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Nepal and India: Deep Ties, Deeper Contradictions in National Identity

  Nepal is located at the southern foothills of the Himalayas, bordering China on the north and India on the other three sides. Affected by geographical and other factors, Nepal and India have profound historical and cultural ties, but there are also profound cognitive contradictions in nationalism. On June 18, the Indian Bollywood film “Adipurush”, adapted from the Hindu epic “Ramayana”, attracted many people in Nepal because of the line “Sita (the wife of Rama) is the daughter of India”. Cities have banned Hindi films. Previously, on May 28, India’s new parliament building was unveiled. The “Akhand Bharat” (meaning “Indivisible India”) map mural inside also aroused strong opposition from India’s neighboring countries, including Nepal. dissatisfied. So, what are the typical manifestations of the cognitive contradictions in nationalism between Nepal and India?
Not considered foreign?

  Hinduism and Buddhism have widespread influence in Nepal and India. Before the Nepali Parliament made the historic announcement of the country as a secular country in May 2006, Nepal was the only country in the world where Hinduism was the state religion. Today, 86.2% of Nepal’s population believes in Hinduism, while 80.5% of India’s population believes in this religion. For this reason, Indian leaders often visit local Hindu temples when visiting Nepal. In addition, the founder of Buddhism, Sakyamuni (Buddha), was born in Lumbini, Nepal, and Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Kushinara in northern India are the holy places where Buddha attained enlightenment, first turned the wheel of Dharma, and passed away to nirvana respectively. In May 2022, Indian Prime Minister Modi made a special trip to Lumbini to participate in the celebration of the 2566th anniversary of the birth of Buddha. In addition, the two countries have also carried out religious and cultural cross-border tourism cooperation. For example, India has opened a special cross-border tourist train to connect Ayodhya in India, the birthplace of Rama, the protagonist of Ramayana, with Janakpur in Nepal, the birthplace of his wife Sita, and other Hindu holy places.
  In July 1950, Nepal and India signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship and opened their borders to each other. Since then, people from the two countries can work and live freely in each other’s countries. Currently, nearly 8 million Nepali citizens (about 1/4 of Nepal’s total population) have settled in India, and about 600,000 Indians have settled in Nepal. Citizens of the two countries enjoy almost the same economic and educational opportunities as their own citizens within each other’s territory. Since Nepali and Hindi both belong to the Indo-Aryan branch and both use Devanagari Sanskrit letters, most Nepalis can understand Hindi. Nehru, the founding Prime Minister of India, once said, “Although Nepal is an independent country, it has very close cultural and traditional ties with India. We do not regard it as a foreign country.” The two countries are also closely connected in terms of military security
  . For example, Nepalese Gurkha mercenaries are an important part of the Indian army. There are currently about 32,000 Gurkhas serving in the Indian army. Since 1950, both the Nepali Army Chief of Staff and the Indian Army Chief of Staff have been awarded the honorary rank of General by the opposing army.
The debate over the origins of culture

  Despite their profound historical and cultural origins, Nepal and India often fall into disputes over the origin of their culture. The “Sita’s Nationality Dispute” is one of the more typical cases.
  According to the Ramayana, Sita was the “daughter of the earth”. Her adoptive father, King Janaka of the Kingdom of Mithila, found her in a furrow in a field and adopted her. Her name, Sita, means “furrow.” Rama was the prince of Kosala. In the competition to recruit a son-in-law, he pulled out the Shiva bow of King Chanaka and successfully married Sita as his wife. Hindu believers in Nepal believe that Janakpur (meaning “city of King Janakpur”) in Nepal is the birthplace of Sita, so Sita is the “daughter of Nepal”. Hindu believers in India believe that the “Sita Kund” pilgrimage site in Sitamarhi County, Bihar, northwest India, is the birthplace of Sita. Therefore, after the Bollywood movie “Adipurash” was released in Nepal, it aroused strong dissatisfaction among the audience. Kathmandu Mayor Balendra Shah announced a ban on all Hindi movies, triggering a dozen cities in Nepal to follow suit. . However, even though it was banned, the film still grossed 19.9 million rupees at the box office in Nepal, which shows the deep cultural ties between the two countries.
  In addition, Nepal and India also have disputes over the birthplace of Buddhism. Nepal believes that the Buddha was born in Lumbini, so Buddhism originated in Nepal; India believes that Sakyamuni became a Buddha in Bodh Gaya, and Buddhism should have originated in India.
“Greater Nepal” and “Greater Bharat”

  In addition to disputes over cultural origins that surface from time to time, India’s Hindu nationalist clamor and expansionist behavior often inspire anti-Indian sentiments among Nepalese people. For example, India took advantage of the civil strife in Sikkim to annex it in 1975; India imposed trade blockades on Nepal three times in 1975, 1989 and 2015; Nepal claimed sovereignty over Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limbiadu La and other places were also occupied by India.
  Therefore, from Nepal’s perspective, the “Bharata” map mural installed in India’s new parliament building, which India claims shows “the territory of the Ashoka period of the Mauryan Dynasty in ancient India,” exudes the myth of Indian hegemony. As early as more than a hundred years ago, “Bharata” existed in the imagination of some Hindu nationalists. They believed that a truly unified India existed from the time of Ramayana, from today’s Afghanistan to Myanmar, and from China Tibet to Sri Lanka, including Nepal, all belonged to the territory of “Bharata” at that time. For decades, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent organization of India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been promoting the idea of ​​“Greater Bharat”. In April 2022, RSS supreme leader Mohan Pargwat stated at a public rally that India would realize the ideal of “Greater Bharat” within 10 to 15 years. After the controversy over the “Greater Bharat” emerged, a politician from the Indian Party even stated on social media that “the ‘Greater Bharat’ map of the new Parliament Building represents our strong and self-reliant India.” This caused strong dissatisfaction among India’s neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, but the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs argued that the map “is a cultural and historical map” and is not political. Subsequently, Kathmandu Mayor Balendra Shah counterattacked by hanging a “Greater Nepal” map covering part of Indian territory in his office, and members of the Nepalese House of Representatives proposed that the map be placed in the country’s parliament building.
  ”Greater Nepal” is a political geographical concept whose scope extends beyond the current boundaries of Nepal and includes the large territory ceded to the British East India Company by the Treaty of Sugauli signed by the Kingdom of Nepal after its defeat in the Anglo-Nepal War in December 1816. These lands are now part of the northern Indian states of Punjab, Himachal, and Uttarakhand. Some Nepali nationalist groups are eager to restore the territory of “Greater Nepal”. For example, the radical Nepali NGO “Greater Nepal Nationalist Front” has long been active in promoting the “Greater Nepal Movement”. The organization believes that “[today’s India] a large area from Shimla to Darjeeling, and even includes the seven holy cities of Hinduism.” All of Varanasi should be returned to Nepal.” Some Nepalese scholars and former government officials often write articles saying: “The land we ceded to the East India Company should not belong to India.”
  In short, although Nepal and India are both countries dominated by Hindu believers, Nepal is proud that its country has “never Colonized”, constantly emphasizing the differences between itself and India, and demonstrating its independent nationalist identity through actions such as disputes about cultural origins and fighting back against the Hindu right-wing “Greater Bharat” concept. This kind of nationalism between Nepal and India Cognitive contradictions are difficult to eliminate in a short time.

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