In “Changing Course: Nation over Notion – Abolition of Federalism by Restructuring and strengthening Local Bodies, Referendum on Secularism,” Rabindra Mishra, a journalist, writer, philanthropist, and now politician, offers an unabashed inside view into the minds of privileged Nepali society that is unnerved by the changes sweeping across the country.
Mishra’s paper has gained greater notoriety for its headline conclusions. But those are a distraction from the rest of the paper, which reflects nostalgically on the glory of yesterday’s authorities.
The monarchy, for instance, “never stooped so low to harm the self-respect of the country compared to the present stock of our political leaders.” “Secularism has led to further religious divisions,” he observes wistfully, while in the past, “Nepal had not faced such a situation despite being a Hindu nation.”
Towards the end of the paper, Mishra invokes the analogy of the former US president, Donald Trump. “White Americans,” he remarks, “felt that their feelings were being ignored,” which Trump harnessed into a political movement.
Mishra doesn’t realize it (perhaps, a Freudian slip) but by that point in the paper, he is the Donald Trump of Nepal. Like Trump, Mishra seeks to harness the grievances of Nepal’s privileged class whose traditional sources of authority are being challenged by the new republican, federal, decentralized, and secular structure.
Just as Trump did, Mishra attempts to show that Nepal is in a state of grave decline. He has noticed “clear signals of ongoing irreparable damage to Nepal's independence, integrity, sovereignty as well as ethnic, religious and cultural harmony in recent years.” Exactly what those may be, he doesn’t explain.
On religious harmony, for example, he highlights the fact that churches are popping up in rented apartments and that temples are not adequately conserved. For him, these are symbols of religious discord. But, perhaps, these symbols are nothing more than a reflection of the poor state of governance in a changing Nepal.
Like Trump, Mishra peddles a narrative of decline based on a false sense of lost glory. He writes about religious groups (exactly who, remains unclear) “proselytizing through enticement or spreading bitterness and hatred in the society.”
The growing cases of religious conversion are a common refrain among leaders who claim to represent Hindus. Mishra joins the bandwagon, arguing that “proselytizing” is hurting “the sentiments of majority Hindus.” Where or how those “hurt” Hindus have expressed themselves, he doesn’t say. He has been hurt, that’s proof enough.
Mishra makes no effort to understand why those that are converting have chosen to do so, or why they are being “enticed.” For him, as with Nepal’s traditional authority, retaining the flock was more important than empowering individuals on all matters, including their choice of God.
Like Trump, Mishra weaves a contrived tale of misinformation and imaginary history on how foreign powers subverted Nepal’s own progress. The fall of the monarchy and the Maoist movement, he suggests, were engineered by the Indians. Western power pushed the ideas of federalism and secularism, he imagines.
Such interpretations of history resonate with many who benefitted from generations of privilege and access to authority. It is hard for them to understand why they are being held accountable for the actions of their forefathers, when they are now working just as hard and honestly as anyone else.
Mishra taps into their “grievance” with an alternative history. No, he offers, Nepalis in the past were poor but in harmony. Nepalis never wanted federalism or secularism; foreign powers forced it upon them. Like Trump, Mishra is showing us how to exploit grievances into a political movement.
Mishra’s paper echoes the voice of Nepal’s traditional central powers: you people, we know what is best for you, listen to us.
“If we do not speak about our national interest, who else will?” he asks, echoing that voice.
He says resolving discrimination “requires a long struggle.” Only those who have never been subjected to social injustice—i.e., the privileged—could suggest we wait for “a long struggle” to end discrimination. Those on the receiving end want justice now.
Mishra’s demands challenge the very foundations of Nepal’s constitution. Nevertheless, Nepal’s democracy must provide him space and protection to convert those demands into a political movement. As our republic, federal, decentralized, and secular constitution struggles to strike roots and yield dividends, Nepal enters its final battle between those that benefitted and those that were marginalized. Within a democracy, we may have an opportunity to get through the battle without bloodshed.