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Indian electoral results will impact on minorities in South Asia

Posted by chimeki on June 10, 2014

saarcWith Narendra Modi’s ascendance to power in India the long feared political transformation of South Asian politics is complete. South Asia today is in the grip of majoritarianism. Most of the eight SAARC countries are governed by political parties that do not have a good record of safeguarding minorities’ rights.

Only Nepal and Bangladesh can be said to be not openly aligning with their countries’ majoritarian politics, however, the change in the biggest neighbor can drift the political pendulums of these countries too to the extreme right. A situation has emerged where there is no place in the South Asian region where the rights of its minorities are not prone to tampering. This is a dangerous phenomenon in a region as diverse as South Asia.

Like a double-edged sword, in South Asia, the Modi victory in India will work two ways. In Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka fundamentalists will get further  justification for consolidation on religious lines.

In Nepal, it will boost the morale of religious chauvinists who were feeling defeated and dejected in Republic Nepal. The BJP, in the past, had openly supported the Monarchy in Nepal hence monarchists and fundamentalists will certainly try and renew channels of communication with New Delhi. Even before Narendra Modi was sworn in , voices seeking a referendum on monarchy and the declaration of Nepal as a secular country have started making noises.

Nepal had benefitted economically during the previous BJP led NDA government, and as a corollary rightist parties and godmen had enjoyed considerable clout in Nepal. During that period the RSS affiliated Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had become hyperactive in the Himalayan country. Even after King Gyanendra suspended the Nepal government on February 1 2003, VHP supremo Ashok Singhal was instrumental in giving the coup legitimate cover. In return, Gyanendra allowed the VHP to propagate its communal agenda. At the time the government of India fully supported the VHP in Nepal.  In September that year Nepal saw the first ever communal riot in the capital city of Kathmandu after 12 Nepali nationals were killed in Iraq by Islamic militants. Religious zealots attacked mosques and properties of Muslims.

Today, Nepal is passing through a very critical time. It is writing a constitution which will guide its future actions. However, religious zealots in Nepal clearly see an opportunity in the Indian election results to place obstacles in the way of efforts to establish Nepal as a secular and democratic nation.The change has already started showing. Two days after the Indian Lok Sabha results were announced the Nepal government accepted the demand of the Pashupatinath Temple priests for 17 per cent share from the income generated by special offerings in the temple. The priests had been agitating for a month for this.

Moreover, the royalist and religious forces have considerable presence in the present Constituent Assembly. The Rashtriya Prajatantra Party – Nepal and the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party have emerged as the 4th and the 6th largest parties with 37 seats in 601 member assembly. In the last Constituent Assembly together they held only eight seats.

Under Modi, the BJP may play wise by not openly supporting the disreputable monarchy but it can certainly, like the previous NDA government, use its ‘Gandhi’ Ramdev and other RSS backed affiliations to work on that direction. Ramdev enjoys a considerable popularity amongst the monarchists in Nepal. In India his Bharat Swabhiman Trust has been working with people of Nepali origin for many years. The trust has been successful in depoliticizing the Nepalese and blunting aspirations for secularism amongst them.

V.S.

(First published in the Citizen on 25 May 2014.)

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