I was recently talking to someone who has worked closely with Prime Minister KP Oli for a long time. In the course of our conversation, I asked him if he had any idea why the prime minister had randomly brought up Lord Ram’s nationality. My contact laughed out loud. “Oli is not someone who listens to anyone, you see, not even his advisors,” he began. “He is also a bit of a gambler and has this tendency to throw out certain ideas in public to gauge their impact.”
So Oli knew what he was talking about? “Certainly,” he replied. Immediately after he had claimed Lord Ram for Nepal, Oli had asked his advisors, with a smiley face, if he had gone overboard. So, basically, Oli wanted to throw out the idea of Ram’s Nepali birth and see how New Delhi would react.
But the prime minister couldn’t have cooked up something like that out of the blue, could he? “He reads a lot,” my contact replied, suspecting Oli had read about the possibility of Ram being born in Nepal. “Not just in this case. Whenever he pitches an interesting but unsubstantiated idea, nine times out of 10, he would have read about it somewhere.” And that was all the anti-India ammunition he needed at the moment.
PM Oli publicly aired the ‘Ram is Nepali’ idea because he was getting increasingly irritated with the Indian establishment and its media outlets. The latest Indian media reports suggesting he was amorously involved with the Chinese envoy was the tippling point. If the Indians could make such baseless, humiliating claims about him, why couldn’t he pull one over on them?
Yet Oli is far too astute a politician not to recognize the implication of such brazen remarks. Perhaps no other senior Nepali politician understands New Delhi and its bureaucracy better than him. He knew the BJP-wallas, for whom Lord Ram might well be their ‘official god’, would not take his claim lightly.
His increasingly bolder anti-India remarks suggest Oli is not looking for reconciliation. If he still believed he had a realistic chance of prolonging his political career beyond the term of the current government, he would not have broken all channels with India. Oli’s health is failing. The political equations in the NCP are not in his favor. Near the end of his political career, he wants to buttress his image of a true nationalist leader who was not afraid to see eye to eye with the Indians.
Oli could also have calculated that precisely because there is no historical basis to establish Lord Ram’s birthplace, he might just claim him for Nepal. Historical artifacts could later be ‘unearthed’ from the ground. If nothing else, people of Thori will remember Oli for placing a tiny village near Birgunj on the Hindu pilgrimage map. On the other hand, if an ancient bit of sculpture, stone, house, horseshoe—anything at all—is later excavated and if that bit could be even remotely linked to Ram, why, KP Oli’s exalted place in Nepali nationalist narrative that starts with King Prithvi Narayan Shah is guaranteed.