Nepal’s capital Kathmandu was rocked on Thursday (23 November) by massive demonstrations demanding the restoration Nepal’s status as a “Hindu” nation and Monarchy.
Thousands of people from all walks of life marched through the capital’s streets and clashed with police, who were forced to charge with batons and fire tear gas canisters.
The protesters were called in into this movement called Rashtra, Rashtriyata, Dharma Sanskriti Aur Nagarik Bachau Andolan (Movement for Protection of Nation, Nationalism, Religion, Culture and Citizens’), also clashed with cadres of the opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), or CPN(UML).
The movement is led by a renowned businessman Durga Prasain, who is demanding the resignation of the coalition government led by Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Following public support for their demands, which include replacing the current system of government, organizers of the movement are planning a series of protests in the state capital and other major cities in the coming days.
Prasain wants the country’s current constitution (adopted in 2015) to be replaced with the 1990 constitution promulgated by then King Birendra.
The 1990 Constitution was abolished in 2007 and eventually replaced by the 2015 Constitution, which established the Himalayan Kingdom with an elected parliament and the human and political rights enshrined in the Constitution. It paved the way for the country’s transformation into a constitutional monarchy.
The momentum that Prasain’s movement has been gaining in recent weeks has taken Nepal’s political, bureaucratic, and security establishment by surprise. This movement now poses a real threat to the government and the current political order, which is known for having under Chinese influence.
Why this movement is gaining unprecedented momentum?
The primary reason is that people are quite angry and disappointed over the failure of the political parties — both ruling and opposition — to deliver. The power struggles and resulting frequent political uncertainties with Nepal’s top politicians’ blatant disregard for political morality have angered a large section of the Nepalese population.
Another reason is Economic mess, inflation, and a severe problem of unemployment. Nepal’s depleting economic situation, lack of adequate physical infrastructure outside the Kathmandu Valley, poor medical and educational facilities, and a rudimentary social safety net that does not work, have led to people losing faith in the current parliamentary democratic system.
Several thousands of people across the country have lost their hard-earned savings to cooperatives and microfinance companies, which are managed by influential politicians and powerful people. This also caused a wave of anger among the masses.
Nepalese people are also facing a bleak future and have begun to believe that a constitutional monarchy is best option for them. The country’s Hindu-majority population views the king as a living incarnation of the god Bhagwan Vishnu. They believe that the unceremonious overthrow of King Gyanendra in 2008 was bad for the country.
There is also growing dissatisfaction among the majority of Hindus over the fact that the country have been unofficially secularized in 2007. This change in status from the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ opened the door for Christian missionaries and Muslim preachers who took advantage of the poverty in the country and converted large numbers of people to Christianity and Islam through seduction. This leads to social tensions, as new converts may even attack Hindu places of worship.
How Nepal became a ‘Secular’ state?
Nepal has long been a Hindu-majority state. More than 80 percent of the population was, and is, Hindu, and another 10 percent are Buddhists. Nepal’s national identity was largely defined by the upper-caste people from the hilly region who dominated the hallways of power in Kathmandu and local centers. They defined Nepal as a Hindu state and the monarch as an avatar of Lord Bishnu, a Hindu god.
King Mahendra (r. 1955-1972) promoted the idea of “ek raja, ek desh, ek bhasa, ek bhesh” (one king, one state, one language, one dress). It helped unify the elite communities but further marginalized the ethnic communities, especially those from the southern plains of Nepal. They were primarily disenfranchised, and their national loyalty was questioned.
Leaders from ethnic communities led the calls for Nepal to be made a secular state during the 1990 political revolution, which overthrew the executive monarchy to establish Nepal as a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. However, such voices were marginal and did not gain mainstream traction.
Ethnic and caste discrimination was among the central planks for recruiting insurgents during the decade-long Maoist insurgency in Nepal from 1996-2006. The insurgency concluded with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Maoists and the seven mainstream political parties in 2006, which paved the way toward Nepal’s secularism.