In an announcement that sent ripples across Kathmandu’s political spectrum, the Nepal government has said India has ‘conveyed’ to them that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not visit Janakpur, Lumbini and Muktinath – three temple towns he was widely expected to travel to during his visit to Nepal for SAARC next week. Indian officials however said the programme had not been firmed up yet and nothing could be ruled out.
Late on Thursday night, top Nepali sources told HT about renewed efforts to get Modi to visit Tarai.
However, the decision has deepened the polarisation within Nepal as the government and opposition blamed each other for ‘spoiling the environment’. Residents of Nepal’s southern plains, Tarai, expressed ‘deep disappointment’ at the decision. Modi, on the floor of Nepal’s parliament during his visit in August, had said he would visit both Janakpur – the town where Sita was born and Ram and Sita wed according to Ramayana – and Lumbini – the birthplace of Buddha when he came next.
Nepal’s minister for physical infrastructure, Bimalendra Nidhi, who was in charge of the Janakpur leg of the trip, told HT from Kathmandu that this was a big ‘setback’. Providing the background, he said, “We looked at different possibilities at venues, including the Barah Bigha public ground, to honor Modi. But two thirds of the ground would have been taken up by four choppers needed for his movement.”
So, Nidhi said, the government had decided to have a smaller gathering in the precincts of the Janaki temple. “But Maoist and Madhesi MPs began saying they will have a parallel stage at the public ground, and even gave a letter to the Indian consulate-general. This disrupted the environment.”
But the explanation did not go down well with the opposition and many residents in Janakpur. They pointed to deputy PM Bamdev Gautam citing national sovereignty to oppose Modi’s public address. Parmeshwar Sah, Tarai Madhes Democratic Party’s district leader, told HT from Janakpur, “Nepal government has always discriminated against Tarai. Modiji is an international leader. We wanted a big citizen gathering but they did not want him to interact with us.” The opposition has called a general strike in the town on Friday.
Indian officials as well as BJP sources had told HT earlier this week that Modi was keen to address a public meeting in Janakpur, and given the high expectations, not doing so would have been counterproductive. The impulse was two-fold. One BJP leader said, “Janakpur and Ayodhya will be declared sister cities. It will emphasise our shared Hindu links and cultural heritage.” An Indian official had said, “The PM driving down across the open border will bring attention to the special ties that bind us and the importance of Tarai.”
But on Thursday, both South Block and Indian embassy officials in Kathmandu refused get to drawn into the controversy. One source said, “We never announced a programme. Nothing is final from our end. There is no official intimation.” When asked about Kathmandu’s cancellation announcement, he added, “Nepal government said he will come by road, they said he will visit certain places, they are now saying everything is cancelled. Ask them. We will finalise the programme and tell the media.” He added what was known was Modi would depart Delhi on 25th and arrive back on 27th and all elements would be accommodated within that framework.
A top Nepali political source read meaning into the ambiguity in the Indian message and said, "The door for Janakpur is still open. If the government changes its decision,and there is ground pressure, Modi may still make it there."
HT has learnt Nepal is officially asking India to enable Modi's visit. Nepal PM Sushil Koirala has offered to personally receive Modi In Janakpur. The government is also willing to provide 10,000 security personnel.