Nepali Times
State Of The State
Tunak tunak tun...tarara


Fifty-four years ago, Jawaharlal Nehru heralded the independence of India with a soul stirring "tryst with destiny" address to his newborn nation. Nehru's courtiers were from a class that shared his dreams and believed in its grand illusions. People like Krishna Menon could boldly face the United Nations on a falsehood about Kashmir, and even a lowly official Govinda Narayan felt emboldened enough to challenge the authority of a revolutionary leader like BP Koirala in post-Rana Nepal. Nepal's inability to deal with the arrogant Indians of that generation resulted in the untimely death of democracy in this country in 1960.

Born from Nehru's ideological seed, Salman Rushdie's midnight's children grew up with the authoritarian designs of Indira Gandhi. The generation of Jug Suraiya's "destiny-nation" dreamt about changing India and challenging the world with its IIT and IIM degrees. Driving around in stately Ambassadors, midnight's children hoped for a new dawn, but all they got was trains running on time during Indira Gandhi's dreaded Emergency. With authoritarianism installed in both countries, relationship between India and Nepal during this period was formalised to such an extent that we were reduced to being distant neighbours with deep suspicion towards each other.

Then it was the turn of India Today's Puppies (Professional, Upwardly mobile Punjabis). None symbolised this class as distinctly as the editor-publisher of that magazine empire, Arun Poorie himself. Feasting on the bumper harvest of India's Green Revolution, Puppies went about town in blood red Marutis with bumper stickers that proudly proclaimed that their next car would be a Rolls Royce. It was this brash and boorish generation that foisted an undeclared economic blockade upon Nepal in the late eighties. Our diplomatic trouble-shooters of that period, Shailendra Kumar Upadhyaya, Ramesh Nath Pandey and Brinda Shah belonged to the stone age, and it showed in their bearing.

Today, the bad news for Nepal's diplomatic establishment is that it is getting much more complicated down there in New Delhi. Bhekh Bahadur Thapa is soon to complete his term at the stately Barahkhamba Road mansion, and the one stepping in his shoes is likely to find an India completely different from those of Nehru-Gandhis, or even Singh-Vajpayees. New Delhi is increasingly being dominated by the brat pack of youngsters that India Today named "The Luckies".

This is the Jockey Generation of post-liberalisation Indians, and it has no heart for Nehru's ideology, no mind for Indira Gandhi's global posturing, and no brains for Rajiv Gandhi's regional muscle-flexing. Ambassador G Parthsarthy warned me in June in New Delhi in his usual patronising manner: "Why don't you Nepalis realise that now you have to deal with a generation of Indians that has no respect for the history of Gurkhas, and no understanding of the concept of a buffer state? Indians of this generation know where their interests are, and have no qualms about getting there at any cost."

Jug Suraiya echoes similar thoughts in a recent article in The Times of India in his mock-serious tone: "Cosmologically, Nehruvian agnosticism has yielded to a quick-fix nationalist religiosity which brooks no dissent nor admits any echo of the profound resonance of doubt."

The Marutis have now given way to Benzes. The Luckies in their Nike sneakers, Benetton shorts, Cartier watches and Rayban glasses are walking advertisements of triumphant global capitalism. This generation of "me, my, myself" has more interest in Naples than in Nepal. That much was brought home to me once again during the anniversary reception of this paper. To remain politically correct, I must refrain from naming the bright young diplomat from the Indian Embassy who gave me a private lesson on Indo-Nepal relations. Suffice it to say that she has impeccable credentials: a graduate from New Delhi's elite St Stephen's College in 1987, she was Deputy Chief of Protocol in India's Ministry of External Affairs. She represents the class of New Indians that "brooks no dissent, nor admits doubts".

It was her considered opinion that it was India that was doing Nepal a favour by employing Gorkhas in the Indian army. Her government is kind enough to employ poor Nepalis, when it can get enough Gurkhas from the territory of its own country. Was she admitting that her government was sending mercenaries to fight Pakistan in Siachen?

For a Nepali, it's tempting to dismiss India Today's fictional Nepal Gameplan, Ferzand Ahmed's fanciful report from Patna about ISI-dominated madrassas in the tarai, Binny Sharma's disparaging reports on ZeeTV about Nepali hijackers abroad IC-814, or Star TV's framed audience responses from Durbar Marg in the wake of Narayanhiti massacre as aberrations. But they aren't. The mainstream media in India is openly hostile towards Nepal, and we better accept that reality and learn to manage damage control.

It is not the reasoned analyses of P Sainath that forms public opinion in New Delhi. The swash-buckling patriotism of Swapan Das Gupta carries more weight in South Block. Shankarshan Thakur may be refreshingly reflective about Indo-Nepal affairs (see p. 3), but it's Ferzand Ahmed who has committed followers in the corridors of power in Lucknow and Patna.

Erudite Jaswant Singh may show the diplomatic equivalent of noblesse oblige when he visits Nepal this weekend. But his deputy at the external affairs ministry is Cub-e-Kashmir Omar Abdullah. All of 31, and all alone in Room Number 142 of South Block, forgive Abdullah if he gets swayed by the garnished accounts of Hrithik Roshan riots fed to him from his listening post in Kathmandu.

Even on the opposition benches of Indian parliament, Nepal now has very few friends. Maharaja Karan Singh of Kashmir and Maharaja Madhav Rao Scindia of Gwalior have multiple relationship with Shahs and Ranas of Nepal. But Karan Singh is now a political has-been, and the influence of Madhav Rao Scindia on Madam Sonia Gandhi-the uncrowned Empress of Congress (I)-is on the wane. Scindia was granted an audience with King Gyanendra this week. It's unlikely that the brother-in-law of Pashupati Shamsher had much to say. Madhav Rao is not of the Jockey Generation, but at least his designer labels are original.

Plato agrees that when modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state change with them. In India, it's now the age of a pop diva Alisha and pop-patriot AR Rehman with their Made in India and Mera Bharat Mahan. Poetry spouting Vajpayee may have an ocean of goodwill in his heart towards the only Hindu kingdom of the world, but the question formulators of Kaun Banega Crorepati still believe Nepal's parliament is called Rastriya Panchayat. To understand this new India, Sher Bahadur Deuba will do well to listen to pop bhangra by Daler Mehndi: Tunak tunak tun...tarara.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)