The Prime Minister of Nepal and the leader of the Nepalese Communist Party (NCP) recently took jabs at members of India’s ruling party by saying that the popular Hindu god Rama was born in Nepal. Experts said this is an attack on the people-to-people connections between the two nations, and the Chinese are using the NCP to attack India.
Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli said at a cultural event in Kathmandu on July 13 that Rama, who is followed by millions of Hindus across the world and is believed to have been born in India, was actually born in Nepal. At issue are two towns, one in India and one in Nepal, with the name Ayodhya.
Rama, whose story is told in the famous Hindu epic “Ramayana,” is generally believed to have been born in Ayodhya in today’s state of Uttar Pradesh, and his wife, Sita, is believed to have been born in either in Bihar in central India or Janakpur in Nepal. But Oli said that both were born in Nepal.
“We still believe we gave Sita to Prince Ram, but we gave the prince too, from Ayodhya, not India. Ayodhya is a village a little west [of] Birgunj,” Oli said, according to Nepalese media outlet Setopati.com. Birgunj is a district in Nepal about 135 km from the capital Kathmandu.
The story of “Ramayana” has influenced the cultural values in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Thailand, and has various adaptations in these countries.
India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has had a three-decade-long tryst with Rama as a religious icon as it has campaigned in many elections on the issue of building a temple at Ayodhya.
The resulting Ram Janmabhoomi (Rama’s birthplace) movement reached its culmination after the Supreme Court of India last year passed a verdict that paved the way for the construction of the temple at the site.
Experts believe that political intentions are behind Oli’s raking up of the issue of Rama’s birthplace.
“Oli is just trying to strike at the heart of Indo-Nepal ties, which is a religious and cultural convergence. By making these ludicrous remarks, he is trying to appropriate an icon which is widely revered in India and can potentially lead to India responding strongly,” Harsh Pant, a political analyst with the Observer Research Foundation told The Epoch Times over the phone.
Girish Kant Pandey, a political analyst and an associate professor at the Department of Defence Studies from Gorakhpur University, told The Epoch Times over the phone that Oli didn’t consider geography when he made comments about Rama’s birthplace.
“Oli made comments about Rama to instigate anti-India sentiment in Nepal. But he went back on it when Nepalese protested against his statement. People started to ask him that if Rama was born in Nepal, then the Saryu River should also be flowing in Nepal because the actual Ayodhya (as mentioned in the epic) is on the banks of the Saryu. That’s why Oli is silent now,” Pandey said.
The Saryu River mentioned in the Indian ancient scriptures, including the “Ramayana,” flows through the modern-day state of Uttar Pradesh in India.
Infighting in NCP
Oli’s comments come in the wake of political infighting inside the NCP, an alliance between Nepal’s former Maoist rebels and the liberal Communist UML (Unified Marxist–Leninist) that came to power in May 2018 after defeating the pro-India Nepali Congress Party—a first majority government in 19 years in a nation plagued by unstable coalitions.
Problems appeared in the Nepalese government due to a stalemate between the co-chairman of the ruling alliance, NCP, P.K. Dahal, and Oli, wherein Dahal wanted Oli to step down from power.
In the first week of July, 31 of the 45 members of the Communist Party’s standing committee had asked Oli to step down.
Aparna Pande, director of the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times over a chat platform that the internal political crisis propelled Oli to make such statements.
“It is easy to use identity politics and fear of a big brother when some fear exists,” said Pande. By big brother, she here refers to India.
Pant said the statement would have lead to a wider public backlash if India had responded to Oli’s comments. “Fortunately, New Delhi decided to ignore his remarks,” he said.
India–Nepal relations haven’t been going smoothly recently, with both the nations embroiled in a long-pending border dispute. The Nepalese Parliament recently passed a resolution including three territories on its map that India currently administers.
Experts said the NCP is connected more with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), while India and Nepal relations are more people-centric, with about 6 million Nepalese living and working in India, according to government sources.
Pant said the Chinese ambassador in Nepal intervened and helped to save Oli’s office as well as his government, as the CCP wants the communist regime to survive in Nepal for the CCP’s own benefit.
“China is using its leverage with the Communist Party of Nepal to target India via Nepal,” he said.
Pande said in an op-ed earlier that while India and China were involved in a border dispute that escalated into the killing of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers, the Chinese were breeding insecurity in Nepal against the Indian establishment.
“As China beefs up its aggressiveness along the Line of Actual Control, India must also focus on Chinese attempts to make its immediate neighborhood insecure for New Delhi. China’s strategy usually involves multiple simultaneous moves,” Pande said, adding that the deterioration of India’s relationships with Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have happened at Beijing’s encouragement.
Pande said the problem also lies in India using a civilizational approach in its relationships in the neighborhood, which is India’s historic and civilizational sphere of influence.
“The wrinkle in the India–Nepal relationship points to the problem India seems to be having with some of its other neighbors, something that China is actively taking advantage of in pursuit of strategic advantage,” said Pande.
“India accepts the sovereignty of all its neighbors, but its emphasis on ancient history creates fear that New Delhi’s goal might be to diminish the separate identities of its smaller neighbors,” she said, adding that such an approach is helping Nepalese politicians produce an “ultra-nationalist” sentiment.