After claiming that India had occupied 374 sq. km of Nepalese territory in the Kalapani area of Western Nepal, and issuing an official map showing the disputed areas as part of Nepal, Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma “Oli” has raised the issue of the “true” birthplace of Lord Rama, the hero of the Indian epic Ramayana.
He claimed that Rama’s birthplace “Ayodhya” was in Nepal and not in Uttar Pradesh in India as generally believed.
“India is manipulating cultural and historical facts by creating a fake Ayodhya in India, which in fact is a village west of Birgunj in Nepal,” Oli said.
“We did not give Sita (Rama’s bride), who was born in Janakpur (in Nepal), to an Indian prince. Sita was married to Rama of Ayodhya in Nepal, not in India,” Oli remarked. Ayodhya was later “created” in India disregarding facts, he alleged.
He “reasoned” that a prince from a place that far away from Janakpur could not possibly come to Janakpur to marry Sita as there were no means of easy transportation during those times. However, Oli did not provide any archaeological evidence or cite references to back his claim.
Oli appears to be widening the scope of his conflict with neighboring India to whip up Nepalese nationalism and use that to defeat attempts by his detractors to oust him from power
Expectedly, the now increasingly unpopular Oli, invited flak from his opponents and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India.
“It looks like the PM wants to further spoil Nepal-India relations rather than working to resolve tensions,” the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party leader Kamal Thapa tweeted. Oli’s unfounded claims did not sit well with ruling party leaders either. He received heavy flak on the social media as well.
The Himalayan Times pointed out that the Ayodhya issue is very sensitive in India with the Hindu majority wanting a Rama temple to be built at the site of his birthplace in place of the demolished Babri mosque. The paper warned that Oli’s statement will invite the ire of the Hindus of India. Sure enough, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India condemned Oli’s statement. Others said that the statement would weaken the Indian Hindus’ stand on Rama’s birthplace as the Muslims can now say that the Hindus’ case is fictitious. The Muslims might approach Indian Supreme Court for a fresh hearing of the now closed Rama birthplace-Babri mosque case.
Not to be left behind, Oli’s Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa created another controversy saying that India’s ‘intervention’ had paved way for natural disasters in Nepal’s southern areas. Speaking at a parliamentary committee on Monday, Thapa said that India has built many structures along the border due to which there is flooding in Nepal during monsoons.
“The unilateral construction of roads and other structures which double as dams restrict the natural flow of water from Nepal down south. That has led to inundation on our side, time and again. The problems of flooding during monsoons are at large because we have not been able to address the issue of external intervention. In political terms, this can be called an intervention as they (India) have made many unilateral moves serving their own interests while disregarding ours. Efforts had been made in the past to resolve these issues, but India had taken no follow up action,” Thapa said.
Contentious Citizenship Act
However, there is another Indo-Nepal issue which is second only in importance to the dispute over the strategically important Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh areas. This is the Oli government’s bid to amend Nepal’s Citizenship Act to make it difficult for Indian women married to Nepalese to get Nepalese citizenship.
The people of Indian origin called Madhesis, who live in the plains of the Terai region bordering the India, are not only a large community but have close marital and social ties with India. Marriage across the Indo-Nepal border is common which is why Indo-Nepal relations are called a “Beti-Roti’ relationship in which Indians and Nepalese exchange brides (Beti) and bread (Roti). The new citizenship law, if passed, will require an Indian bride to be married to a Nepalese for a minimum of seven years. The Nepalese authorities defend the bill saying that it is no different from the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 which says: “A person who is married to a citizen of India and is ordinarily resident of India for seven years before making an application for registration;”
Nepal’s Parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee recently endorsed the Amendment Citizenship Bill. It has to be debated by both Houses of Parliament.
The Madhesis fear that the new act would reduce the population of the southern plains of Nepal and consequently reduce the political and economic power of the Madhesis who are a substantial community there. The Madhesis had had to fight tooth and nail to retain their political power in a country dominated by the people of the Kathmandu Valley who claim to be the original Nepalese.
However, the amendment bill does not enjoy across-the-board support. It has triggered protests from the pro-India Nepali Congress, the Samajbadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal. These parties have support among the Madhesis of the Terai. They also seek cordial ties with India and argue that the amendment will further spoil Indo-Nepal relations to the utter disadvantage of not only the Madhesis but all Nepalese.
New Delhi has not reacted to this move yet. In 2015, to press the ruling Napalese elite to give the Madhesis concessions which they wanted written into the new constitution. India facilitated an economic blockade which brought great misery to the common man in Nepal and forced the Oli government to open the door to the Chinese. Oli signed a Trade and Transit Agreement with China to end the Indian monopoly and escape from India’s economic stranglehold.
Although the currently weak Indian government is unlikely to take any precipitate step like in the past, the mood in New Delhi is unlikely to be friendly towards Nepal and its demands.
Role of China
Meanwhile, China is taking an active interest in the Nepalese political crisis and is trying to shore up the fortunes of Oli who is seen as an acolyte of China. The Chinese ambassador Ms.Hou Yanqi has been going around meeting a cross-section of political leaders trying to persuade them to persist with the rule of the Nepal Communist Party, with Oli as the Prime Minister.
Oli’s detractors are against the activities of the Chinese envoy and have asked her not to interfere while assuring her that no matter which communist faction is in favor, Nepal-China relations will continue to be cordial.
But anxiety in India about Ms.Hou’s activity led to some private TV channels to romantically link Premier Oli with Ms.Hou. The salacious reporting led to the Nepalese government’s banning all Indian TV channels other than the government-run Doordarshan. Later, in response to popular demand for Indian entertainment, the government narrowed the list of barred channels to a few which had truly gone overboard.