Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be in the mood for a fight, even at great human and material costs. He has just pushed through a divisive citizenship amendment that allows into India members of all persecuted religious minorities in South Asia—except Muslims. This legislation has had predictable results. Muslims around the country have revolted. For a different reason, so have the residents of Northeast India, who fear being inundated by citizens of neighboring countries. Earlier this year, the BJP government in the Northeastern state of Assam started updating its citizenship register, in what has been decried as an attempt to drive out all undocumented residents, even if they have lived in India for several generations. This could result in statelessness of nearly two million people, including around 500,000 Nepali speakers.
The Hindu nationalist government in India is pandering to Indian Hindus’ basest instincts. As the Indian economy cools off and the party’s popularity dips, Modi and his BJP realize that only by stoking sectarianism can they remain electorally competitive. This is unfortunate. Modi got a resounding mandate to govern India, twice, due to his technocratic image—someone capable of getting things done. He promised a breath of fresh air after the staid days of Manmohan Singh.
Yet PM Modi is fast squandering that mandate through a series of ill-advised economic interventions and sectarian policies. A vibrant secular state is now being reduced to a stagnant Hindu theocracy. The new legislation will also affect Nepal. Security types here are already talking about the potential influx of countless Muslims, as India tightens the noose around them. Nepal will face pressure to accept them on humanitarian grounds.
As worryingly, the open promoters of Nepal as a Hindu state, both here and in India, will get a boost, especially if Nepali political parties adopt an electoral logic of emulating Modi’s Hindutwa. For a small country sandwiched between two big powers, it may be unwise to formally speak on the developments in India. But this is the perfect time for sober reflection on the recent violence in India and its implications on Nepal’s national security. For our political parties, the message should be that religion is not something to be trifled with. Even the mighty Modi seems to have bitten off more than he can chew this time. Nepal is not India. An openly sectarian party will have a still tougher time here.