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Shaligram diplomacy: Will it heal bilateral ties?

Shaligram diplomacy: Will it heal bilateral ties?
Recently, Nepal gifted its neighboring state India two huge ‘sacred’ Shila (believed to date back crores of years) sourced from the Kaligandaki river, known the world over as the only river on whose banks the sacred Shaligram are found. The two Shila are to be sculpted into the images of Lord Ram and Mata Janaki and installed at the Ram Temple, under construction in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.  During their journey, the Shila won the hearts and minds of more than a billion Sanatana dharma believers. The devotees stood in queues for hours in both the countries waiting for the procession to pass by. Both the Nepalis and the Indians stood hand-in-hand for their audition with the holy Shila. The Shila have been bejeweled not only with garlands of flowers and fruits found on their way to Ayodhya, but also loved by the peoples of both the countries with ample hope that Nepal and India will never be at loggerheads. Love and respect for the Shila poured in as they passed the believers by on their way to Ayodhya. Chanting of the cadences Jay Shree Ram, Jay Sita Ram with sudden jerks and thrills resonated through the hills and the valleys, the gorges and the gullies making their kinesis a timeless convoy. The Vedic verses echoed through the serpentine highways. Some of the devotees, enchanted with devotion, joined whereas others were charmed with glimmering shreekhanda paste and saffron ramanami shawl bejeweling the Shilas.

The highways along the holy rivers of Nepal became sanctified as the Shila moved on, while the snow-capped Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Machhapuchhre and other Himalayan peaks seemed to be watching over the holy procession.

What the believers of all colors, classes and castes loved the most was the spirit, the transcendent and fiery expression of thoughts and ardent resolve they overwhelmed with the calling of the Creator, the earthly but non-anthropomorphic countenance of the Lord Vishnu whose seventh of the ten avatars, according to the Vedic scriptures, was Lord Ram. However, Nepal-India relations may not flow like the waves of the Kaligandaki or glister like the Shaligram found on its banks. Diplomacy moves through multiple undertakings. The characters, natures and features of it get multiplied, enriched and groomed along the journey it covers, and gathers timely attributes. If not rendered timely, it may gather dirt. Tools and skills of diplomacy work for preserving peace and preventing conflicts. The procession of two heavy-duty trucks bearing the holy boulders on their payload carriage from Shalagram kshetra (Nepal) to Ayodhya (India) through the holy places of Nepal brandished a fresh journey of Nepal-India relations—the Shaligram Diplomacy. In fact, Nepal-India relations have witnessed a constant ebb and flow. Nepal has survived multiple nakabandi (blockades) imposed by India. Nakabandi against a country, 91 percent (almost) of whose population consists of Sanatana believers. The last one was during the holy season of Dashain and Tihar festivals of 2015 creating crises and shortages of everything in Nepal. The strategic blunders that Indian states persons committed through the blockades against Nepal did not yield their country any favorable return. Rather, they led to the erosion of India’s image in the global community. It was the Indian blockade of 1969 that resulted in Nepal’s first trade deal with China. In 1989, India again imposed a trade embargo on Nepal, which lasted more than a year—a foreign policy blunder on the part of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that further enhanced Nepal’s ties with China and quickened the erosion of India’s global posture of fraternity. The cinematic display of goodwill by PM Narendra Modi during his visit to Nepal fooled the Nepali Hindus as his government imposed a blockade in 2015. It resulted in the Nepal-China transit and trade agreements that offered Nepal strategic ports for export and import of Nepali goods. The Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Nepal in 2019, which further emboldened the ties. Hence, every generation of Nepali people has beheld such Indian moves against them. Relations between nations may face high and low tides but that have to be dealt with diplomatic prowess acting like the states persons and swiftly opening all diplomatic corridors for peaceful resolution of the crises. Since Nepali people do not harbor the animosity of any color, character or composition against the Indians, they expect the same from India. Both of the friendly countries have been rejoicing people-to-people ties for ages. Open borders, cross-border landholdings and homogeneous civilizational sorority are evident for the preceding premise. What issues exist between them are the socioeconomic and political economic hitches—record high export-import disparity, unsettled border disputes and long-standing unresolved snags regarding bilateral treaties and agreements. Nepalis deserve respect abiding by the spirit of bilateral treaties. India needs to contribute to the reasonable progress and development of Nepal with its economic and social splendor and prosperity. Nepal-India ties should never meet with vehement opposition. India’s diplomatic moves through bureaucrats, political figures, Bollywood icons, prominent individuals or institutions should stop engendering resentment in Nepali hearts. Nepal-India ties should be without paradoxes. Nepalis cannot tolerate any external involvement in their domestic affairs, a fundamental ground for preserving sovereignty of a state. India, as the ‘best friend in need’, should neither pose a threat nor be a sole source of security. Fraternal rhetoric must breed the friendlier reality—Nepal-India relations require it to be as sacred and inviolable as Shaligram Shila themselves. The author is the PhD scholar at DIRD, TU