All oratory, no delivery
India’s Prime Minister Narendra has completed his two-day state visit to Nepal and returned home. He billed himself as a “Prime Pilgrim” rather than Prime Minister during this visit, apparently signalling that this was a religious visit. But the way our leaders in the centre and the province tripped over themselves in fawning to Modi exposes their inferior mentality vis-a-vis the premier of the powerful southern neighbour.
People felt betrayed by the government, especially Prime Minister Oli, for bowing to Modi. They are asking what the need was of two separate ‘civic’ felicitations for Modi in Janakpur and Kathmandu. Has he been rewarded for the blockade he imposed on Nepal two years ago? Actually, the currently formed leftist government won the elections on the nationalist wave as PM KP Sharma Oli at the poll hustings kept repeating his stance against Indian blockade during the previous tenure. But now it seems that it is eager to mend ties with Modi by massaging his oversized ego. The government, to please Modi, cracked down on all the oppositions and protests against Modi’s visit like an authoritarian dispensation.
To refresh memories, India had imposed economic blockade on Nepal for four months in 2015 to express its displeasure against Nepal’s temerity to promulgate a Constitution without its approval. People had to suffer in lack of essential supplies. Oli was the premier at that time and he did not bow down to India’s strong arm tactics. Rather, he reached out to another neighbour China for trade diversification and expansion of connectivity. People appreciated him for the unbending stance.
This ‘accidental’ nationalism proved to be the revival drug for a moribund Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) which Oli leads. It joined hands with CPN-Maoist Centre for an electoral alliance with promise of party merger after the elections with the slogan of prosperous Nepal. People trusted this alliance and voted them to power with almost two-thirds majority. They also hoped that Oli would continue taking stance against India’s unnecessary meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs.
But Oli has poured cold water on people’s hope with his show of servility towards Modi. He himself rushed to Janakpur to receive Modi, as if atoning for the ‘sins’ he committed in the form of standing up to the southern neighbour during the previous tenure. Conveniently ignoring the correct size of Nepali flag during the ceremony, he was grinning from ear to ear when Modi addressed him as his ‘brother’. Oli would have burnished his nationalist credentials if he was able to convince Modi to apologise for the blockade. But Modi never once referred to that episode even if he made profuse use of his oratorical skills to buttress hurt Nepali egos by speaking local languages and harping on ‘age-old ties’.
Emboldened by Modi’s presence and showing his utter disdain for the central government, Province-2 Chief Minister Lalbabu Raut made objectionable comments during the ‘civic’ felicitation in Janakpur. In the presence of federal government ministers, Raut displayed dirty linen to Modi by saying that the Constitution was ‘discriminatory’ and the state had not given necessary powers to provincial government. There was no need to tell the premier of another country about the issue between federal and provincial government, as any outstanding issues can be sorted out internally. Oli has distanced himself from Raut’s remarks during his address to the Parliament but this unfortunate incident speaks of his weakness in capitulating to Modi’s wishes in visiting Janakpur for religious purposes apparently and political purposes inwardly. Fortunately, Modi refused to be provoked with this comment and did not refer to it during his address.
Grapevine has it that Chief Minister’s address was prepared in consultation with foreign powers, especially the European Union, which have been inciting the Madhesis against the Constitution. Nonetheless, it does not befit the post of the Chief Minister to speak his party’s voice. His party SSFN has been excoriating the Constitution since its promulgation. Raut did not care to take the name of Defence Minister Ishwor Pokharel who was present in the ceremony but took the name of his party Chairman Upendra Yadav. This shows that he has not been able to rise from the party ranks to a constitutional post. Additionally, he should not forget that the same ‘discriminatory’ Constitution has allowed him, a person from the Muslim minority, to become the Chief Minister.
By allowing Modi to visit Janakpur and make political comments there, Oli also made way for an objectionable tweet by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party leader Keerti Azad. Azad directly incited Modi to merge Janakpur and Mithila area (Province-2) to India citing his warped logic that the area was gifted to Nepal by British India through Sugauli Treaty. This tweet is an explicit call for secession of Province-2 and Nepali leaders have told that they have raised it with Modi. If Azad’s twisted logic is to be followed, India must return the area from Teesta in the east to Kangada in the west to Nepal.
Pleased with his victory over the ‘nationalist’ government, Modi announced a package of 1 billion rupees for Janaki temple. But this gives no pleasure to Nepali people as his earlier promise of 300 million Indian rupees for reconstruction and sanitation of Pashupatinath temple is still to arrive. Who knows whether Arun-III hydropower project, jointly inaugurated by Oli and Modi in Kathmandu, meets the same fate of previous projects occupied by India? Modi’s promise of a DPR of Raxaul-Kathmandu railway line is also a suspect as it seems to override Nijgadh-Kathmandu fast track being made by Nepal Army. PM Oli raised long-standing issues of inundation of border areas, trade deficit and demonetised Indian Currency notes with Modi and it remains to be seen whether Modi will address these grievances in time.
The Indian premier’s seriousness about relationship reset with Nepal will be proved if India allows Nijgadh International Airport near the Indian border to be completed as it would ease air connectivity of Nepal with the world. Unless we see some concrete progress in different infrastructure development projects as promised by India, we have to hold Modi’s oratory in suspicion. But more than Modi the onus of proving itself a force for good lies with Oli government. Its initial steps have not left much to hope for.
Published on 13 May 2018