All Nepalis have the freedom to practice their religion, including Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. Yet his new-found penchant for Hinduism is still odd, as he has never been a religious person. In fact, as a communist, he abhors all religions. Notably, it was under his leadership that the secular 2015 constitution was promulgated. But, suddenly, and without a shred of evidence, he now claims Lord Ram was born in Nepal. He has also started offering ‘lakhbatti’ in Pashupati. Oli is clearly calculating: having called for mid-term polls, he is now looking to cash in on the pro-Hindu sentiment.
Oli has for some time been angling for the support of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. He is also rumored to be exploring a ‘Hindu alliance’ for the upcoming elections. That would be unwise. Nepal’s Hindu status, many argue, should be restored as it is over 80 percent Hindu. But this argument can easily be turned on its head: there really is no need to ‘protect’ the Sanatan Dharma that is being practiced by so many. If anything, it is other religious minorities like Buddhists, Kiratis, Muslims and Christians who need to be protected from the Hindu majoritarian impulses vote-minded politicians could fan.
Oli is now inclined towards Hinduism, now that the Nepal Communist Party he co-led is imploding and his grip on power is slipping. Religion is an emotive issue and perhaps the easiest with which to sway the masses. As the BJP’s anti-Muslim fervor in India suggests, it can also be combustible, and easily used to divide societies. The historically uneasy relation between state and religion is the reason they are kept separate in most modern nation-states. Nepal has already had its share of conflicts over the past few decades. The last thing it now needs is a religious strife.
This is a message not just for Oli. There also exist strong pro-Hindu lobbies in opposition Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party, Nepal. Rastriya Prajatantra Party has always been a staunch pro-Hindu force. They would all do well to keep religion out of politics in national interest. There are far too many constitutional, political and socio-economic problems left to be fixed without the country also having to deal with religious tensions. It would be unfortunate if next set of elections, whenever they take place, were to be largely decided based on people’s religious sentiments.