Hindutva in Nepal: A Political Sociology Analysis of its Prospects
This paper will address an under-analysed topic in Nepal’s political sociology: the prospects for political religion, in particular, political Hinduism in Nepal. This paper departs from the current literature on the topic, in that it is not a normative critique of Hindutva from a political theory or constitutional perspective, nor is it an ethnography of a religious practice. Instead, the paper utilizes a sociology of religion perspective by analysing the rise of politicized religion in terms of social preconditions, movement entrepreneurship and supply and demand factors among different socio-economic strata.
The paper will begin by setting the context for the study, by briefly analysing the social conditions that led to the rise of political Hinduism in India, based on a survey of the secondary literature on the rise of Hindutva in India since the 1920’s.
The paper will then summarize the current state of Hindutva in Nepal, based on a survey of the small scholarly literature on the topic and an analysis of contemporary events, including leaders’ rhetoric, the prevalence of religiously motivated grassroots riots and protests, and the degree to which Hindutva networks have become institutionalized in ashrams, religious schools, political parties (in particular the RPP, Rastriya Rajatantra Party) and the degree of influence of transnational organizations with branches in Nepal, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
The paper will then proceed to some macro sociological comparisons between Nepal and India, examining which ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ factors for Hindutva-like movements might be present or absent in Nepal, in comparison with India. ‘Demand’ factors include the presence of deracinated populations in urban areas searching for alternative forms of community and social support and perceived pressure on Hindu religious communities to ‘modernize’ and become more ‘disciplinary’ in the face of competition from other religions (especially Christianity) for members. ‘Supply’ factors include the intermediation of religious-political entrepreneurs at the grassroots level, ‘capture’ of religious institutions such as ashrams, the mediation of political parties (in particular the RPP) and organizational support from transnational networks and diasporic networks.
The paper concludes by weighing up these supply and demand factors, arguing that at present Hindu nationalism of the Indian variety is weak in Nepal, but that various demand and supply factors are in the process of making it a major factor in Nepal’s politics in the coming decades.
The paper is based on face-to-face interviews conducted with RPP leaders and among Hindu religious leaders in the Kathmandu Valley in the Summer of 2022, and on media searches and social media searches conducted in 2022 and 2023.