Monday, May 24, 2010

Actually, Everyone’s Raring To Go

For a country lamenting its lack of soft power that is both supple and supreme, India must be enjoying the spectacle unfolding in Nepal.
Having to cede the ground to the likes of the French and the Norwegians may have injured Indian pride. What was the alternative? The Americans now insist they have a convergence of views on Nepal with not only New Delhi but also Beijing. And the United Nations? Wasn’t it supposed to have been an Indo-Chinese initiative to limit external influence? It has become a behemoth in its own right.
Indians have long complained how Nepal’s policy toward them is based on extracting concessions without meeting its obligations. In the beginning, Jawaharlal Nehru would fire off missives to Matrika Prasad Koirala castigating this strain of anti-Indianism. Then the New York Times went on to portray how the average Nepali considered the threat from India far more insidious than that from China. Nehru and his daughter and grandson then opted for economic pressure to keep Nepal on a tight leash. With every assertion of its version of the Monroe Doctrine, Nepal became hospitable to alien influences from all quarters.
That was then. Today India is pulsating with Great Power ambitions. It believes it deserves a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council on its own merit, bypassing the rigmarole called the reform agenda. The Chinese can’t say no to their face. The Americans say they would love to hear Hinglish in its diverse intonations resonate in the chamber permanently. How bad must it hurt the Indians to realize that they cannot even tend to their neighborhood?
In the aftermath of “People’s Movement II”, no Indian leader or official of importance really expected Nepali leaders to credit New Delhi with their rise to power. Deep down, many Indians must have expected our leaders to be more subdued in their rage once they fell. When a former prime minister starts publicly accusing the Indians of murdering a king, you know the dissonance can get only detrimental.
There is a reason for this. Bahadur, ordinarily a term evoking awe and admiration, is a stinging pejorative because it is still in currency. Nobody remembers how regularly the Manchus up north called us bandits. Time is a greater healer. Distance, too, is a softener. The fact that Nepal always seems to be among that select group of countries subject to rigorous visa screening procedures seems to escape us.
Macao, one of two Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China, became the latest to rank us among the Nigerians, when we have had our own immigration woes with those good folks. (The visa stringency of other SAR, Hong Kong, need not be recapitulated here.) Yet the open border with India continues to be blamed for Nepal’s woes by no less a man than Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoist friendliest to our southern neighbor with unrivalled consistency.
Surely, there will be many among us who would prefer asphyxiation by distant devils to spite the one closest to us. That won’t stop the Indians from regaling in how more and more Nepalis are finally realizing how when it comes to pushing and shoving around, everyone – near or far – is raring to go. Whether we have learned the real moral of the story is a different matter.