Bhutan is possibly the most theocratic nation in the world.
India identified and singled out the two Islamic states of Afghanistan and Pakistan when it justified the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019, and threw in Bangladesh for good measure. But Bhutan has escaped attention because it is Buddhist and therefore acceptable to the BJP, though it is more of a religious state than any other in India’s neighbourhood.
The hereditary Buddhist king controls both the religion and the State. The Constitution says that “His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo is the Head of State and the symbol of unity of the Kingdom and of the people of Bhutan” and that “the Chhoe-sidnyi of Bhutan shall be unified in the person of the Druk Gyalpo who, as a Buddhist, shall be the upholder of the Chhoe-sid”. Chhoe-sid-nyi is a phrase meaning “religious and material”, and the Druk Gyalpo is the king. He is the person who appoints the Chief Abbott. Other than the king, no other religious figure can dabble in politics.
The Parliament has no power to amend any of this, per section 26 of Article 2. The king “shall not be answerable in a court of law for His actions and His person shall be sacrosanct” (Article 2, 15). The primary check on the king is the instruction that he step down at age of sixty-five and pass the power on to the next hereditary ruler.
Religion is introduced with the line: “Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance.” The king is also the “protector of all religions”.
Till 2008, Nepal was a Hindu Rashtra, the only one in the world. Why was it a Hindu Rashtra? Because executive power flowed from a Kshatriya (Chhetri) king as prescribed in the Manu Smriti.
Nepal’s 1959 Constitution identifies the head of State as an “adherent of Aryan culture and Hindu religion”. The Constitution has no religious freedom as such and “no person shall be entitled to convert another person to his religion”. A citizen may only “practise and profess his own religion as handed down from ancient times”, meaning no propagation was allowed, a principle still followed in Nepal.
The 1962 Constitution defines Nepal as an “independent, indivisible and sovereign Hindu State” and repeats the formulation of the king as being Aryan and Hindu. The Raj Sabha or governing council includes the head Brahmin (Bada Gurujyu) and the officiating priest (Mool Purohit). The ban on conversion was rephrased to close the loophole: “No person shall be entitled to convert another person from one religion to another.”
Nepal’s 1990 Constitution defines the country as being “multiethnic, multilingual, democratic, independent, indivisible, sovereign, Hindu and constitutional monarchical kingdom”.
It restates the “Aryan-ness” and “Hinduness” of the king and the prohibition on conversion. The Raj Sabha was now called Raj Parishad and the Mool Purohit excluded though the Bada Gurujyu remained.
This is what a Hindu Rashtra is. It is a form of government different from a modern republic and shows in the way that the State and society must adhere to Hindu textual prescription.
The government is led by a Kshatriya king guided by Brahmins in his court. Nepal was only to this extent a Hindu Rashtra. No other parts of the prescribed caste hierarchy were applied to the State in Nepal and they could not have been. It would have gone against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and every single modern law and practice that gives individuals liberty and equality and freedom.
This is also why there will not be any Hindu Rashtra in India either: it is an impossibility. The modern State is defended by a professional army. It is not and cannot be the preserve of one caste, as the Hindu Rashtra desires. The twenty-first century economy must not only include traders, manufacturers and financiers who are not twice-born Vaishya, it also requires economic exchange with foreigners: “mleccha” in the language of the Hindu texts.
Education, science, literature and knowledge outside of the world of rituals is not the monopoly of Brahmins today. We cannot go back to such a state of affairs even if ordered to. Nepal had a warrior ruler by caste, India doesn’t. To become a Hindu Rashtra, even merely a formal one such as Nepal was, India would have to dismantle its political and judicial system and hand over executive authority to a hereditary king that it doesn’t have. To become a proper Hindu Rashtra as prescribed the State will have to take away from all individuals their freedom of association and all sexual agency.
And then there is the question of acceptance. Even if we were to dismiss or disregard, as the Indian middle class generally tends to do, the resistance of the Dalit and the Adivasi, together a quarter of the Indian population, the majority of the remaining Hindus, the peasantry drawn from the Shudra varna who are today politically the most powerful Indians, would be excluded from power, knowledge and the economy in a real Hindu Rashtra. Meaning that the Patel, Jat, Reddy, Patil, Gowda, Yadav would till their land and stay away from political and economic power. That is not going to happen.
Hindu Rashtra is an illusion. It is also a lie.
The name promises something reality will never deliver. When the phrase “Hindu Rashtra” is used by the Sangh parivar and its adherents, something else is meant. Not the Nepali model of Hindu Rashtra or something along those lines.
The true meaning of Hindu Rashtra is not to be found in a theory of State or a return to some golden age or a change in the Constitution. It is purely about the exclusion and persecution of India’s minorities, particularly Muslims. That is the only meaning of Hindu Rashtra in India. It imagines India as a Hindu nation where the Muslim and Christian exist on sufferance. That is all there is to Hindu Rashtra in the way Hindutva desires.
It is hollow and bankrupt as an idea once its content of hate and prejudice is emptied out. The acquisition of authority in Hindu Rashtra is not towards bettering the lives of Hindus but damaging, excluding and handicapping those who are not born Hindu. That is the creeping Hindu Rashtra that we are living in and have lived in for decades.
Nepal became a republic in 2008 after the monarchy ended. The law on freedom of religion in the new Constitution, effective from 2015, continues with the ban on conversion. Article 26(3) says: “While exercising the right as provided for by this Article, no person shall act or make others act in a manner which is contrary to public health, decency and morality, or behave or act or make others act to disturb public law and order situation, or convert a person of one religion to another religion, or disturb the religion of other people. Such an act shall be punishable by law.”
Aligning their constitutions and laws to privilege the majority was presumably to achieve something in particular. But majoritarianism does not seem to have brought India’s neighbours the desired results: Pakistan is on its third constitution, Maldives, by some counts, on its sixth, Nepal on its seventh and Sri Lanka on its second. The road is long, and there is never any satisfaction at having finally arrived at whatever utopia the exclusion of minorities is meant to deliver.
Excerpted with permission from Our Hindu Rashtra: What It Is. How We Got Here, Aakar Patel, Westland.
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