Alma mater triggers a flood of memories for Bhattarai

New Delhi: JNU students listen as their alumnus Nepal Prime Minister Babu Ram Bhattrai (seen on the screen) visits the university campus for the first time after becoming Nepal PM, in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI Photo by Vijay Verma(PTI10_22_2011_000110B)  

Soon after his official meetings ended on Saturday afternoon, Nepal's Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai took the short drive from his hotel in Chanakyapuri to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), his alma mater, where he spent six years in the 1980s.

As Dr. Bhattarai entered the auditorium where he was to give a lecture, he nodded at familiar faces and appeared visibly pleased. In a little while though, the smile had turned to tears as nostalgia gripped the former student who was to declare amidst thundering applause later: “I am what I am because of JNU, one of the world's best universities.”

Memories came back to Dr. Bhattarai, who does not usually show his emotions in public, when his research guide, Professor Atiya Habeeb Kidwai, recalled her association with the Prime Minister.

He had come to her 32 years ago, as a student at the Centre for Study of Regional Development. She encouraged him to study Marxist and neo-Marxist texts on development, and work on Nepal. “With others, the teacher was not satisfied with the student. Here was a student who was not satisfied with his own work.” A dilemma that Dr. Bhattarai faced through his student years was balancing his ‘social responsibilities towards Nepali workers in India and his thesis work.' He once had an accident that impaired his recent memory, but he slowly recovered, working with tremendous discipline.

Dr. Bhattarai maintained relations with his teacher even after graduating, and during the years underground. He last visited her in September 2004 at the peak of the insurgency his party was waging back in Nepal, had a relaxed conversation, and then returned – taking a bus from JNU's Godavari bus stop.

When Dr. Bhattarai began speaking, his voice was shaking. Perhaps, remembering his official status, he did not reciprocate the Lal Salaam slogans with which the students greeted him. But he said he had turned ‘utterly emotional,' and added, “without the motherly affection of Madam Atiya, I would not have been able to complete my Ph.D.”

He began his formal lecture, which focused on Nepal's transition, with a Lenin quote. “It is more useful and pleasant to participate in a revolution than write about it.”

Right after JNU, the Prime Minister attended a tea reception held for him by Sharad Yadav, an old Nepal hand and convener of National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Motilal Vora, Janardhan Dwivedi, Digvijay Singh and Rajeev Shukla, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi from the BJP, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat and civil society leaders Shanti Bhushan and Kuldeep Nayar were present.

While the Indian leaders passed their best wishes to the Prime Minister, Dr. Bhattarai once again talked about his association with India. “My political education and training has happened here. It is not the academic degree, but the degree of struggle which I earned in Delhi that matters the most.”

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was a special guest at the reception, with Dr. Bhattarai having conveyed a personal request to meet him. They had interacted at a seminar organised by the Ministry of External Affairs in Patna last year. Mr. Kumar said on Saturday: “When I go to bordering areas, I look across and cannot see any difference. Nepalis come here and we respect them. I cannot even think of anyone imagining altering this special and unique relationship.” He also extended an invitation to Dr. Bhattarai to be the chief guest at a global summit being organised in Patna in February 2012.

Speaking to The Hindu as his visit drew to an end, the Prime Minister said that besides a warm official reception, it was the response of those outside the government in India which had truly overwhelmed him. “I had really not expected this kind of positive response from civil society, academia and political leaders. In the long term, this is very important for bilateral relations.”

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 2:15:19 PM |

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