By P Kharel
Stateless in India
So, four million people in the state of Assam in India are on the verge of being stateless, as they have not yet been able to produce their forefathers’ nationality on the eve of the Indo-Pakistan war in 1971. Among them are many Nepalis. Had the same yardstick been applied to Nepal, millions would have been in a similar position. New Delhi, which “advised” different political parties and governments in Nepal to adopt a policy that resulted in a spurt in the country’s population overnight, does not seem keen on accepting for itself what it prescribes for others.
And expecting the government of Nepal to express serious concern over the uncertainty gripping the people of Nepalese origin in the Indian state of Assam would be most unrealistic. In such matters, one-way traffic has been the practice in Kathmandu. Yet, Nepal and India are “two friendly countries with a long history sharing many common bonds since time immoral”.
Nepali media in India
In the 1970s and 1980s, New Delhi used to plant stories in the ever-obliging section of the Indian press that there were “four million” Nepalis living in India. In the new millennium, not much is mentioned about the number, which otherwise would be somewhere between seven to ten million. In other words, citing false figures to overwhelm or threaten a weaker neighbour is what hegemonic bullying is done in the South Asian neighbourhood. This happened during earlier imperialist times too. The practice simply refuses to die.
Another aspect to the tale is that Nepali newspapers have virtually no access to the Indian market. This had always been the case in independent India while newspapers and magazines originating in India flooded the Nepali market with gay abandon. Government of India has pretended not to be aware of such situation whereas Indian civil society leaders and press people deny such practice against a “friendly country like Nepal”.
Darjeeling, Kalinpong, Sikkim and India-guided Bhutan have heavy concentration of Nepali-speaking people, as do millions of others scattered in various parts of India. They all form a potent source of readership of Nepali publications. But for generations they have been deprived of such access. Only “harmless” news and views get aired occasionally in the news media. Anything to do with local politics, its larger aspirations and grievances rarely find space in the Indian national press. When there is a big rally for greater autonomy or a full-fledged statehood to the region heavily populated by people of Nepali descent or police killings of demonstrators, some coverage is given. Otherwise, the rest of India, let alone the rest of South Asia, hardly gets to know or hear what the ground reality is in these areas.
Were easy access to the Indian market made, Nepali newspapers would make an impact on the Nepali community there and boost their circulation figures. Unlike in Nepal, where there are more than a dozen national daily newspapers and over 100 dailies in the districts, Nepali-speaking population are not adequate bonded by newspapers in Nepali. There was a time when Indian newspapers used to do a roaring business in the major centres of Nepal. The market for Indian papers has shrunk so low for them because of the bustling press in Nepal itself that their supply has virtually dried up. Indian press has a longer, wider and deeper presence in media history but the Indian government’s tall talk and petty practice prevents Nepali newspapers from circulating freely.
Imran saves India
In a heated debate on an Indian TV channel about the chances of Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister and former cricketing icon Imran Khan’s inviting all executive heads of SAARC countries to his inauguration, some of the commentators thought that it would be a godesend if Khan dropped the idea altogether, as it would put their Prime Minister Narenadra Modi in a dilemma. Modi had invited all executive heads of SAARC countries to his inauguration four years ago, and the latter responded positively.
Indians must have felt relieved that Khan eventually could not issue such invitation because the outgoing government was not too keen to make such arrangement while he was busy in negotiating with potential partners in his coalition cabinet and also working on who should find berths in his government that was sworn in on August 18.
In fact, the Pakistani premier also gave another sort of relief to New Delhi which had expected him to appoint Dr. Dr Shireen M. Mazarai as the Defence, Foreign Minister or Information Minister last fortnight. Director of International Institute of Strategic Studies for eight years, Mazari is known reckoned as an expert on Pakistani strategic affairs and nuclear policy. She was one of the inspiring forces behind Islamabad’s formal declaration that Pakistan would not be party to declaring “no first use of nuclear weapons” because the country of 200 million did not have the capacity to absorb any eventuality of being at the receiving end of the “first” onslaught from any foreign force.
Gopal Budathoki, editor of Saanghu weekly: “When it is said that the majority cannot make decisions, it can be construed as an invitation to autocracy…and anarchy.”