Nepal is reportedly witnessing a growing call to restore its status as a Hindu nation and the movement is allegedly funded by the BJP, according to the latest International Religious Freedom report by the US State Department.
The report published in May quoted Nepali civil society activists who claimed the "influence from the ruling BJP and other Hindu groups in India continued to pressure politicians in Nepal, particularly in the right-wing Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) to support reversion to a Hindu state."
"Civil society leaders said what they characterised as right-wing religious groups associated with the BJP in India continued to provide money to influential politicians of all parties to advocate Hindu statehood," the report added.
The US report comes as Nepal's Prime Minister Pushpakamal Dahal 'Prachanda' visited Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India earlier this week. The leader of the Nepal Communist Party was also seen visiting Ujjain, clad in saffron-coloured Hindu robes, to conduct temple rituals.
However, the Hindu nation campaign had picked up momentum years before. In 2021, former Nepal Army General Rookmangud Katawal launched a campaign titled 'Hindu Rastra Swabhiman Jagaran Abhiyan' seeking restoration of Nepal as a Hindu state. The RPP, a conservative royalist party, had been demanding the restoration of constitutional monarchy and Hindu state in Nepal for years.
But, the RPP was quick to condemn the US State Department report, calling it "baseless … reflecting a one-sided bias." The Dahal government reacted to it by sending a diplomatic note to the US embassy in Kathmandu disagreeing with the report.
Santosh Sharma Poudel, head of the Centre for Strategic Affairs at the Nepal Institute for Policy Research, a Kathmandu-based think tank, told South China Morning Post that the demand for making Nepal a Hindu state was intertwined with restoring the monarchy. He added that Nepal's shift to democracy since 2007 was " marked by many political exhortations which had as yet failed to materialise."
"Political parties have not been able to deliver and things are, possibly, worse than when Nepal was a monarchy. Hence, there is frustration among people and a rise in people demanding a Hindu monarchy," he told the Hong Kong-based newspaper.
Not just political parties, even the monarchy has joined the campaign as former Nepal King Gyanendra Shah recently joined a public campaign that envisages the restoration of Nepal’s earlier status as a "Hindu Kingdom". The march in which he took part was a massive show of strength as thousands of Nepalis attended the event. The call to restore the Hindu state was closely connected with monarchy as the latter has been considered the 'avatar' of Lord Vishnu.
Despite the RPP's stance, the BJP has always supported Nepal being a Hindu state. In 2015, Yogi Adithyanath wrote to Nepali Prime Minister stating that Nepal must be a Hindu state. At that time, the Nepali constitution was being created.
According to SD Muni, professor emeritus at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of International Studies, ties between Nepal’s monarchy and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) go a long way back. "It is an ongoing relationship, but the RSS has expedited it and made it more institutionalised under the tenure of Modi’s government," Muni told South China Morning Post.