BY THE TIME the rath yatra arrived on a cold January morning in Jawalakhel, in the south of Kathmandu, it was an hour late. A man dressed in a daura suruwal—traditional Nepali Brahmin garb—had been apologising profusely to a waiting congregation of about 250 people, trying to keep them occupied. At one point, a demonstration had marched past double-file, raising expectations that the rath had arrived; it turned out to be a protest by the city’s street vendors. When it did appear, the procession was unmistakable. The rath itself was a small cargo truck, superimposed with an oversize cow sculpture painted generously with religious iconography, and with three white plastic horses attached to its front. Two jeeps followed, one disguised as a Hindu temple and the other a Buddhist stupa, each complete with a Brahmin priest who blessed anyone and anything that came in the way.
Behind the truck cab, under the cow’s head, stood leaders of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, or RPPN. With the yatra, they had travelled almost 2,000 kilometres across Nepal in the last nine days, calling for the Hindu-majority country’s return to its earlier status as a Hindu kingdom. Now they looked quite spent. Loudspeakers alternated between a bhajan and an old anthem glorifying Nepal’s royal past. As the procession moved on from Jawalakhel towards its final destination at Tundikhel—a large ground in central Kathmandu, and the Mecca of popular politics in Nepal—the waiting crowd had dwindled to less than half its initial size.
By all standards, this was a rather disappointing showing for Nepal’s most popular right-wing party, and the fourth largest one in the country’s current constituent assembly—the second such body elected since a civil war and popular movement that ended, in 2006, 239 years of rule by a Hindu dynasty, the Shahs. In May 2008, 560 of the first assembly’s 601 members voted in favour of making Nepal a secular republic, with the RPPN’s four delegates the only ones voting against. Ever since, the RPPN, itself a breakaway from an older conservative group called the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, has campaigned on two planks: Hindu nationalism, and the reinstatement of the monarchy. The first assembly was dissolved after failing to deliver a new constitution, and a new body was elected in 2013. Though the vote was dominated by the centrist Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), the RPPN saw a strong rise in support, securing 24 seats and leading some to hope for a sustained right-wing revival. The rath yatra, timed to reach Kathmandu on 2 January, was meant to influence the new assembly ahead of a self-imposed deadline for tabling a draft of a new constitution, on 22 January (it missed the cut-off, and has not promised any new date for delivery). The RPPN had hoped to show its rising political capital, but instead exposed its limited popularity.