Suhasini Haidar

Kathmandu Diary - Part Deux

To say PM Modi’s speech in the Nepali parliament was a smash HIT, would be an understatement. Enough puns have been made about his use of the acronym for Highways, Infotech (I-ways), and Transmission lines for electricity. But the atmosphere was certainly electrified, and even Maoist leaders like Prachanda, who have been quite so critical of India in the past banged the desks to cheer on the PM. The atmosphere on the streets too showed the change. Nepalis are known for their warmth and hospitality, but in the past few years, the anti-India sentiment was palpable. I remember landing in Kathmandu once in 2007 to petrol queues, that went 3-deep, in lines that snaked more than a kilometre, because the Indian Oil Corporation had raised prices, and the Indian government had decided to reduce subsidies to Nepal (a similar decision to cut LNG subsidies to Bhutan had caused anger towards India in 2013). Another time in 2010, the Department of Revenue Intelligence decided to block the transit of newsprint to Nepal’s most popular Kantipur Times, allegedly because they had adopted a critical position on India, and set off another storm . These are different times in the Kathmandu valley, however, and the number of Nepal-India flags hung out of balconies for Mr. Modi’s visit, would gladden many hearts.

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I have received many responses to my previous blog about Prime Minister Modi’s decision to stop taking non-official media along with him. Many of them were scathing of the media, asking why journalists who are critical of the Prime Minister should receive a “free ride” from the tax-payer. To them, I would only say, it would be better if the ride were not free at all, and the PMO should charge media organisations for the flights (media has always paid for hotels, etc.) Whether they are critical or not, is, frankly, irrelevant, as surely no one wants the PM to only carry media that will praise him. Others have written in, asking what other countries do, particularly the US. You only need to see the formal protest lodged by the White House correspondent’s association when President Obama refused access to the press corps travelling with him to watch him play golf with Tiger Woods in Florida this year. Michelle Obama faced a lot of flak for not taking along media on a visit to China in 2014 too. The reasoning journalists gave was that the President and the First Lady travel on the taxpayers expense, and there is no reason why journalists should not be allowed to go along to “see how those tax dollars are spent”. It is curious that the situation in India is the reverse, with journalists, not public officials being asked that question. In Kathmandu, as a result, Indian media that travelled on their own had no access to the PM’s meetings, the reception thrown by the Indian embassy for him, nor to his visit to Pashupatinath. The Prime Minister’s only statements to them were those made on his twitter account, and the parliament address.

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It was remarkable to see the energy of Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala during Prime Minister Modi’s visit. 76-year old Mr. Koirala is being treated for a second bout of cancer, and had only returned from a medical visit to the US on July 22nd. Despite the obvious weakness, Mr. Koirala went to receive PM Modi at the airport, and also to see him off, an unprecedented gesture. He caught a chill for all his exertions, however, and had to skip the President’s lunch for Mr. Modi, and cancelled all meetings the day after. Mr. Koirala, whose family has produced three Prime Ministers before him, has an interesting past. He lived for more than a decade in India in the 1960s and even went to prison for helping hijack a plane in order to finance the Nepali Congress’s anti-monarchist campaign in 1973. Both Mr. Koirala and Mr. Modi, who was part of the Jan Sangh’s campaign during the Emergency, have, in that sense, worked “underground” in the 70s. Mr. Koirala was sworn in Prime Minister 3 months before Mr. Modi this year, and like Mr. Modi, is a single man. What makes him truly unusual is his simplicity- he owns no property, and didn’t even have a bank account until he became PM. When he was asked to fill out his assets ahead of elections last year, he simply listed….3 mobile phones!

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RK Laxman’s ‘common man’ has a Nepali cousin called “ >Phalano Luga”. I discovered this clever cartoon through my colleague Damakant Jayshi, whose friend Rajesh KC is the cartoonist at the Republica. Rajesh’s political cartoons are incisive, and he even has a line of customised t-shirts that flaunt his best work. (see tshirt). Definitely worth a visit on your next trip in!

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 1:47:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blog-suhasini-haidar/article6295585.ece

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