In defense of secular republic

Published On: December 11, 2020 06:47 AM NPT By: Dr Chhering Yonzon

The one religion state was a salient feature in Nepal’s medieval monarchy but it is erroneous in a pluralistic 21st century republican state.

Nepal is a multi-ethnic, religious, lingual, cultural nation since ages. Our diversity has been our unity and strength.

Taking into consideration our multiple identity fabric, the historic Constituent Assembly in 2015 ratified the constitution that possessed progressive tenets such as republic, federalism, secularism and proportionate inclusiveness in state organs as main pillars.

For more than 240 years, this nation had been a Hindu monarchy—absolute monarchy until 1990 and then constitutional monarchy until 2006 when the people’s movement ultimately ushered the way forward for the establishment of a federal republic.

The monarchy’s Panchayat regime followed ‘one language, one religion, one culture’ nationhood in a society that was richly diverse with around 108 dialects spoken and various faiths followed by its 30 million people.

This unfortunately suppressed and smothered the identity and culture of various groups and communities for centuries.

The dominant group’s values and perceptions were considered as national mainstream while other group’s identity was further marginalized.  

The fundamentals of monarchy had been one community that is Shah clan’s one family hereditary rule as head of state until the establishment of republic that ended this system.

And when the country turned into a republic state, this constitutionally opened the way forward for any Nepali citizen out of 30 million to become its president.

The first president of our nation was a physician by profession and hailed from a humble farming community in Madhesh. The second president, who is in office today, is a woman. All this would have been unimaginable in a traditionally paternalistic monarchy setup.

In future, sooner or later, we could have a Dalit citizen as the head of state or a member from any of the marginalized groups.

The aspirations of the so-called ‘untouchable’ community mired in Hindu caste hierarchy would not have been possible in a monarchy that traditionally had a Chhetri Shah clan as the head of state.

We have already seen this in India where qualified Dalit citizens have taken the position of the highest office in the land. This is the beauty of a republic state which monarchy never presents.

There is a striking discrepancy between past Hindu monarchy and the present ‘status quo’ conservatives in the country who fail to reckon the essence of our federal republic.

It was not surprising for an institution such as monarchy that chose one family’s hereditary rule to also prefer monopolistically their own religion as state religion, hence Hindu monarchy for the last 240 years.

But this reflects discrepancy when right wing Hindu supremacists demand Hindu nation in a society that is wonderfully pluralistic when it comes to various faiths being practiced in the land.

Historically, the religions of Kirats in the eastern districts and Shamans in the mountains were being practiced much before the arrival of Khas-Arya Hindu groups from northern India.

Even Gautam Buddha, the ‘light of Asia’ and founder of the Buddhist faith, was born in Lumbini that lies inside the boundaries of our country.

Therefore, this exclusive, supremacist, first class citizen’s mindset of one religious group dominating over other religious communities demanding ‘one religion nation hood’ in a diverse society like ours is constitutionally unacceptable in a federal republic.

If diversity is our unity and strength then justice, equality, pluralism, inclusive and secular society is the glue that binds us together in harmony without any conflicts.

The one religion state was a salient feature in Nepal’s medieval monarchy but it is erroneous in a pluralistic 21st century republican state.

The past population census have always maintained Nepal possessing 80 percent Hindu majority status.

Arguably this data has to be taken with a pinch of salt because it includes major indigenous groups such as Tharus, Magars, Gurungs, Limbus and Rais who have been socio-culturally colonized by Shah rulers in the last 240 years.

Secondly, other groups who identify themselves as Hindu populace in the census—such as Dalits and Madheshis—were always marginalized during ‘one identity’ monarchy rule. Now in the republican setup, all the aforementioned ruled groups can aspire to hold the highest office of the land.

Conservatives have contradicted themselves in their views as well. They opine that in a multi-identity nation like ours, ethnic province or Jatiya Rajya is wrong but then following the same politico-moral reasoning that in a pluralistic society, religious state or Dharmik Rajya is equally tribal and obsolete.

They have also strategically misled the people by inciting them against the federal republican system and secular statehood. For this situation to arise, however, the current crop of leaders are themselves to be blamed.

Instead of capitalizing on a rare two thirds majority in the parliament for progress and development, the present government’s officials have shown ineptitude and disgusting self-centric behavior.

Even after years of institutionalizing federal republican setup by the constitution, corruption is still rife at all levels. There is a blatant disregard for people’s mandate by choosing rejected leaders during horse trading, there are never ending intra party feuds for self interest above moral interest to the nation and occasional authoritarian tendencies by leaders have all resulted in frustration and anger among the common people.

Therefore, status quo minded conservatives have pounced on the opportunity to emotionally sway angry, frustrated people and they have done this craftily by scape-goating and attacking the tenets of our constitution such as republican setup and secular fabric.

But the common man has to understand that the conservatives are doing this to propagate their own vested interests.

We are witnessing the specter of a double headed serpent gradually rising in our national landscape. And these two dark heads spitting venom are monarchy along with conservative ‘right wing Hindu nationalism’ aspiring to uproot the pillars of our federal republican setup and secular society that treats all faiths followed in the land as equal without any favor.

Our leaders have to pull up their sleeves and get serious with their responsibility or else it may be too late when they finally realize it.

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