It was as if they had not heard the announcement from Delhi in the morning. At the town's big public ground, Barabigha, bulldozers continued to level the surface; a 22 feet stage was being erected at one end of the ground; a special pathway for VIP entrance had been paved; temporary toilets were being constructed; entry was still restricted; and banners and an entrance gate to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were still in place.
The town was decked up - but the date was not arriving. Modi, the Indian government officially announced on Sunday, would not travel to any place outside Kathmandu during his visit to Nepal for the Saarc summit. This came after much speculation and uncertainty - where Nepal first set up a preparation committee to welcome Modi in Janakpur, then announced its cancellation, and then reiterated the invitation with PM Sushil Koirala personally calling up Modi and stepping up arrangements at a new venue, as HT first reported. Modi was also supposed to travel to Lumbini and Muktinath.
MEA's official spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin cited Modi's domestic commitments,with other sources pointing to his campaign responsibilities. MEA also added that Modi hoped to visit these towns at a later date. But here in this small bordering town in South Nepal, the explanation neither washed, not could soothe the disappointment and anger. Residents blamed their own government for mishandling the issue.
Bijay Singh, an opposition MP of a Tarai party and a leading medical professional, told HT Janakpur had lost a huge opportunity. He said there was popular enthusiasm and an expectation that Modi would come during his first visit to Nepal in August. That did not happen, but the PM promised on the floor of the Nepali parliament he would visit next time - and also go to Lumbini, birthplace of the Buddha. "We were first stunned when we heard it had been called off and then angry. But that anger is against our own government. They treated the visit lightly, and were careless about choice of venue initially. You don't treat the office of the Indian PM this way."
He added that there had already been protests and effigies of Nepal government leaders had been burnt. "The only reason we don't want to step up the agitation is because of Vivah Panchami." The festival marks Ram and Sita's wedding according to Ramayana and draws thousands of pilgrims to the town.
Welcome Hotel is right next to Shiva Chowk, the town's key crossing. Abhishek Jhunjhunwala owns the hotel, and was very disappointed when the Indian government cancelled the 15 rooms it had booked there. "If Modi had come, tourism would have increased ten-fold in this town." He added despondently that not only would Modi never visit Janakpur, but this would add to the trust deficit between people of the plains and the government in Kathmandu.
By late evening, the stage was being pulled down at Barabigha. And a resident drew an analogy of a wedding. "The bride was ready but the groom - for whatever reason - did not turn up. It is time to pack up."