#IndiaBlockadesNepal: A tale of illiberal politics that spans two countries

A summary of a blog I wrote last year after Modi’s rise to power and reactions in Nepal. This week, the Modi government of India started an economic blockade on Nepal ( #IndiaBlockadesNepal ) in protest of Nepal promulgating a very progressive and forward-looking constitution after almost 9 years of painful transition from a violent insurgency. On the Nepali side, the chief ideologue of the far-left party that waged the insurgency announced his departure from his party today. He also resigned from his parliamentary seat, where he was the Chairman of a key committee involved in the drafting of the constitution. This can be seen as a departure from the ongoing constitutional process and endorsement of the Indian blockade.

In spite of many similarities, India and Nepal had very different experiences of the colonial and post-colonial era. In the post-colonial times, while India was a democratic republic, Nepal oscillated between absolute monarchy and a democratic monarchy before becoming a republic in 2006 (whose defining constitution is still not drafted).

Gokarna Gautam's (@gokgautam) sketch:
Gokarna Gautam’s (@gokgautam) sketch: “Baburam Bhattarai might try to escape, but his bloody past will never leave him.

This historical context has strengthened an anti-establishment position in Nepal. The situation has changed significantly in recent years. The ultra-left Maoist communist party led the political discourse for most of the past decade. The traditional political establishment has been replaced. The traditional establishment neither had strong authority nor did it win the loyalty and trust of the population. Although we had fewer elections, the mainstream thought in Nepal has mostly been observed as leftist, including the presence of a powerful ultra-left force.

A ultra-left illiberal nationalism

One would think that Modi and the new Nepalese mainstream would be at loggerheads with each other. Modi advocates a “Hindutva” brand of politics, while the new Nepalese establishment advocates secularism. The champions of this establishment until half an year ago (when elections tilted the balance of powers in favor of centrist parties) advocate dictatorship of the proletariat. One would expect them to be the ones disagreeing with Modi the most.

The irony is that the most enthusiastic response to Modi’s victory came from the two Maoist parties in Nepal, the UCPNM and CPNM (both are breakaway factions of the Maoist party that led an armed insurgency in Nepal). The day following Modi’s victory, the Maoist parties seemed like the only parties celebrating Modi’s victory in Kathmandu. Pampha Bhusal, the spokesperson of CPNM was full of praises for Modi. Baburam Bhattarai, the media savvy ideologue of UCPNM seemed equally enthusiastic. He was probably the first Nepalese leader without an office to congratulate Modi. His party boss Pushpa Kamal Dahal was two days late.

This does not come as a surprise to keen observers. The ultra left groups of Nepal have been staunchly nationalistic, having also re-defined nationalism as being anti-Indian. As described above, their strength was derived from the weakening of the then establishment. They justified their opposition of that establishment by blaming them of being pro-Indian.

Same sides, two countries?

The nationalist ultra-left of Nepal and the nationalist Hindutva-based ultra-right of India look like two sides of a same coin. Different historical circumstances meant different courses for these groups in the two countries. The essence of both groups seem to be the same, whether good or bad, depending on your point of view. One key difference is that the role of Indian ultra-right nationalism has been to strengthen the state’s authority while that of Nepali ultra-left nationalism has been to weaken the state’s authority to the extent of making it ineffectual. However, the illiberal nature of both flavors bear a strikingly similarity.


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