Nepali Times
By The Way
Lumbini as geopolitical ping pong



The mystery over the plan by the dubious Asia Pacific Cooperation and Exchange Foundation (APECF) just seems to get shadier by the day.

What began as speculation by a skeptical media has now cast deep doubts about the antecedents of the proposed project, of procedures not followed and what seems to be a deliberate attempt to bypass prevailing laws of the land. Op-eds about the project's attempt to "hijack Lumbini" are appearing thick and fast in the Nepali media.

In June, APECF signed an MoU with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in Beijing to develop Lumbini. But neither the Nepal government nor the UN seem to know anything about it. The agreement was in clear violation of Nepal's domestic laws, and superceded long-standing cooperation with another UN agency, UNESCO, to implement a masterplan for Lumbini.

There is a glaring lack of transparency in the way this project has been conceived and declared. It has tried to bypass the government to push the project through patronage of the influential chairman of the Maoist party and, initially, an ex-crown prince.

To be sure, the project's stated aims and objectives to upgrade tourism infrastructure in Buddha's birthplace could be in the long term interest of the country, particularly because Lumbini has languished as a backwater through the lethargy of successive governments. The project looks to boost government revenue, create jobs, build airports, railways and highways and help reduce poverty. Nowhere in the signed document or the official statement in the website is it stated that the area will be turned into a "Disneyland" or anything of the sort.

A highly placed government official who did not wish to be named told us: "From whatever I have heard and read the project components are in line with the master plan except for the world's tallest Buddha statue proposed inside the 3 sq mile of the heritage site." The functionary feels Nepal could benefit the project, but is put off by the lack of transparency regarding its source of funding and its legitimacy.

The project has even been criticised from within Dahal's own Maoist party where there is a feeling the chairman is trying to "NGO-fy" the party by secretively hobnobbing with questionable organisations. The APECF website introduces Dahal as 'Prachanda, the ex Prime Minister of Nepal' who co-chairs the foundation. It is not yet clear whether he is on its official payroll, but if he is, Dahal may even face personal legal problems for politically promoting a project for personal gain. Paras Shah's involvement in the project remains a speculation, and his name has now vanished from the official website.

The vice chairman of the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT), the chief government body responsible for implementing any activity inside the 3 sq mile area of the Lumbini heritage site, says that the government has not heard officially from the foundation and is not part of the project.

So, we need to make sense why the project has "officially" remained unofficial, if it has indeed been officially signed. Does it have something to do with the fluid political situation in Nepal and the long term benefit to be extracted out of the project? The political and economic brownie points for bringing in a multi-million dollar investment in the country seems to be too tempting for Dahal.

But he risks angering the New Delhi in the process. The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu is known to be taking a dim view of the goings-on and New Delhi has instructed its UN mission in New York to find out what is happening. There is speculation that this is Beijing's way of having a forward-looking strategy to deal with a post-Dalai Lama Tibet. Lumbini could be pushed as an alternative to Indian plans to revive the ancient city of Nalanda as a Buddhist hub, or Bodh Gaya which has served as a meeting point for Tibetan monks.

All this could signal another facet in Sino-Indian geopolitical rivalry, this time for the heart and soul of Buddhism. The question for us is: do we want Lumbini and Nepal to be dragged into a future flashpoint?

Read also:
In the land of the Buddha
Maoist involvement in Chinese-backed plan to develop Lumbini raises suspicion

1. who cares
according to my senses,

positive possibility: 

there is one, those capitalists involved with the NGO, they could be looking to create their personal goodwillby developing, promoting Lumbini. 

i do not think they want to help lumbini for the sake of the religion, humanitarian or other good reasons cause if that has been the case they would not have associated the NGO with a killer of 16k and another serial killer.

negative or should i say dangerous possibilities (there are many):

1: the least, there could be financial reason. using this ngo they could loot donors, they could control nepal's economy by buying shahs and maoist. that could be the reason why they have brought in the killer of 16k and the serial killer.

maoist illegally gave frequency to some chinese, i wonder if that chinese firm is associated with this ngo. and its well known that all major chinese firms are agents of chinese commie party.

2: it is not easy to carry/transport/send 50 crore, for money laundering purpose they could have established this ngo. 

$3billion is like 210 billion rupees. and there are more than 2000 10crores in there. so tell me, how many bosses are there in NC, UML, Maoist, army, police, bureaucracy, civil soicety. buying 2000 individuals is enough for maoist coup and then keep nepal in their pocket to loot. 

3: under the hide of the ngo, they could inter into nepal to mobilize maoist. why the shah as the member? to counter india, cause NC, UML do not have fire power so only hope for india and the west is shah and since with shah in there pocket, there will be no threat of retaliation. 

4: this could be a grand design, to control nepal and get into south asia. that is why they choose puspa, who is the most opportunist, selfish politician in the history of nepal who can be easily bought and who has tens of thousands of peasants waiting for his order to attack nepalese. 

but i am not worried cause, they are not the only players on the earth and they are chinese, it is not possible for commies and dictators to have genius strategist, think tank in their arsenal.       

and we know nepal, nepalese. nepalese are those ungrateful individuals who accept others help but do not pay back what they owe.  

if that ngo does other than what they have been saying, it will back fire on them.

2. ke garne
In the past two weeks, I have seen a lot of writing on this issue, including Kul Gautam's. But all this writing misses one important context: India. My theory is that the reported secrecy on the part of Chinese may be a response to an excessive Indian meddling in Nepal's developmental projects. 

From what I have read for past thirty years, the Indians have objected to mostly Chinese and sometimes international developmental project in Nepal in the same of one or another excuse. Kodari Rajmarg, Arun 3 Hydro, East West Highway, Bagmati Cleanup Project are a few names I remember but there are many more. Many times this meddling has succeeded  in aborting our core developmental projects. I find this sort of meddling much more sinister and harmful than political meddling. 

Could Nepali Times write some articles on that subject? While the Chinese-led Lumbini proposal raises some legitimate questions, as you have reported, I have a lingering suspicion that the Indians have been pulling the strings against the Chinese project this time as well. The Indian press has been going at it for more than a month. 

I don't want to sound reflexively anti-Indian but any neighbor that impedes in my country's development cannot have our best interests at heart. We need to look into this subject with courage and tell it like it is. 

3. Dev Batsya

Nepal should encourage investment from our neighbors as well as the international community for development of not only Lumbini but other religious and historical sites like Janakpur,Muktinath etc.These investments will be good for the country by boosting the local economy,providing jobs for people and will help bring in more tourists and revenue to the country. Of course, such developments need to carefully monitored and supervised to ensure that they meet the set standards and goals.

So from a Nepali perspective the $3 billion dollar plan to develop Lumbini , if it pans out, is very good news.

With the country's economy in dire straits surviving on foreign remittances, this may provide the necessary impetus for local growth, and will at the very least help to provide jobs to thousands of people.

Most of the countries in the world including India are actively trying to promote business with China and encourage Chinese investments in their countries. As such, there is simply no basis to reject investment just because it is from China. As a matter of fact, Nepal by providing security to foreign investments, should encourage more investments  from both  China and India. Both these countries are growing economic powers, and can aid tremendously in  Nepal's development.

Instead of playing off the two countries as adversaries as some of our politicians are tempted to do,  Nepal should act more like a bridge to bring the neighbors closer. Not only Nepal, but the whole region can reap benefits from this cooperation.

4. Arthur
The article is less hysterically paranoid than Kanak Mani Dixit's op ed, which seems almost sane compared with the comment from "who cares".

But fundamentally all three reflect the same outlook.

Somebody wants to develop Nepal! Its a plot! Stop them!

5. Zombie4nepal
It's quite remarkable to see this deluge of articles laced with anti-China sentiments on the homepage of 'Nepali Times' which also runs a blog titled 'Chalo Dilli!' Could someone please translate it to me? It's neither Nepali nor English as far as I can tell.

India has been encroaching our land for years and not a single party, including the Madhesi ones who claim every ounce of Terai otherwise, has raised any issue in the parliament; but here's a project with promise of economic prosperity of the entire region and a global spotlight in positive way (for a change!), and the 'journalists' on Indian embassy's payroll are showing their true colors across Nepali newspapers. If only we focused on the right questions, whether it be the nature of this NGO or an evaluation of long-term impact, something good could be achieved. Alas! Nepali will always remain proficient in inducing miscarriages at the simplest possibility of seeing useful things born. 

6. B2B
@5, I couldn't disagree more! Why do you again and again beat a dead horse? This subject is debated frankly in the public like it should have been right from the beginning, but of Dahal's secrecy.

It is so easy to always find a scapegoat in India when you yourself is failing your country by living on the pay role of the Maoist or trying to sponsor yourself as a future Chinese vice-roy to Nepal if and when China makes its way into Singha Durbar. FYI, there are almost 6 million of Nepalese live and work in India. Could you please think a little bit about them when a dimwitted Nepalese of your ilk apes to be anti-India for his self-satisfaction but harmful for the country because no matter what you think or parade the situation of Nepal will not change, neither it's geography nor it's past history.

Hence moderate your way of venting  your frustration so that our compatriots in different Indian schools and working places do not have to suffer from the accusation of  being arrogant and wicked toward Indians.

7. zombie4nepal
#6: A person who doesn't know the difference between 'payroll' and 'pay role' won't be honored with a response. Try switching your TV channel with shirtless Indians dancing to PBS or MSNBC, you might actually learn a thing or two.

I really hope China plays a lot more active role in Nepali affairs. Nothing will make me happier than seeing a constipated Indian government every time it looks at Nepal. Those 6 million Nepali can remain in India forever. It's best to limit the contagion. 

Indian education only prepares Nepali slaves, the ones who will always watch Indian movies and dance to Indian songs. Perhaps, the Chinese could also teach Nepali a few things about Cultural Revolution because Nepal desperately needs one. 

8. B2B

A distorted interpretation, spin if you will, was the basis of my writing pay role instead of payroll. If you are so smart try to differentiate between these two words, you 'll obtain your 'Fake English' diploma that you could buy in some Chinese shops in Shanghai. And your pidgin English will be better appreciated by all and sundry.

As of now, as far as China is concerned those Chinese investors are most welcome if they come to invest in different economic spheres of Nepal, but not to intervene in our internal affairs like dictating the terms and conditions as to how to treat our Tibetan refugees, as the whole economy is going at a crawl and somebody must supply the seed money to enhance the new way of productivity in order to help compensate the deficiencies which make the whole financial and economic system of Nepal go belly up.

But your incessant India bashing will not help us neither to bring imported goods from Calcutta and Bhuvaneshwar nor use their wagon merchandizing trains to carry the same all the way from the seashore to Raxaul. If Nepal wants to be prosperous the first and foremost condition is to have an amicable relationship with our both neighbors of the north and the south.

FYI, if you just make a tour of Patna, Gorakhpur, Lukhnow, Bareilly and some places in Utterakhand and Himachal Pradesh You will be flabbergasted to see all those Nepalese compatriots earning their living and in some Universities our students are learning to be the Engineers, Doctors, MBA scholars et al.

You as per your own allegation to be on the payroll of the Maoists you are a parasite who siphons off the State Exchequer that means the common stakeholders' taxes instead of earning your living like a normal denizen who respects everybody without distinction of creed and caste or adherence to any political party.

There are a host of questions about uncertainties that may sweep away Nepal's existence if there are people of your ilk always pointing finger at your neighbors, doing nothing himself to stitch things in time to save nine.

I do not buy your arguments coz you look so fake and it feels so put on. The life of a zombie is traced already i.e., to suck the blood of living humans to survive, at the same time, living in the dark corners infested with vermins.

9. Phurpa Tamang
Lumbini is the birth place of Lord Gautam Buddha. Politicians can say Buddha was born anywhere. But we Buddhist people believe that Lumbini is the exact birth place of Siddhartha Gautam or Lord Buddha. It is also good to know for us Buddhists that a huge project is going to start in Lumbini. If this kind of project could be completed a good message will go to the world. Religious, cultural and peace loving tourists can be attracted.  The Country will earn revenue from it. But, these days many political voices can be heard and even can read  in the daily newspapers. If it is going to work for the sake of political achievement then it is totally wrong. Because the name of the Lord Buddha can not be connected with the politicians who promote violence and commit fake activities to achieve his personal goal. However, this kind of work should be given to non political people like Buddhist monks or those whose only  concern is that of  building peace in the world rather than violence and political achievement.  
Phurpa Tamang (Advocate)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)