By P. Kharel
There are some sections in Nepal and India withexaggerated emphasis that the two countries share “sameness” in numerous respects, including the “roti aurbeti” (bread and daughter) ties. Culture, language and religionform part of this “sameness” between the two contiguous neighbours. In many ways, indeed, these are established facts.
What goes withoutstress with equal enthusiasm is the fact that India shares those very elements of bilateral relations more with its other South Asian neighbours. History for a millennium bound these countries in one shape or another first under Muslim rule and, later, under the British colonial rule.
There are more Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan combined than in Nepal which was till recently, and might return in future, be a Hindu state, shedding its recent secular pretensions. In India, leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru vehemently resisted the idea of partition the vast territory that was brought under the suppressive and exploitative British colonial rule for two centuries should be split into Pakistan and India. They considered the two regions to be not just similar but the “same”, that is, part and parcel of a single political entity.
Sameness does not justify any dent in the sovereignty of an independent nation.
BITTER PATTERN: At the mass level, the people of Indian are friendly toward Nepalisand Nepalis in general reciprocate likewise, whatever the political rhetoric by those with ulterior motives. But the slight and slant against Nepal and Nepalis by the powers that be in India areseen as manifestations by bullies unsuccessful in maintaining cordial relations with their “friendly country like Nepal”.
The Pushpa Kamal Dahal government bent backwards to abruptly announced a public holiday when Indian President Pranab Mukherjee visited Nepal.On the other hand, India’s Prime Minister NarendraModipersonally receivedBangaldeshi Prime Minister HasinaWajedon arrival at the airport in New Delhiearlier this year whereas a mere minister of state received Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari when she paid a “goodwill visit” to India. The contrast was too recent and glaring, especially the unprecedented public holiday that greeted Mukherjee in “loktantrik” Nepal.
Agencies of Indian external affairs and home ministries since the time of Indira Gandhi are known to brief Indian news media in the form of a “backgrounder” or “deep backgrounder” in disseminating dubious or black propaganda against Nepal in a manner not applied against Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.Pakistan is the obvious exception.
India clamped an economic blockade against Nepal during the Indira Gandhi regime in 1971,during the Rajiv Gandi rule in 1989 and then by the NarendraModi government in 2015. Each blockade, aimed at throttling Nepal, proved to be harsher than the previous one. Such sanctions were not imposed against any other country, except Pakistan with which it has been engaged in at least three major wars after their independence in 1947 and amasses the largest concentration troops along the border with that country with which India shares innumerable features.
In terms of style, scale and advertising revenue, the media in India are far ahead of their counterparts in Nepal. But in terms of press freedom and media regulations, Nepal is distinctly ahead. When it comes to defence and foreign policies, there is a high degree of consistently uncritical approach and uniformity between the media contents and the Indian union government.
The Indian media usually follow the government line toward Bhutan, even during all those decades when Thimpu never allowed political parties until the rest of South Asia all had political parties. (The Maldives was a one-party dictatorship until the first decade of the new millennium.) The Indian media virtually ignores the ethnic cleansing campaign the Wangchuck dynasty unleashed since the beginning of the 1990s when more than 120,000 Bhutanese of Nepali descent, which is more than 15 per cent of Bhutan’s total population, were forced out of the protectorate.
PROXY-FARE: Indian government, academics, politicians and media operating from Delhi rarely ever passed any critical comments against, for instance, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled with an iron fist for thirty years allowing no other political parties to function but his own. They were virtually silent over the muzzling of media in Bangladesh when the infamous Newspaper Annulment Order was introduced in June 1975, scrapping the permission for 222 news publications and allowing only four dailies to circulate. This was within four years after East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh.
Across India at the grassroots, Nepalis are treated well, perhaps better than those from other parts of that country’s neighbours. But it is a minuscule section of “experts” fronting for the government and the mainstream media that dare not depart from the government’s policies and stands pertaining to defence and foreign affairs.
Those are the facts that should not desert our minds when evaluating whether it is “sameness” or “meanness” when it comes of New Delhi’s approach to relationship with Nepal.