India-Nepal ties must go beyond religious visits
The success of PM Narendra Modi’s foreign policy cannot depend on religious cards as they may not work. There are many other factors which influence Nepal’s relationship with its two giant neighbours
An adage and a line from Robert Frost’s poem, in a way, sum up India-Nepal and China-Nepal relationships respectively.
While “Proximity breeds contempt” applies in the case of the former, “Good fence makes good neighbours” in the case of the latter.
As there are so much religious and cultural commonality between India and Nepal, there is always a likelihood of strain in ties at intervals. Foreign policy makers always keep this in mind. History is replete with many examples of neighbours having same type of population fighting for years.
In contrast, the Himalayan range works as a good fence between Nepal and China and thus they appear to be good neighbours.
No doubt his gesture was widely applauded by the people of Janakpur. But then it needs to be understood that the town has a huge Madhesi population and Madhesis are people of Indian origin––mostly from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. There is still marital and business relationships between people of the two states and Madhesis of Nepal
While flagging off a direct bus service between Janakpur and Ayodhya on May 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to emphasise on the shared history of the two countries. Besides Janakpur, he paid visit to two other places of religious importance––Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu and Muktinath Temple in Thorong La–– on May 12, the second day of his two-day trip. He offered prayers in both these places too.
Obviously Modi wants to play the religious card to smoothen the ruffled feathers of the people of Nepal, who have perhaps not yet forgotten the 135 days of blockade in 2015-16.
Ayodhya is the birthplace of Ram while Janakpur is of Sita. Hindu pilgrims from all over the world throng to these places throughout the year. Till 2014, Janakpur was linked to Jaynagar in Bihar, just 32 km away, by a narrow gauge line. Jaynagar, till a few years ago, was linked to rest of Bihar by a metre gauge route. Thus it was quite difficult for tourists to reach Janakpur. The gauge conversion work is on across the international border, not only here, but also at Raxaul-Birganj section.
Modi’s move is not just diplomatic, but political too. He has kept in mind his constituency in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as Ayodhya has enormous political significance for the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha election.
No doubt his gesture was widely applauded by the people of Janakpur. But then it needs to be understood that the town has a huge Madhesi population and Madhesis are people of Indian origin––mostly from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. There is still marital and business relationships between people of the two states and Madhesis of Nepal.
But it is too early to measure the response of the people of rest of Nepal as India has always stood for the rights of Madhesis, which many of them believe has been denied in the new Constitution. Nepal accused India for the 135 days long blockade. Many people died in that agitation and the economy was crippled.
The CPN (UML) and UCPN exploited the anti-India sentiment to win elections in December. Madhesis have now been politically marginalised and many of them still look towards India with hope. The success of Modi’s latest and the third visit to Nepal can be measured only on the way the whole country sees it and not just the Madhesis, who form one-third of the country’s population.
China, the main beneficiary of India’s foreign policy failure in Nepal, is watching Modi’s repeated trip to the Himalayan Republic.
Ayodhya-Janakpur bus service, or for that matter Kathmandu-New Delhi bus service inaugurated earlier are simply too small gestures when compared to the Chinese plan to connect via rail, the Nepalese capital and Lhasa.
Modi boasted that he is the first Indian Prime Minister to make a trip to Janakpur. But herein lies the test of the success of his foreign policy as very often such religious cards do not work as there are many other factors which influence Nepal’s relationship with its two giant neighbours.
The story was updated on 2.12 pm, May 12, 2018, to reflect PM’s schedule
- Lok Sabha
- Uttar Pradesh
- Indian Constitution
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- Robert Frost
- Pashupatinath Temple
- Himalayan range
- Muktinath Temple
- Thorong La
- birthplace of Ram
- CPN (UML)
- Kathmandu-New Delhi