There have been a number of incidents in Nepal in recent months that suggest organized efforts to increase the prominence of religion in the country’s officially secular politics. In August, September and October, sectarian communal tensions involving Hindu activists in three different cities – Dharan, Malangawa and Nepalgunj – led to the government imposing a curfew. During this period, Indian analysts and media outlets, including mainstream media, reported a flurry of reports on the Nepal Janata Party (NJP), a Hindu nationalist party inspired by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Few Nepalis, including experienced political analysts, had ever heard of this before. During the same period, Binod Chaudhary, a sitting MP and Nepal’s richest person, invited Dhirendra Bahadur Shastri, a self-proclaimed Hindu extremist from India, to recite Hindu scriptures at Nepal’s Shashwat Dham Temple. Shastri reportedly questioned Nepal’s secular status during his visit.

This rise of Hindu nationalism coupled with attacks on Nepal’s secularist credibility as enshrined in the country’s constitution should not be viewed as an isolated incident. Rather, they need to be analyzed in the context of Nepal’s domestic politics while also taking into account the export of Hindu nationalist politics from India. This, in turn, involves understanding the historical roots of Nepal’s Hindu politics, how the country became a secular republic, the growing popular discontent with the established political parties, and the BJP’s Hindu ambitions for Nepal. The stakes are urgent because the health of Nepal’s young democracy would suffer if Hindu nationalism made any significant inroads there.

Nepal’s Pragmatic Secularists

Any analysis of the growing importance of Hindu nationalist or HindutvaPolitics in Nepal should first take into account the country’s centuries-old legacy of being a Hindu monarchy ruled by one Kshatriya, or “warrior” caste, king. While there were sporadic calls for secularism under the monarchy, particularly from Maoist insurgents and indigenous minority groups, these were never widely received.

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