confusion of the Hindu masses. On 22 May 2006 some 5000 Hindus
rallied in Birgunj, a southern town in the "Hindutva belt" on the border with
India, protesting the parliament's resolution to turn Nepal into a secular
state. The rallies were organised by activists from the World Hindu Federation
(WHF) and Shiv Sena Nepal. The protestors blocked the Tribhuvan highway on the
Bara-Parsa industrial belt near the Indian border. Shouting "Jay Shree Ram!"
(Lord Ram is great!), they burnt tyres, logs and newspapers that supported the
resolution. (See LINK 2)

A group calling itself the Nepal Defense Army (NDA) committed several minor
acts of terrorism during 2007, primarily targeting Maoist institutions. It
claims it is fighting for Nepal's reinstatement as a Hindu state.

On the evening of Wednesday 12 March 2008 a bomb exploded in the regional
office of Kantipur Publications in Biratnagar, a city some 240 km south-east
of Kathmandu in the Hindutva belt on the Indian border. Kantipur, a Nepali
news service, reported that the explosion caused no harm to the staff or the
office property. "Though it was not immediately clear who carried out the
attack, the pamphlets found at the explosion site suggested that 'Nepal
Defense Army' was responsible. The pamphlets read 'Nepal Defense Army for
Hindu Kingdom'." (LINK 3)

MOSQUE BOMBING

On the evening of Saturday 29 March 2008, three powerful bombs ripped through
the Sarouchiya Mosque in Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's hometown of
Biratnagar. A fourth bomb failed to explode and was later defused. Two locals
were killed in the blasts, while two others were hospitalised with critical
injuries.

According to Kantipur, "Two unidentified persons, who came on motorcycles, had
lobbed four bombs while over 60 persons were busy reciting evening prayers
inside the mosque.

"An eyewitness, Malik Alam Kuresi, said the unidentified men hurled the four
bombs from the gate and fled the scene. 'However, only three of them (bombs)
went off immediately.'

"Meanwhile, an underground group -- Nepal Defense Army -- took responsibility
for the blasts. One R P Mainali aka Paribartan, who identified himself as
'supreme commander' of the group, owned up the group's involvement in the
blast, in a press statement." (LINK 4)

In a statement sent to media outlets, the Nepal Defense Army vowed it "would
continue such attacks until Nepal is reinstated as a Hindu nation."

The Times of India reported: "Soon after the attacks, Muslims began
demonstrations on streets. Fearing a riot, the district administration clamped
curfew from Saturday night. When the curfew was lifted in the morning, Muslims
called a strike in Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts, ignoring [PM]
Koirala's appeal to show restraint." (LINK 5)

An October 2007 article by Prashant Jha in the Himal SouthAsian entitled
"Royal Hindutva -- The Hindu right in Nepal is currently down, but not out"
provides insight to the relationship between Hindutva forces in Nepal and
India. [In fact, Jha's article makes one wonder: what would it mean for Nepal
if India's BJP won power in India's 2009 federal elections?]

Concern Nepal, Jha writes: "India's Hindu right does not like what it sees
taking place in Nepal. Angry that the country is headed towards becoming a
secular, democratic republic, it can see its traditional influence in Nepali
politics waning. A terminal blow has now been dealt to the two pillars central
to what the Hindutva-wallahs have cherished about Nepal: a Hindu rashtra
[state] with a Hindu monarchy.

"But Hindutva leaders from both India and Nepal have not given up. They have
been brainstorming -- at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in
Nagpur, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
office in New Delhi, the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur, and at the residence
of royalist politicians in Kathmandu -- as well as with King Gyanendra at the
Narayanhiti Palace. However, the Indian and Nepali Hindu right recognises the
limits of its capacity, and does not have a clear rescue plan as yet [Oct 07].
. ." (LINK 6)

Maybe the recent mosque bombing in Biratnagar signals a shift in Hindutva
strategy. Perhaps the Hindutva agenda will be advanced, not through riots or
minor acts of terrorism against Maoists and journalists, but, as in India,
through the fomenting of sectarian strife.

Elizabeth Kendal

LINKS

1) Nepal: Peace, equity and religious liberty.
WEA RLC News & Analysis. By Elizabeth Kendal. 29 Nov 2006.
http://www.ea.org.au/ReligiousLiberty/NewsAnalysis/NEPALPEACEEQUALITYANDRELIGIOUSLIBERTY.aspx

ALSO
Chronology of Nepal's peace process
http://thepost.com.pk/IntNews.aspx?dtlid=154137&catid=1

2) Nepal: Hindutva forces rally against Nepal's reforms.
WEA RLC News & Analysis. By Elizabeth Kendal. 26 May 2006
http://www.ea.org.au/ReligiousLiberty/NewsAnalysis/NEPALHINDUTVAFORCESRALLYAGAINSTNEPALSREFORMS.aspx


3) Blast at Kantipur office
Kantipur Report. BIRATNAGAR, 13 March 2008
http://www.kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?&nid=140608

4) 2 dead in Biratnagar mosque bomb blasts, 2 others critically injured
Kantipur Report. BIRATNAGAR, 30 March 2008
http://www.kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?&nid=142440

5) Muslims call strike after Nepal blasts. 31 March 2008
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Nepal_Muslims_call_strike_after_blasts/articleshow/2912369.cms

6) Royal Hindutva
The Hindu right in Nepal is currently down, but not out.
By Prashant Jha, October 2007
http://www.himalmag.com/2007/october_november/royal_hindutva.html

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