The transition from Y2K to Y2K1 has been quite turbulent in Nepal. The end of December witnessed stormy protests on the streets of Kathmandu over alleged anti-Nepal remarks made by Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan. Given the delicate political balance in Nepal, the protests have quite understandably snowballed into a major political challenge for the weak and perennially faction-ridden Nepali Congress government. Simultaneously, the events have also cast a long and dark shadow on the deteriorating Nepal-India relations.
Hrithik has since denied having made any comment slighting Nepal and its people. As the dust settles down on the current controversy, which it probably will after some time, his films may again be back in currency in Nepal. It will however be height of naivete to treat the return of Hrithik films to the theatres and video parlours of Kathmandu as a sign of improvement or restoration of normalcy in the situation. It also serves no purpose other than further vitiating the atmosphere and compounding the problem to dismiss the whole episode as yet another handiwork of anti-India vested interests or as an irresponsible act of competitive nationalist populism by shortsighted Nepalese politicians.
There are surely chauvinistic fringes in the political landscape of Nepal as there are in most countries and quite conspicuously in India as well. The people and democratic forces of Nepal will surely be able to isolate them and the task of democratic opinion in India is precisely to create an atmosphere, whichv is conducive for strengthening progressive democratic forces in Nepal and developing friendly relations between India and Nepal. And this can only be done by according due respect to Nepal's sovereignty and national aspirations and opposing every trend of regional hegemonism, every act or attitude of big brotherly arrogance or interference on the part of the Indian state and ruling establishment. Hrithik may or may not have made any anti-Nepal remark, but as long as the air in Nepal remains heavy with widespread popular resentment against, or at any rate, apprehension about Indian intentions, such episodes can only be likely to recur.
We must also remember that anti-India sentiment in Nepal does not thrive merely on the relative imbalance in size or strength between India and Nepal or on the role of Indian capital in Nepal, but most importantly on the political attitude of India's rulers to the legitimate aspirations of the Nepalese people for their independent national identity and for democracy and development in Nepal. Indeed, is it not striking that relations between the world's only Hindu state, Nepal, and India have been deteriorating since the rise of Hindutva forces in India? For those who would like to explain the acrimony between India and Pakistan in terms of Pakistan's Islamic character and military-dominated political order, Nepal indeed presents a strange paradox. Of late, the Indian foreign policy establishment has begun to treat Nepal as an ISI territory and Indo-Nepal relations have become a
clear hostage to the overflowing cup of antagonism between India and Pakistan. But nothing can be more self-defeating for Indian foreign policy than antagonising Nepal by demonising it as a pawn in the hands of Pakistan. There can be no justifying the anti-Nepal tirade of the Indian state as a legitimate expression or defence of India's security concerns, for Indian interests cannot be defended on the basis of diplomatic bankruptcy or an arrogant foreign policy which only deepens India's isolation from all her immediate neighbours.
Moreover, the fig leaf of security concerns can hardly hide the naked expansionist attitude of the saffron brigade. While some of these saffron outfits are attributing the 'trouble' in Nepal to the country's transition from monarchy and partyless rule to a fledgling parliamentary democracy, the government cries against growing ISI penetration in the Left movement in Nepal. And now a most veteran and authentic saffron ideologue like KR Malkani tells us that the 'problem' of Nepal could have been resolved long back had Nehru agreed to the Nepal monarch's proposal for annexation of Nepal by India in the 1950s!
We must save Indo-Nepal relations from this stupid saffron arrogance and ISI fixation. The road to Indo-Nepal friendship can only be built by burying forever the regional hegemonic ambitions of Indian rulers. It can only be paved with an honest respect for Nepal's quest for an independent national identity and its growing engagement with parliamentary democratic politics.
A CPI(ML) Weekly News BulletinVol. 4; No.1; 2-1-2001