ven as the discomfort in Indo-Nepal relations, created by its new map continues, the KP Sharma Oli government is steadily opening newer fronts of friction. Now, the birthplaces of revered Gods have become the bone of contention.
Nepal recently objected to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s statement that, “Who are the two greatest Indians that you can ever imagine? I would say, one is Gautam Buddha and one is Mahatma Gandhi.” He was speaking at the India@75 summit organized by CII.
The Nepal foreign ministry spokesperson in a statement said, “The matter remains beyond doubt and controversy and thus cannot be a subject of debate. The entire international community is aware of this.”
On Sunday, however, India tried to put a lid on the latest possible controversy regarding Gautam Buddha by issuing a clarification. The spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava, said the “EAM’s remarks yesterday at the CII event referred to our shared Buddhist heritage. There is no doubt that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, which is in Nepal.”
On the other hand, the Ayodhya controversy is being kept alive by PM Oli. A day before raising objections to Jaishankar’s comment, Nepal media reported that Prime Minister Oli has instructed that the local government gather archaeological evidence of his claim regarding Ayodhya, Ram’s birthplace, being in Nepal. The archaeological department is already set to carry out excavation in Thori, Nepal.
This despite that fact that after an uproar over his comments that didn’t go down well either in India or Nepal, Kathmandu issue a clarification saying, “The remarks made by the Prime Minister are not linked to any political subject and have no intention at all to hurt the feeling and sentiment of anyone.”
But the statement also left room for furthering the idea when it added that there “have been several myths and references about Shri Ram and the places associated with him, the Prime Minister was simply highlighting the importance of further studies and research of the vast cultural geography the Ramayana represents to obtain facts about Shri Ram, Ramayana and the various places linked to this rich civilisation.”
Analysts believe that the move to appropriate cultural icons has a more political reason. Prime Minister Oli, while taking a very nationalistic stance, wants to end the “roti-beti” relationship with India. For instance, by indicating that Ram could have been Nepali, he is eroding the very premise of the age-old historical familial links between Nepal and India where marriages happened and still do between the two sides. Senior Nepali journalist Chandrakishore says,” Ram-Sita vivaah (marriage) is considered as part of people-to-people contact that dates back many centuries. The basis of this very relationship has been jolted by his claims.”
India and Nepal’s relations are built on “shared historical and cultural linkages and wide-ranging people to people contacts,” as is most often stated in India’s statements during visits and meetings between leaders of the two countries.
Gautam Buddha’s legacy also falls in the same category – shared historical and cultural linkages – with four of the three revered pilgrimage sites related to Gautam Buddha being in India – Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar. In fact, it is in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, where he attained Enlightenment and is one of the most holy places for any Buddhist.