BY M.R. JOSSE
KATHMANDU: This new column grants prime cognizance to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s just concluded, bizarre two-day visit as it happened, coincidentally enough, soon after yours truly returned home following a year’s absence in the United States.
Since much purple prose will inevitably flow on the supposed stellar achievements of Modi’s latest diplomatic foray to Nepal not long after Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s own to India, let me focus here on such of its dimensions that, while extremely salient, may either not be so considered, or otherwise simply overlooked.
To begin, the security dimension of Modi’s latest Nepal experiment was not just striking; it underlined the vast, telltale chasm between the myth of Modi’s popularity and the prosaic reality on the ground. For one thing, a virtual army of Indian security personnel, scores of them in mufti, had descended upon Janakpur days before the Indian prime minister arrived to ensure his safety. Even during his pilgrimage to the isolated reaches of Muktinath in the high Himalaya he was virtually locked-in by a posse of security guards.
One inevitably wondered: If he is as popular as his spin meisters make out why was such an overwhelming concern for his security necessary? Incidentally, were such considerations paramount in hosting Kathmandu ‘civic reception’ in a closed auditorium packed with carefully selected invitees – rather than organising it in the Tundikhel and open to the ordinary Nepali citizen?
And while the optics of masses of uniformed Nepali security personnel overflowing the nooks and crannies of Kathmandu was oddly at variance with the syrupy official propaganda, on both sides of the border, it seemed plainly counter-productive as well.
Such a conclusion was inescapable judging from the sullen and angry comments by a public that had neither forgotten India’s five-month blockade under Modi’s captaincy nor took kindly to the abrupt disruption of their daily lives and routine caused by the heavy-handed traffic-and-security ‘bandobast’ enforced for his latest diplomatic caper.
No less conspicuous – and troubling – was that both India and Nepal, that now sing paeans to the glories of secularism, depleted untold amounts of state treasure and precious manpower in promoting what was essentially a Hindu extravaganza focused on promoting the Janaki Mandir, Pashupatinath and Muktinath.
(What is all the more Alice-in-Wonderlandish about it is that, on the Nepali side, it was promoted with such obvious gusto by our Communists caudillos fed on the notion that religion is the opiate of the masses!)
Incidentally, not a few noted their revealing locations: in the trans-Himalaya, in the mid-Hill region and in the Madesh. Others speculated whether the choice of that revealing trifecta was not specifically designed to proclaim the India/Hindu nexus in Nepal from the north to the south, thus transmitting a loud and clear message to China, post-Wuhan, that Nepal is indutibly within the Indian sphere of influence – So: Hands Off!
Against this backcloth, is it not only natural to speculate whether Oli will visit China anytime soon, or even if Chinese President Xi Jinping’s long-anticipated Nepal sojourn will ever come to pass?
Though Modi’s calculation in hyping the Hindu linkage and the ‘Ramayana Circuit’ between India and Nepal was seemingly directed to the general election scheduled in India next year, it could very well boomerang against him and his party, the BJP. State monies in secular India are not expected, after all, to be squandered in propagating the Hindu religion.
Besides, one doesn’t have to be an expert on Indian politics to note not only that Modi’s lustre is fast fading, including in the foreign policy sphere, but also that, following a period of relative silence on the matter, there is now a growing body of media outpourings, including by those knowledgeable about Indian foreign/security policy, claiming that Modi did not come out smelling roses at Wuhan.
Moreover, the absurd, offensive comment by Kirti Azad, a BJP lawmaker, on Janakpur – while Modi was in Nepal – only adds credence to the possibility that the political spin-off in India from Modi’s ‘Hindu diplomacy’ might not be what he and his advisers fondly contemplated. Azad’s action clearly suggests that Modi’s hold on his party’s MPs is not what it was.
There are, however, other ‘dots’ that need to be connected to complete the Big Picture of Modi’s latest excursion to this land. Among them is that the rumbling against the Oli-Modi deal on Arun-3 has not merely become audible from our bevy of water resources experts but appeals are, in fact, now being openly made for the deal – that is overwhelmingly tailored to India’s needs/wishes – to be overturned, including, in the first instance, by the people of the Arun-3 region.
No less unsettling is that despite the fact that a newly elected parliament is in place, no debate or discussions on the deal were held by parliament on it. According to legal eagles, this is in violation of the constitutional requirement that arrangements/agreements between Nepal and foreign entities concerning the country’s natural resources and which are of long-term consequences have to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority in parliament.
As it stands, there is thus an eerie similarity between the manner in which this deal was hurriedly and non-transparently formalized and that which Girija Prasad Koirala attempted on the Tanakpur deal vis-à-vis the Mahakali.
Or, could it be that Oli feels he is all-powerful and can do precisely as he pleases – even to the extent of going directly against the current of the popular nationalistic mandate that placed him in power?
Are we, perhaps, seeing another reenactment of the verity of Lord Acton’s dictum: all power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely?
One can only hope that the seething discontent that lies below the surface and the rumblings that are beginning to be heard on themes connected to the Modi visit will not get completely out of hand. I keep my fingers crossed.
Modi’s ‘Hindu diplomacy’, shades of Tanakpur and all that
BY M.R. JOSSE