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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Five reasons why Nepalis need not resent India

Ordinary Nepali's guide to understanding and behaving with the neighbor

I have made a habit of avoiding writing on as many topics as possible. This is because, it is simply impossible practically to scribble on every topic of my interest as there are just too many of them. I would have never come up with this one despite recurrent urges to do so if one small eventuality had not taken place.

Around the time Nepal won a historic soccer match against India a week back in SAFF games, I had done a story on fallout of India's partition for Asia Times Online which was subsequently carried by Foreign Policy Journal also. Days after, fortunes had reversed as Nepal had crashed out of the tournament after losing to Afghanistan in semifinals while India had impressively reached the finals by beating the seemingly unbeatable team from Maldives. Coincidentally, the coverage of communal riots in and around Muzaffarnagar in India's Uttar Pradesh was getting priority in Indian media and I was surfing internet with about a dozen related news/analyses from Outlook to Tehelka, wondering whether I could do another serious story so soon.

Having seen the antipathy among Nepalis towards India during the Nepal-India match, one Indian friend of mine saw me fixated in Indian magazines and spoke some words that I cannot restate here for their extremely provocative nature. Then he/she added a sentence to this effect: you even have to read the magazines from India and you still oppose India!!

Well, it is absurd to think that the person represents an average Indian. So is the case with some Nepalis who harbor extreme anti-India sentiment and feel compelled to share their words in social media etc. I believe there is a very small proportion of people in either country who bear unnecessary grievance about their neighbors. But they appear to be everywhere because they choose to express their ill-worded prejudices more loudly through different mediums and are thus heard far more easily by others.

The foundation of irrational animosity and hatred towards the neighbors is a misperception of facts and a process of maladaptive thinking: those who are most insecure in their private lives and are in search of an excuse for their personal failure are the most arrogant and aggressive nationalists-- to say euphemistically-- and hence hateful to their neighbors.

#1. Why resent India? The 'Bully' factor

Of course, I cannot unduly generalize specificities and lump every Nepali who feels antagonized by India in same category, that is probably true for Indians who feel the same way about their neighbors including Pakistan. There are multiple causes for which Nepalis resent India. Foremost is a perception that India is a regional bully dictating the terms of developments in Nepali politics. The unnecessary servility of Nepali political leaders towards India does not help the cause: the more people hate their leaders, the more they feel animosity towards India for 'having made' leaders behave the way they do. As the transition period in Nepal stretches with one failure after another of the political parties, people are likely to increasingly see India's meddling not because they get more time to imagine so but because given the absurd impotency of Nepali leaders to sort their domestic issues out at home, India does have real influence among every significant leader in Nepal. Second most sensitive issue on the matter is the apparently 'expansionist' nature of India that happens to manifest as border incursions.

Among other prickly issues is the controversy about birthplace of Gautam Buddha. Every time it is implied in India, even subtly, that he was born there, an irresistible wave of animosity and hatred against India passes across Nepal. The other causes include the gaffes by celebrities who happen to blurt something even remotely derogatory of Nepal, etc.

The average perception among the India-hating Nepalis is this: while India is proudly marching with its impressive economic growth with glittering cities like Mumbai and Delhi and with marvelous airports like Indira Gandhi International airport in Delhi, it is deliberately leaving Nepal behind in the cold; with sluggish growth and little progress, its leaders bickering, industries collapsed, young people drained away and above all, even the birthplace of Buddha stolen through propaganda!

Please note that these are not my views and I may not perfectly capture the essence of anti-India sentiment in Nepal in these words but they represent a large part of reality. Here is how I see the whole issue.

First let me debunk the first myth about India: Nepal is left far behind India in development as India gloriously marches to 'hyperpower' status while Nepal is pushed towards insignificance in world stage by myopia of leaders.

While not baseless, this conclusion is derived from partial reading of India's advance. India may be the world's leading arms importer, only one among 6 world powers having made their own aircraft carrier and, of course, one among the handful of countries to have a substantial nuclear arsenal. Nepal has neither of these but please note that India is also the country where live the largest number of world' poor, a highest proportion of people with preventable/treatable conditions and diseases like blindness, tuberculosis and leprosy. It is said more than half of Indian households lack toilets. Travel to Lucknow and host of other cities in Northern India and you will see the number of people who pass their nights below the open sky in footpaths. Consider the fact that in states where the quacks outnumber the doctors and doctors compete with quacks for quackery, a swindle involving one health scheme of government amounts to a staggering IRS 86 billion, a staggering one fourth of Nepal's annual budget. In states where hunger and malnutrition strangle people if not straight away kill them, a decade long theft of food grains meant for the poor amounts to IRS 2 lakh crores, i. e. Nepal's annual budget of approximately 7 years.

My point is, while India is a big country with big pockets, that does not necessarily mean it is more effectively serving its people and 'India' does not mean only the grandiose politicians in Delhi and state capitals; nor is it limited to the ignorant segment of educated middle class who refuse to acknowledge the fate of the poor and the underprivileged in their own land for fear of 'smearing' India's international image.

#2.India is growing despite corruption but Nepal is not

Many well-informed people in Nepal know that India does have its share of corrupt politicians and corrupt practices are not unusual there. But they reiterate: still India is growing despite all that. The estimated per capita GDP of $1500 for India is 2.5 times higher than the value of $600 for Nepal for the year 2012 and this argument appears to be valid. Also, Nepal's tiny, sclerotic and regressing industrial sector is nowhere comparable to the industrial prowess of India where reside second highest number of billionaires from Asia.

 On issue of corruption, whatever the efficacy and limitations, Nepal has an independent body named CIAA to checkmate the corrupt practices of the politicians and bureaucrats while India's attempt to install a similar body in the name of 'Lokpal' ended in a magnanimous fiasco last year. While representative data are hard to find, my personal speculation is that the extent of institutionalization of corrupt practices is far more in India.

Coming to growth part, knowledgeable people now increasingly believe that, the last 10 years of rapid economic growth was 'a corruption bubble' generated by a 'toxic mix of political corruption and crony capitalism' just to quote this New York Times article.

The message is, while India has indeed grown, it could have done it in far more sound way by enforcing accountability at every step. Now that every person from the PM Manmohan Singh down to the grassroots employee has colluded in an unsavory scheme that gave instantaneous dividends to themselves, the damage done is irreparable. From landscapes desertified by illegal mining to rivers poisoned by toxic chemicals, there is little India can now do to reverse the environmental degradation.

Not that Nepal has developed and utilized natural resources more wisely and accountably, the very fact that most of our resources remain unutilized may be the plus point in the long run.

#3. We were ruined by a decade long insurgency and India was not

However deplorable their deeds now, this generation of Nepali leaders deserves credit for one thing: bringing a brutal decade-long insurgency to a halt. Despite a huge loss of lives and property over the decade, the rebels were somehow brought to unarmed politics and some of the former combatants are now officers in Nepal army. The constructive role played by India during the process deserves praise.

But unfortunately, India has been unable to tame the same problem of leftist insurgency back home. While the Naxalite insurgents keep bleeding the central Indian states, the problem is being compounded by the wholesale misgovernance and utter disregard to the plight of the tribal people sandwiched between two warring sides.

And when it comes to insurgency-related problems, Naxalism is only one among many for India. The problems faced in Kashmir region and the North East fall among the longest running conflicts in world and their end is even more elusive than that of the Naxalite problem.

Physical casualties of the prolonged conflict apart, the role these conflicts are playing to shape, rather distort the psyche and indoctrinate the people in general is all the more important.

#4. Nepal is on the verge of showdown on the issue of federalism but India is not

Many in Nepal, rather inadvertently, believe that the demand of federalism in Nepal is entirely made on behest of India. They believe that India wants to fragment us and swallow and is thus using the instrument of federalism to that end. While it is beyond the scope of this article to dwell in more details on the subject, I'll say this: Nepal's potential showdown is nothing compared to what India has gone through.

If Indian voters were to choose between the parties and candidates based on their merit, the backward states like Uttar Pradesh could have avoided perpetual rule of disastrously callous and corrupt parties and politicians. With few exceptions, the electoral results are always interpreted as the outcomes of alignments and realignments of the various castes, clans and religious communities with a particular party or a leader. The recent change in state governments in the states like Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh make that reality clear.

Agreed, Nepal is not the heaven for meritocrats and we are crippled by so many evils related to bad governance but all leading national parties have their voter bases that cut across the caste, ethnic and religious lines. While the reality may be changing over the past few years with emergence of regional and identity-based parties, Nepal has a long way to go before the attending the bizarre status in which today's India stands.

Not the apparently benign alignments and realignments, however, the biggest threat to the national fabric of India today appears to me to be the increasing acceptability of the role played by religious and ethnic divisions in determining the outcomes of various polls. The recent violent communal outbursts in North India are being aptly explained as the part of the deliberate attempt by some political players to polarize and radicalize people for their electoral gains, not by me but by respectable Indian media outlets. Recollect how the people in Gujarat voted after 2002 pogroms and it sends a chill along the spines: how easy it is to subvert the entire electoral process in the world's largest democracy.

#5. India has world class cricket team and a world class movie industry and Nepal has none

Finally, this factor does not come as such as a cause of resentment against India but this causes the sense of 'inferiority' among many vulnerable young people in Nepal and that feeling of belittlement imperceptibly merges with the factor of resentment. I cannot myself give them a world class cricket team or a movie industry but can surely help them view those things more comprehensively so as to lessen the sense of 'inferiority'.

'Hysteria' and 'frenzy', these two words aptly describe the attitude of majority of Indian people towards cricket and Bollywood. Cricket frenzy was described in some Indian media outlets as the reason for strikingly poor performance of Indian athletes in the last Olympic games: while the entire nation gets mesmerized by cricket all the time and people even crave for the mammoth swindle that goes in the name of IPL, the athletes in other sports are left to fend for themselves for three years and 345 days (leaving the 15 days of Olympics games when everyone holds breath for a new medal).

Coming to Bollywood, I greatly admire some of the Hindi movies and enjoy many more. I may be alleged of jealousy if I criticize the industry or the successful people within it, but I frankly believe that Bollywood is a largely overrated entity. While the celebrity-mania of the media forces them to cover a broken affair of an actress with ludicrous alacrity, the issue of suicide by dozens of farmers in few days gets simply lost in the meantime. Also, 'Tales from a place less traveled: Azamgarh', a simple documentary made about the alienation of Muslims in a small Indian town named Azamgarh is, to me, more significant for the society than the two thousand Bollywood movies put together. Also, the two documentaries dealing with farmer suicide in India, 'I want my father back' and 'Nero's Guests' give a more realistic picture of India than all the Bollywood movies from the past decade put together.

My point is, winning games and producing highly entertaining movies are good things but there are limits to their 'goodness' and they are not as enviable things as we believe, after all.

To conclude

Having said all this, I have to warn that resenting and envying are different things: while we should not resent our neighbors, we should envy their good deeds and good things and should even follow their clues when necessary. There are some things in India of which I am particularly envious: first is the investigative journalism that has dared expose some of the dreaded and apocalyptic trends and developments in India. I have often regretted the absence of even a miniature version of such journalism in Nepal despite frankly criticizing the Indian media industry as such in this Foreign Policy Journal article.

And of course, I envy the literary heritage of India: just one writer of Amitav Ghosh's stature in Nepal would have been a great asset. But as such, writers, like most other artists, are the citizens of the world and the joy of reading the Ibis trilogy would not have been any greater had Ghosh been from Nepal.

Then finally comes the issue of Gautam Buddha. To me the news of purported Buddhists in Myanmar going berserk and bulldozing Rohingya Muslims to death is a far grievous and urgent news than some Indian actor implying that Buddha was born in India. In Nepal also, the issue of consolidating peace through wise political maneuvers is of far more importance than reasserting the fact that Buddha was born in Nepal millenia back. Sensationalism and hatred have zero positive contribution in any discourse; if at all, they work to suppress the rational views on the subject.

And to all Nepalis who feel belittled by India'a achievements in many other fields, I give a solace: India is nearly 23 times larger than Nepal geographically and 40 times larger demographically. If India wins thirty-nine Olympic gold medals and we win none, then we should seriously worry about our sporting capability. Till then, we can keep hoping that some time somewhere in Nepal, talented kids will be born and pursue the sports. In fact, by the time India wins a total of 39 cricket world cups, Nepal may also be able to reach the final of it!!

Take home message: observe, follow, imitate, discuss, praise or criticize your neighbor but try not to resent. If at all you cannot avoid resenting, keep it to yourself. In case you cannot do that, speak or write in gentle and palatable language. That makes you a better speaker/writer and at the end, greater human being as you learn to positively adapt to the adversities. 

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जीवनमा अफ्ठ्यारा घुम्तीहरुमा हिंडिरहँदा मैले कुनै क्षणमा पलायनलाई एउटा विकल्पको रुपमा कल्पना गरेको थिएँ, त्यसलाई यथार्थमा बदल्ने आँट गरिनँ, त्यो बेग्लै कुरा हो त्यसबेला लाग्थ्योः मेरा समग्र दुखहरुको कारण मेरो वरपरको वातावरण हो, यसबाट साहसपूर्वक बाहिरिएँ भने नयाँ दुख आउलान् तर तत्क्षणका दुरुह दुखहरु गायब भएर जानेछन् कति गलत थिएँ !

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