The Yogi Factor

Could the Mahant of the Gorakhnath temple be the catalyst in bringing India and Nepal closer?

Abeer Kapoor Delhi

Aaj Nepal pehchaan ke liye taras raha hai, yeh pehchaan kabhi bhagwaan gorakhnath ki kripa se, yeh pehchaan Raja Prithvi Narayan Shah ki kripa se, ek hi karam ke matra se prapt hui thi.” (Today Nepal longs for its identity, one that was given by the grace, work done by Lord Gorakhnath and Prithvi Shah). In the same speech, the Mahant of the Gorakhnath Math, referring to the unceremonious adoption of the secular system that the Constituent Assembly brought in after the abolishment of the monarchy said, “Aakhir Nepal, swatantra Nepal ne kisi jaat, mat, pant, mazhab aur sampraday ka kya bigada tha ki yeh Nepal bikhra rahe hai?” (What has Nepal, free Nepal done against any sect, caste, community, leader or religion, that it should remain divided?).

This speech by Yogi Adityanath delivered in July 2016, at the World Hindu Conference in Kathmandu, acquires a new meaning after his elevation as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Interestingly, Yogi coming to power in Lucknow coincides with the furious political activity that has engulfed Nepal as it goes into elections. The rise of the Mahant of Gorakhnath temple could impact India’s foreign policy towards the Himalayan State triggering processes that have laid dormant for the past decade: the hardline ‘Hindutva’ rhetoric of Adityanath might embolden similar voices in the Himalayan country. Already there are many who are sceptical of the teething problems the newly promulgated constitution faces and some have already grown weary of the experiment with democracy.

According to sources, there has been a flurry of activity amongst the many Hindutva and Hindu organisations in Nepal politics. They have been tactically trying to stitch together a narrative against the multi-party system, and restore the ‘singularity of identity’ under a monarch. The RSS has always worked in Nepal on its own and through its offshoot such as the Hindu Swayam Sevak Sangh, the World Hindu Foundation amongst others. In recent times, the push for propping up and supporting the monarchy has crystallised into a monomaniacal focus.  “There has been an effort on the part of the RSS to give traction to the pro-monarchist parties in recent times, key members of the organisation such as Hosable Dattatreya, the head of the ABVP and RSS social worker Bhagat Singh Koshiyari in Nepal,” said a former member of the Indian mission to Nepal, “The projecting of the King and pro-monarchy forces may not augur well, but are desperate efforts to rebuild the relationship between India and Nepal.”

Propping and supporting the monarchy, reinstating the Hindu Rashtra could possibly create a buffer state against China. However the rabid unpopularity of King Gyanendra and his son Paras,could backfire and could build up an opposition to India, and further hurt the chances of India influencing its Himalayan neighbour.

Yogi Adityanath exerts considerable influence over the population of Nepal. According to a former MP from Gorakhpur, “The Raja has not been forgotten and he is seen by the people as a figure who looks after everyone, and he has intimate connections with Gorakhnath. Isliye woh vaha ke Hinduwon mein bahut prasidd hai.” Gorakhnath is the deity of the Shah’s – the Kings of Nepal – and is known as the cow protector. The importance and relevance of the Adityanath speech and the math lie in reviving the monarchy. As a closing remark to his speech at the conference the Mahanth said, “Ab humme jan jan me jaake jagruk karna hai sabko shahvansh ke parampara ke baare me bata na hai, ki bina shahvansh ke ek shresth, ek Nepal nahi hota.” (We have to go to the people and make them aware that without the rule of the Shahs, there would not be Nepal, one single Nepal.)

Identity Game

The words of the Yogi echo and find currency amongst many groups in Nepal. He seems to have his finger on a sentiment, a longing for stability that the monarchy represented. After all, Gorakhnath is the deity of the royal family, it is said that Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of the modern Nepal state, was blessed by Lord Gorakhnath in the late eighteenth century. The temple exerts considerable influence amongst the common populace, especially in the border areas, and may help sway public opinion.

While, the dissatisfaction with the political process runs deep, and there are many who agree with Yogi Adityanath’s assertion of an ‘identity lost’, there are two competing viewpoints that emerge: those who see this as the beginning of a stronger pro-revivalist force through the working of hindu organisations, while the second, mainly political analysts in Nepal, who don’t think that the presence of a Yogi Adityanath will influence the politics of Nepal. Dipak Gyawali, a former minister of Water Resources between 2002-03, is of the strong opinion that Adityanath will not be a factor in the upcoming elections both in the local election slated for May 14, and the National election later this year. “UP is a large state, and why does the Yogi need to focus away from that? His agenda is currently on focused on India.”

Gyawali however maintains that the population want a Hindu Rashtra, and a constitutional monarchy. “There has been a steady increase in the number of people who want a Hindu State in Nepal. 71 percent of the population, according to our survey at Ida, want Nepal to be a Hindu State, and the growing pressure has led to the addition of the ‘footnote’ that states that the definition of secularism would promote and protect ‘sanatan traditions’ in the constitution of 2015,” said Dipak Gyawali, in a conversation with Hardnews.

Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the Annapurna Post and a contributor to several english dailies in India, in a conversation with Hardnews said, “The population will revere Gorakhnath irrespective of Adityanath, there has always been religious tolerance in Nepal. The monarchy despite being Hindu allowed for people to practice what they wanted, the decision to declare Nepal secular was not necessary and that too without debate, without consent.” For Ghimire the decision to reexamine Nepal’s identity does not create space or influence for the incumbent UP Chief Minister, “India has always been treated with suspicion, the RSS and other organisations are counted as Indian interference.” According to him, there is confusion that persists with India: on one hand it was them who propped up and supported the Maoists, and at the same time it is India who is also supporting the RSS and other affiliated organisations. Ghimire is quite sure that the upcoming elections, will not be influenced by these forces, “The electoral share of the pro-monarchist parties is currently very small, and they have no say.” The future however, according to him, is uncertain.

The conversations about an incompatible definition of secularism and the manner in which it was implemented is still a sore subject for many. “The constitution has not inspired much confidence, if the elections do not happen then a lot of the people will lose confidence in the political process. Moreover, if the urban local body elections don’t take place the trust may dissipate. There is an inherent longing for the stability of the monarchy, there are currently around 190 political parties in the country, it will only lead to confusion,” said a political commentator on the condition of anonymity. The feeling of longing for the monarchy has a chance of being aggravated/exacerbated. The ‘symbol’ of the Yogi could be a rallying point over the disaffection over the political system and its current form in Nepal.

All the opinions, editorial and articles written in Nepali newspapers point to the growing confusion because of the sudden proliferation of hundreds of political parties and the feeling of the loss of identity that can be cashed in by Hindu organisations who gain strength from a similar movement in India. Under the narrative of working towards maintaining and rebuilding what has been, these organisation that are offshoots, or built up by Indian organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad push forward a pro-monarchy narrative.

Many an Opposition

“The form of Hinduism in Nepal is not very similar to how it is followed in India,” said Professor Kapil Shrestha, who is with the Political Science department in Tribhudev University, to Hardnews, “Hinduism had to climb mountains and travel through forests to get to our country, it exists in a much more diluted form.” The form of Hinduism in Nepal is very different from the one propounded by the BJP and the RSS, according to Shrestha. “The ruling parties, the CPN (M-C), Nepali Congress and even the CPN (UML) aren’t very close to them and would not fall prey to their narrative. The secular forces in Nepal look at the BJP with suspicion.”

“Prachanda is secular and his efforts are towards the maintenance of democracy in Nepal, while Adityanath pushed for a way to ‘go back to the monarchy’ and this makes him extremely unpopular in Nepal. There is a lot of hate for the last King. The Yogi is supporting someone who was rejected the people’s movement,” said KC Tyagi, Chief General Secretary and Spokesperson of the Janata Dal (United), “He no longer exerts the same influence in the country and the issue that Nepal faces are far bigger than what he can mobilise.”

“India’s relationship with Nepal was in the real doldrums, in recent times things have started looking up. Parties in India, want to help build the relationship between India and Nepal through helping democracy flourish in the region. We would like to support the local body elections, and help rebuild the bilateral ties between the countries,” said Devi Prasad Tripathi, Rajya Sabha member from the Nationalist Congress Party, “Nepal’s politics is extremely fragmented, there are the Nepali Congress and the CPN (M-C), the excessive nationalism of KP Oli and the CPN (UML), over this there is the Madhesi issue, and finally there are the Hindu pro-monarchists who are gaining traction who promise a Hindu Rashtra, helped by the RSS and many organisations, they are extremely unpopular amongst sections of the country.” 

Growing China:

The unpopularity of India in Nepal is nothing new. “After the blockade Modi and the BJP have become extremely unpopular in the region,” said Professor Shrestha. India’s blockade according to many young Nepalis has pushed their country closer to China. “While it is true that India’s perception fell, let us always acknowledge that Nepalis are culturally close to India, they follow the latest developments in Bihar or UP, and China is 3000 km away. It is India’s foolishness, that is forcing Nepal to look up to China. China is growing everywhere, it is occupying spaces that India is vacating, and that must be acknowledged.”

“It is true that the culturally we are closer to Nepalese citizens than China, Prachanda has had excellent relations with India, and it was with our support that the Maoists were able to enter into peace talks. It is not a matter of left or right, there are certain diktats of geography that cannot be ignored,” said Captain Alok Bansal of the India Foundation in a conversation with Hardnews, “China can never be a substitute for India.”

Nepal has always used its neutrality as a means of negotiating terms of conditions: playing the China game to get its way. “China’s relationship with Nepal isn’t new, it provided arms to one faction or the other during the years of civil war,” said Sudhindra Bhadoria, of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Despite the trip to India, Nepal has agreed to attend the One Belt, One Road conference slated for May 14. While the joint military exercise between the Nepalese Army and the People’s Army, was cut short by Indian pressure. These developments have got New Delhi a bit worried, even questions were raised about the joint military exercise in Parliament by senior Congress leaders.

The emboldened ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and ‘pro-monarchy’ narrative, boosted by the growing work and presence of the RSS and VHP in the country, raise questions over the constitution and the manner in which secularism had been introduced. These voices consider themselves to be ‘culturally’ closer to India and are situated in organisations such as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh who are either offshoots or ideologically tied to organisations in India. In shifting the focus away from the Madhesi problem, they ask whether, ‘the most populous state in India, a ‘secular’ country, with a diverse population could elect a ‘Hindu’ monk as its chief minister, what could prevent the world’s only ‘Hindu Rashtra’ to return?’

Could Yogi Adityanath be fielded as a man who could help bring India and Nepal closer? What could help is whether the Hindu cleric can garner support from New Delhi. Could he unleash forces in Nepal that could both give traction to those who want revive the monarchy, amplifying the underlying resentment? While the Yogi has maintained that the real grand design of the Maoists in Nepal is to eventually turn to India, could his rhetoric help keep China at bay? Subsequently, under the government of K P Oli, there was a visible shift of Nepal towards their neighbours to the North. In New Delhi, there are many who disregard the growing closeness, but there is a sense of worry that has gripped many. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2017