Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Bit Of The Man For All

When an Indian prime minister’s visit to Nepal lands him in hot water on his side of the border, you know that bilateral relations are on the cusp of change.
The questions came rolling out right away. Why did Narendra Modi have to make such a grandiose show of his devotion to Lord Pashupatinath, when he couldn’t remember to offer Eid greetings to India’s Muslims?
And that drama about reuniting his godson with his birth parents? Hadn’t the young fellow already expressed his elation over a reunion on Facebook a few years ago?
Yet here we are still in disbelief over what a difference one speech can make.
Sure, there have been murmurs of criticism locally in recent days. Modi made fun of our hills’ inability to restrain the fluidity of water and youth. (As if the plains were significantly better at doing so.)
The $1 billion credit line he HIT us with? The strings were pretty clear from the outset: infrastructure development related to water resources would get priority. Since there aren’t too many builders on this side of the border, you know which way to follow the money until the card’s maxed out.
The general drift about Nepal selling and India buying electricity? Been there, done that. And yet the waters flow on, calmly and cruelly at will.
Modi welcomed Nepal’s long-standing aspirations for changes in the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. But not before implying that Nepal has only made noises so far, with little substantial contribution toward what it really wants and expects to get.
Overwhelmingly, though, we are still in a state of thrall. Modi affirmed that Buddha was born in Nepal. Rarely has someone reaped so much by emphasizing the obvious.
He placed the drafters of our constitution almost on the pedestal of the likes of B.R. Ambedkar. The Maoists – man oh man – they left Emperor Ashok so far behind in war and peace.
The genius of Modi lay not in his oratory. It was in his ability to reach out to everyone – or, more accurately, make them think he did. Within the august ambience of the constituent assembly, he admired Nepal’s march toward a federal democratic republic. But not without conveying a sense of tentativeness and tepidness through his body language.
Moreover, Modi reminded our elected representatives to make sure they did not omit or include something in the hallowed document today that might come to haunt us a century hence. Again, he obfuscated enough in that noble sentiment to let everyone read whatever they wanted.
When he praised the Maoists for so magnanimously laying down arms and adopting peace, the former rebel leaders didn’t seem so enthused when the cameras panned their way. Maybe they felt Modi was conniving to pre-empt what they considered their inalienable right to return to jungle.
Or perhaps they – true to form – were just busy trying to figure out how to use that opening to their advantage. (Modi seemed so enamored by that line that he did a reprise in his Independence Day address the other day.)
Modi reportedly was undecided until the last minute whether to meet former king Gyanendra, someone with whom, we understand, he has built a personal rapport. The Indian establishment, we are told, was split on the wisdom of such a meeting, largely along the lines drawn in 2006. The Indian ambassador in Kathmandu, the Ministry of External Affairs’ Nepal pointman when the 12-Point Agreement was struck between the mainstream parties and Maoists, reportedly threatened to resign, claiming he couldn’t face the fallout from such a get-together.
That settled it. Still, Modi’s meeting with Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal president Kamal Thapa seems to have assuaged the royalist right.
The Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Pakistanis, everyone is playing the guessing game as far as Modi goes. At least he has graciously let each Nepali make him out in his or her own image.