Nepal: Maoists chill out; Hindu backlash next?
Nepal's Maoist rebels agreed June 16 to lay down arms and join the government, ending the 10-year guerilla insurgency. The accord, announced following a daylong meeting between Maoist leader Prachanda ("the fierce one") and interim prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, calls for the elected Parliament to be dissolved pending a new constitution and for the guerillas to dismantle their parallel government in the countryside. The guerillas will not disarm until after until after a vote is held for a constituent assembly to draft the new constitution. As interim measures, hundreds of guerilla fighters have been released from prison, the word "royal" has been officially dropped from the name for the country's armed forces, and Nepal (heretofore the world's only Hindu kingdom) has been declared a secular nation. Prachanda is now on a national tour, holding meetings with the leaders of the guerilla "Peoples' Governments" and urging them to join the official political system. (Nepal News, June 18)
Since the accord's announcement, Hindu groups organized rallies in town throughout Nepal, and forced the southern industrial town of Birgunj to close for two days. Hindu holy men in saffron robes have been taking to the streets in Kathmandu and other cities demanding the reversal of the declaration.
"How can a 250-member parliament decide on something as serious as this? A referendum would have been the best way to go about it," Diwakar Chand, general secretary of the World Hindu Federation (WHF), UN-registered umbrella body of Hindu groups around the world, told the Christian Science Monitor.
Currently, the federation is headed by Bharat Keshari Singh, a top aide of King Gyanendra, who is held to be an incarnation of the god Vishnua.
Rajnath Singh, president of India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told a Nepali delegation in India just before the declaration: "The BJP would not appreciate a situation where Nepal loses its true identity and buckles under Maoist pressure."
Hari Bhakta Neupane, president of Sanatan Dharma Sewa Samiti, the oldest Hindu group in Nepal, says that if people begin slaughtering cows in secular Nepal, communal riots will be inevitable.
"Imagine a day when people slaughter cows in front of Kathmandu's temples. Hindus will be ready to give up their lives to stop it," he warns. Also expressing concerns over conversion drives by other faiths, Neupane pledged a national campaign to prevent these "unpleasant eventualities."
"Hinduism lies at the root of racial discrimination in Nepal for the last 238 years of dynastic rule," argues Krishna Bhattachan, an anthropologist who leads a movement of ethnic minorities in Nepal. "One state religion has meant the dominance of one culture, one caste, and one language."
According to the Nepalese government's Central Bureau of Statistics, there are over 103 castes and ethnicities, at least 92 different languages, and over 10 different religions in Nepal.
Traditionally, those from the top two castes in the Hindu hierarchy—Brahmins and Chhetriyas—have shared power with the king. Even when Nepal exercised limited democracy for 12 years after 1990, most of the elected prime ministers were Brahmins. The parliament as well as the bureaucracy is overwhelming dominated by Brahmins and Chhetriyas.
"The declaration has given the minorities a feeling of ownership of the state," said Raghu Ji Pant, parliamentarian and senior leader of Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist, the biggest party in the alliance of seven political parties that joined with the Maoists in the movement for a secular state. "The declaration has also ended the Hindu hegemony which legitimized the rule of autocratic Vishnu incarnations in the country." (CSM, June 18)
See our last post on Nepal.