An appeal to the Indian conscience

Devendra Gautam

Devendra Gautam

An appeal to the Indian conscience

Recent days have seen a federal secular democratic republic of Nepal lose more of her lifelines. Without control over these resources, how will the center, the provinces, the towns and the villages survive, let alone prosper?

Along a path strewn with rocks, let’s take a walk, dear readers.

Let’s begin with two huge pieces of Himalayan rocks that once adorned Thulo Pahiro, Kaligandaki rural municipality-6 in Myagdi district. For local people, the two rocks lodged on a ravine above a stretch of the sacred Kaligandaki river were a familiar sight.

But the eyes searching for the two giants will no longer be able to find them in their birthplace. (Why on Earth would anyone worry over two giant rocks? You see, the Nepalis are a peculiar being, actually. These ‘savages’ worship trees, mountains, rivers, boulders and what not!)

As per government orders, the two quartzite and calcite rocks have marched on, initially for Janakpur, the birthplace of Sita Maiya (Goddess Sita) and the capital of King Janak, from where they will be transferred to Ayodhya with Nepal also footing the shipping cost of the precious gift, most probably. Per a report in the state-owned The Rising Nepal daily, the Gandaki Province and the federal government had decided to send this gift in response to a correspondence  from India. The initial plan was to carve the rocks into larger-than-life-size statues of Ram Lalla (lovely, cuddly Lord Ram in his childhood avatar) and Sita Maiya, and install them at a Ram Temple whose construction is going on in full swing. The plan is to complete the works and inaugurate the temple well before the 2024 elections that may not exactly be a cakewalk for the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party. With the economy not in the pink of health, the Indian National Congress resurging along with a formidable Aam Aadmi Party and a ghost from the past haunting it somewhat, Hindu votes will be crucial than ever before for the ruling party.

Much to the inconvenience of the rocks bound for Ayodhya (now, who cares about the inconvenience of rocks?), there seems to be a little change of plan (Plan B if you will), though. Contrary to earlier reports, The Hindu reports (‘Nepal temple prepares to gift 350-tonne stones to build Ram statue in Ayodhya’, 17 Jan) that it’s unclear if the rocks will be used to carve out the statues.

Also, there’s incongruity about the weight of the rocks. While earlier reports in the Nepali and Indian media outlets suggested that the rocks weighed around 18 and 16 tonnes, the daily states that the rocks have a combined weight of 350 tonnes! Is this because of confusion about metric tonne and tonne?

Or have these humble Himalayan rocks suddenly started possessing the divine power to change their shape and form, like Lord Hanuman, who could transform into an insect at Ashok Batika, a giant at the court of Ravan and anything in between, as his role demanded?

Interestingly, the government decision to give away the rocks comes amid its increased restrictions on the mining and extraction industry thriving on rampant exploitation of natural resources. The decision coincides with the anniversary of Dilip Mahato (24), who was killed deliberately three years ago for protesting against rampant extraction of riverine materials in Dhanusha.

Images of a group of apologists from Nepal—government officials, priests, experts and politicians—performing kshmapuja on the banks of the Kaligandanki on the very day of a huge national tragedy (the Yeti Airlines plane crash that ended up killing all 72 on board) are now frozen in time.

A mute spectator to the daylight robbery and rampant cross-border smuggling of the Shaligrams, which bear the imprints of some of the most ancient sea creatures, a woebetide Kaligandaki keeps flowing. What else can she do if our all-powerful federal, provincial and local governments keep mum? She cannot shout out loud and declare that the Shaligrams and all other treasures on the riverbed belong to the very cradle of the earliest forms of life, or can she? Under the human scheme of things, all that the mighty river can do is tremble at the possibility of further exploitation of riverine resources in the context of great geopolitical games for regional and global supremacy.

The images featuring a crop of apologists on the banks of the Kaligandaki hark back to the times when Nepal’s rulers chose to sell the country down the river for their petty gains, despite protests from the people, only to repent later. In modern times, acts of high treason have been continuing unabated since the Treaty of Sugauli (1816) with Nepal forced to part with pounds of flesh after each wave of political change through unjust and unequal legal instruments like the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty (1950), the Gandak Agreement (1959), the Koshi Agreement (1966) and the much-controversial Mahakali Treaty (1996) with the successor of the British empire emerging as Nepal’s neo-colonial master.

Recent days have seen a federal secular democratic republic of Nepal lose more of her lifelines. Without control over these resources, how will the center, the provinces, the towns and the villages survive, let alone prosper?

Thanks to these instruments that are also the result of great geostrategic and geopolitical games for global and regional supremacy, Nepal, a non-aligned country used to minding her own business and charting her destiny on her own, has been living a neocolonial nightmare.

As India celebrates her 74th Republic Day marking her transition to a republic after the end of the British rule brought about by an untiring and inspiring struggle against colonialism and imperialism , her rulers would do well to opt for some serious soul-searching vis-a-vis her relations with Nepal. This is because very often after their fights against oppression and injustice, the champions of higher ideals like human rights and democracy end up becoming the forces that they detested so much.

While describing our bilateral ties, there’s a tendency to invoke the past, which is a contested territory anyway, and forget the present. While invoking divinities in the relations, there’s a tendency to forget humanity.

There’s a tendency to forget that we are two fully sovereign countries, regardless of our respective size and importance in the comity of nations. While stressing the need to take them to new heights, there’s a tendency, deliberate or otherwise, to forget ground realities and Nepal’s sensibilities. Very often in bilateral fora, ordinary Nepalis feel that on both sides of the negotiating table are people representing the powerful neighbor’s interest at the expense of Nepal. At every such forum, fears of another sellout grip Nepal.

As India takes immense pride in calling herself the world’s largest democracy, the onus is on her to do some soul-searching and create an environment of trust and add more elements of democracy in our bilateral relations. Let great celebrations of independence also offer us an opportunity to make way for more equal, just and humane ties.

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