On Nepal, Modi has much to be satisfied about. But the challenges begin now.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made every effort to be seen as Nepal’s best friend — a commoner, a pilgrim, the guardian of a Nepali in need, and less of a prime minister of a big country. By the time he left Nepal, he had won the hearts and minds of the Nepalese, imprinting deeply the idea that he alone has the will and ability to transform Nepal into a prosperous country. His repeated emphasis on India’s respect for Nepal’s sovereignty, and the message that missed opportunities of the past and failed promises should not act as speed-breakers in “our future journey to prosperity together”, were perhaps aimed at looking ahead at the future, not harping on the past.
Modi knew that all these personalities he projected would consolidate his image and goodwill in a country where India is perceived as a neighbour with a big gap between promise and delivery — and, of late, a neighbour that involves itself more in Nepal’s internal politics, and pursues a policy of “divide and rule”.
Modi brought along with him Jeet Bahadur Saru Magar — a Nepali boy that he had a chance meeting with in Ahmedabad about 16 years ago and adopted — ostensibly to “reunite” him with his family that was discovered two years ago, at Modi’s initiative. Jeet had come to Nepal two years ago, soon after the family was discovered, and was in constant touch with them. But Modi’s decision to bring Jeet along, get his entire family to Kathmandu, pose with them for a photo-op and give them gifts, generated such publicity that this affair appears to have paid him the biggest dividend of his Nepal visit.
“Years ago, I came here as a pilgrim. And anyone who comes to Nepal once, will always belong here [sic]” he said in Nepali, before he began his extempore speech in the parliament. By projecting the image of a benevolent guardian and a devotee of Shiva — from Somnath to Pashupatinath, via Vishwanath — he could easily establish a bond with a predominantly Hindu Nepal, a country with a potential for religious tourism.
Jawaharlal Nehru disapproved of then President Rajendra Prasad’s wish to go to the renovation ceremony of the Somnath temple in the early 1950s on the ground that it would set a wrong precedent in a secular country. But almost 60 years later, Nehru’s successor took pride in offering special worship at the Pashupatinath temple and spending an hour there as a devotee, something continued…