Sunday, June 23, 2013

Appraising The Average Indian And Us

Breaking out of our cross-institutional indignation in the aftermath of last week’s devastating floods in western Nepal, it’s hard not to feel for the average Indian.
The Indian Embassy rejected the mounting contention from our political class that the floods in Mahakali River were caused by release of excess water from Dhauliganga Dam in India’s Uttarakhand state.
Significantly, Nepal’s top bureaucrat, Lila Mani Poudel, after inspecting the area with Interim Government Chairman Khil Raj Regmi, appeared to back the original Nepali stance. “Since the matter was related to a project in a friendly country, the chairman didn’t make any comment (on the accusations),” Chief Secretary Poudel said. He, of course, hastened to add that his comments were based on the local people’s views.
Still, when Nepali civil servants begin expressing such candor, regardless of the immediate veracity of the claim, you get a greater sense of the sordidness of the bilateral state of affairs.
To the average Indian citizen, our political-bureaucratic-popular contention must have sounded particularly inopportune. For one thing, Indians are also the victims of the recent regional floods. For another, this caustic outspokenness comes barely days after former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s high-profile visit to New Delhi, during which he assured Indian journalists that no widespread anti-Indian sentiment prevailed in Nepal.
While we have long complained about India’s constant meddling in all aspects of our national life, the average Indian has remained flustered by the sheer lack of gratitude on our part. During times like these, even Maila Baje cannot help commiserate with the average Indian.
Think of it this way. We hardly seem to recall that it was the Indians who gave us our first airport and first highway and a plethora of other things. Those who do remember are more likely to see the airport as a carefully contrived tool of ensuring more direct Indian interference. The highway? Well, we are apt to say, the Indians built it in a way that would increase consumption of Indian products and parts. Remittances started flowing into Nepal long before we discovered the Gulf countries. The sheikhs hold on to our passports, while the Indians do not require us to even possess one.
Big brothers do recognize the disadvantage that comes with size. But they don’t like having to apologize for it. In fairness, even they were capable of grasping how prickly their very preponderance is for the little guys, there is scarcely anything they – or we – can really do about it.
But sometimes we make matters worse. Infuriated by Indian assertions of ‘special relations’, we do not hesitate to beseech India to bail us out from our inherently internal predicaments. When the Indians do so, they proceed in accordance with their own national interest. So when Nepal’s political future is charted in the Indian capital in 1951 or 2005, the nature of the political structure advanced is secondary to the understanding of how that structure advances India’s broad national interests.
In their exuberance, our leaders rush to explain that India’s role in advancing Nepali democracy should not be considered detrimental in any way. The duly anointed new regime sets out to work as if there is nothing more to do. Their failure to deliver, so obvious to so many Nepalis so soon, begins to rile their Indian patrons. New Delhi can’t go back, so it starts picking and choosing leaders within parties; those sidelined are the first to start blaming India.
This cycle is perhaps understandable to the average Indian. He or she probably also recognizes how successive governments in New Delhi have contributed to botching relations. When they see RAW – a pale shadow of Pakistan’s ISI in the annals of international espionage – blamed for everything that goes wrong in Nepal, the average Indian probably tends to blame his or her own government. Presumably, the average Indian – global in approach and ambition – is more tolerant of Nepal’s quest for sovereign existence. If official India tends to equate every Nepali assertion of its sovereign rights as anti-Indianism, then average Indian might perhaps be tempted to hold New Delhi answerable for a lot.
But then he or she sees us rooting for Pakistan in sporting events. We seem to be opposed to India’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council not because we don’t think India possesses the requisite qualifications, but because of some quirk in our collective national DNA. If a Bollywood flick makes a slight misstep in terms of history or geography, the distinction between cinema and subversion disappears.
Bilateral relations are capable of withstanding all manner of pressure as long as the people are able to rise above their respective governments’ shenanigans. The average Indian might still ask his or her government for answers. Will he or she be able to do so without turning against the average Nepali, though?