Nepal Might Be Modi’s Next Foreign Policy Target

A fledgling Hindu fundamentalist movement is becoming a more disruptive force in Nepali society after  clashing with the police over their demands that the country return to being a constitutionally Hindu state, something which perfectly dovetails with the “Akhand Bharat” grand strategy of Indian Prime Minister Modi and might make India’s northern neighbor the next target of his aggressive foreign policy.

Heated Tensions Over Hindutva

Nepal’s Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), a fledgling Hindu fundamentalist movement with only one representative in parliament nowadays, clashed with police on Monday over their demands that the country return to being a constitutionally Hindu state like it was for centuries before the abolition of the monarchy in the mid-2000s following the end of the communist-driven civil war. The Himalayan country has since become a constitutionally secular republic and is now governed by a coalition of communists, a state of affairs that the far-right Hindus who populate the fertile Terai lowlands where upwards of half of Nepal’s population resides are fiercely opposed to.  The RPP formed a so-called “struggle committee” late last month to aggressively advance its agenda following the model of its ideological inspiration in India, Prime Minister Modi of the ruling BJP, who is fighting for his political life ahead of the onset of his country’s month-long electoral process later this week.

A Boost For The BJP?

It shouldn’t be seen as coincidental that the RPP is resorting to “active measures” such as provoking police clashes in order to raise global attention to its cause at this specific moment since it appears timed to influence the vote in neighboring India by crafting the perception that the BJP’s Hindutva ideology is spreading throughout South Asia per the ruling party’s grand strategy of building the so-called “Akhand Bharat” of a “Hindu Rashtra” throughout the wider region that they regard as “Greater India”. There are no upcoming elections in Nepal to contest, nor any other clear domestic political “triggers” that could explain why the RPP chose this moment in time to make a very public scene, thus strongly suggesting that this is more closely connected to India’s political process than their country’s own. It’ll remain to be seen what effect, if any, this has on the vote, but it nevertheless has the potential to generate “politically advantageous” optics for the BJP.

The weaponized narrative of a Hindutva “grassroots” party clashing with the armed representatives of a constitutionally secular and communist-run state could inspire an upsurge of nationalist sentiment among the BJP’s base and other Indians more broadly, especially if decontextualized and/or edited images and footage begin to circulate (whether after these recent clashes or any forthcoming ones) portraying the RPP as “innocent unarmed peaceful civilian protesters brutally attacked by pro-Chinese communist forces”. The China card is especially relevant in this context because India is generally regarded as having “lost” Nepal to its northern neighbor following the humongous debacle of fall 2015 when India unofficially blockaded Nepal in support of the majority-Hindu “Madhesis” of the Terai who were violently protesting the promulgation of their country’s decentralized constitution at the time. The political, economic, and humanitarian consequences of India’s “meddling” have yet to be forgotten and laid the basis for the country’s profound ongoing pro-Chinese pivot.

“The Red Scare”

“Officially” speaking, however, Nepal is just “balancing” between the two nuclear-armed Great Powers, but in reality all of its friendly and pragmatic moves towards China are coming at the relative expense of India’s previously domineering role over the former Kingdom, undoubtedly liberating  Kathmandu’s foreign policy but inadvertently triggering a “security dilemma” with New Delhi amid hysterical fears by some that Beijing could use its increasing influence in the country as a “forward-operating base” against India’s most populous province of Uttar Pradesh. For as ridiculous as this narrative is, it could be especially potent in galvanizing voters during India’s month-long electoral process, especially if pious people in the so-called “cow belt” are made to believe that giving Modi another mandate will lead to India extending more direct support to their co-confessionals who are “fighting to free Nepal from atheist communist pro-Chinese proxy occupation”. In fact, it would only take minimal investment for the BJP to create and propagate this narrative.

China already looms heavy over the heads of India’s 1.3 billion people as a result of Modi’s dramatic brinkmanship nearly two years ago during the summer 2017 Donglang-Doklam Dispute, so it’s comparatively easy to revive this narrative after the masses have already been preconditioned to fear the People’s Republic. Furthermore, the BJP is campaigning on a platform of “economic nationalism”, popularly known abroad as “Trumpism“, which includes fierce opposition to China’s Belt & Road Initiative and especially its flagship project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Considering China’s plans for a “Himalayan Silk Roadhigh-speed railway under the world’s highest mountains to Nepal, it’s possible to gin up more hysteria about Beijing’s suspected geostrategic motives in South Asia if the BJP feels that it’s politically convenient to do so. The RPP could therefore be framed with minimal effort as “Hindu heroes” fighting against the “communist dragon”.

Concluding Thoughts

Even in the event that aforementioned narrative isn’t employed by the BJP or its surrogates during the month-long electoral process, it can’t be discounted that Modi will make Nepal the next target of his foreign policy if he wins re-election, considering that the RPP already functions as India’s proxy and that New Delhi might have an interest in provoking another crisis with Beijing, albeit this time much more indirectly than during the Donglang-Doklam Dispute and in a country of much more geostrategic importance for it than Bhutan (to say nothing of having a more “plausible” basis of supporting fellow co-confessionals). The Indian incumbent is trying to make his people believe that “Arkhand Bharat” is just around the corner after spinning Bollywood-influenced stories of regional foreign policy “successes” in literally ever neighboring country (most recently the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan), so it would fit his pattern of behavior to try to do something similar in neighboring Nepal that he could also claim as a “victory” for domestic political purposes whether it truly is or not.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.

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