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The Vengeance Of Fiction
Apart of the Marwari diaspora found the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal a temptation difficult to resist. For these traders, smitten by wanderlust, late 19th century Nepal was some sort of a real and tangible El Dorado—a fusion of Kashmir's beauty and Kashi's (Varanasi's) serenity: "Kashi-Kashmir ajab Nepal (Kashi-Kashmir extraordinary Nepal)." That experience, a little more than a century later, however, has taken an infernal turn. Last fortnight's violence was directed at the Marwaris of Kathmandu.
It took only a rumour—filmstar Hrithik Roshan's alleged anti-Nepal statements—to take the lid off the suppressed hatred against India. Suddenly, the capital of this quiet Himalayan kingdom began burning. Lumpens chanting anti-India slogans beat up whoever they thought was an Indian. Those particularly vulnerable were vegetable vendors, many of whom hail from the Terai area or the southern plains of the country. The secretary-general of the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist), Comrade Prachand, called upon the people "to unseat the corrupt government of Girija (Prasad Koirala) which is an agent of Indian expansionism". More important, the dissidents in Koirala's Nepali Congress party moved a no-confidence motion against him, though it failed.
These late but rapid developments have bolstered the feeling that the rumour about Hrithik was spread deliberately and that the ensuing violence was coordinated to impact on Nepal's internal politics. Indeed, street protests were too well organised to be just emotionally spontaneous.
All that notwithstanding, last fortnight's violence unequivocally testifies to the simmering discontent against India. There are several reasons behind the recent anti-India riots and Hrithik Roshan's rumoured statement is the least of them.
The outbreak of violence this time, for instance, may have been directly linked to the political instability in the country. Maoist insurgency continues to rage in one-third of the kingdom and has already claimed nearly 2,000 lives. There is no sign of it letting up. On the eve of last week's bandh called by the nine Left parties, barring the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), three bomb blasts rocked Kathmandu and the Maoists claimed responsibility. It is believed the Maoists, hitherto confined to rural Nepal, sought to exploit the raging anti-India sentiments to establish themselves in urban pockets.
The history of hate for India and Indians in Nepal is not new though. It goes back to about 300 years, when Prithvi Narayan Shah established Nepal in 1775 by extending the territory of his tiny Gorkha principality which he had inherited in 1742. In his attempt to forge a national identity for the diverse society he ruled, Narayan defined Nepali nationality in terms of hate for the people from down south.
The Ranas, who came to power in 1848, continued with the 'hate-India' rhetoric even though they socialised with Indians and had hagiographers trace their ancestry to the Rajasthan royal houses. When the Ranas were overthrown with the help of Indians in 1951, New Delhi, the big brother, came to be regarded with a mixture of fear and hope by the Kathmandu elite.
King Mahendra of the Shah dynasty exploited this fear to its utmost when he staged a bloodless coup by imprisoning the prime minister, dismissing the entire cabinet and dissolving the first elected parliament of the country. To forge solidarity and consolidate his reign, he instilled the fear of Indians in the masses. For King Mahendra, 'us' were those who supported his Panchayat regime, all others were 'them' Indians or their stooges.
Those were also the days of the Naxalbari in east India. When students in Calcutta chanted; "Amar nam, tomar nam, Vietnam, Vietnam ("My name, your name, Vietnam, Vietnam)", King Mahendra and his American advisors were alarmed. To deflect attention, royalist ideologues revived the bogey of "Indian expansionism" and served it on a platter to the Nepali leftists. For the Jhapali Communists—the followers of Naxalbari in Nepal—the cry against Indian expansionism became shriller than the one against American imperialism.
This brand of what came to be called "Mandale-Male" (courtier-ML) nationalism (an unlikely fusion of extreme-right and extreme-left ideologies) was so pronounced on the college campuses of Nepal during the Seventies that when student leaders thundered, "We will blow the Kosi barrage and wash Bihar into the Bay of Bengal", many youths actually took them seriously.
But when Indians imposed an undeclared economic blockade in March 1989, an 18-month-long impasse, some realised the futility of the hate-India campaign. Others, though, took pride in the fact that Nepal survived India's trade war.
Another reason for this animosity towards India can be traced to King Birendra himself. India's persistent refusal to recognise his proposal that Nepal be declared a "Zone of Peace" was seen as a slight towards a well-meaning neighbour. It was a pet proposal of the King, and India didn't even consider it even when more than 100 countries of the UN rallied behind it.
Last week's violence testifies that democracy hasn't dissipated the 'hate-India' sentiment assiduously cultivated by interest groups for decades. Indeed, India and Nepal are locked in such a close embrace that the fear of back-stabbing constantly haunts policy makers of both countries. Indians keep raising the issue of the isi operating from Nepal and periodically accuses Kathmandu of turning a blind eye to the Chinese goods being smuggled across an open border of more than 1,000 km.
Nepalis interpret the goodwill of Big Brother India as its bossiness. Nepal feels that it always gets a raw deal in all the river projects concerning the two countries—right from Kosi and Gandak to Mahakali and Laxmanpur barrage. A kind of mass hysteria was recently created against the Laxmanpur barrage (in Uttar Pradesh) that has led to the submergence of Nepali villages. Part of it may be attributed to the creation of a fear psychosis by the leftist parties of Nepal, but part of it is also due to the cockiness of Indian engineers who fail to take cognisance of the fact that more than two-thirds of the Ganga flow comes from its tributaries originating in Nepal. The Nepali's litany of woes aren't all imaginary, as New Delhi likes to think.
Though the bandh of January 1 and 2 passed off relatively peacefully despite the "active support" of the militant Maoists, tourism is in ruins. Foreign investments have been scared away, ethnic harmony has been disturbed and Nepalis have been made to look like fools who fall for rumours. The only consolation is that things could have been even worse.