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The politics behind Prashant's glory

For nearly two months, Nepal agonised over the Indian Idol show while its own contest Nepali Tara went ignored. Perhaps because, for many in the country, Darjeeling is still part of Nepal.

world Updated: Sep 27, 2007 23:05 IST
Sudeshna Sarkar
Sudeshna Sarkar

When he decided to try his luck at the Indian Idol reality show, winner Prashant Tamang probably did not dream that he would make it to the top.

Even if he did imagine that, the 24-year-old from Tungsung village in Darjeeling district could have never thought, even in his wildest dreams, that for many in Nepal his win would become a symbol of political victory over their southern neighbour India, frequently regarded as an arm-twisting bully.

For nearly two months, Nepal agonised over Indian Idol while its own contest Nepali Tara went ignored. Indeed, the Nepalese contest had to change its timing since no one watched it while it clashed with Idol.

Why would a nation ignore its own talents and devote its energies to promoting a singer whose ancestors originated from Nepal?

The answer is because, for many Nepalese, Darjeeling is still part of Nepal.

In the 19th century, Darjeeling and other parts of Sikkim had been annexed by Nepal. However, as the British East India Company tried to open trade routes to Tibet via Sikkim, Nepal waged war against the Company and lost.

As a result, it was forced to sign the Sugauli Treaty and withdraw from all the territory it had occupied in Sikkim, Kumaon, Garhwal and much of the Terai.

Though the British found it difficult to govern the Terai and restored some of it to Nepal, Darjeeling, Kumaon and Garhwal remained part of British India.

When India obtained independence in 1947, Nepal hoped to get back its wrested land but did not.

Since then, the dream of achieving a "Greater Nepal" some day in the future with the lost area still remains in the mind of the Nepalese.

Royalists had been demanding a Greater Nepal and the Maoists, the opponents of the royalists, want it as well, demanding that the Sugauli Treaty be scrapped.

There has been no formal treaty between Nepal and India after 1947, even after Sikkim's merger with India in 1975, which Nepal regards as the annexation of Sikkim.

Nepal still does not formally recognise Sikkim's "annexation", nor has India sought recognition from Nepal.

Therefore Nepalis still regard Darjeeling as a part of Nepal that should be restored and Prashant Tamang is considered a Nepalese.

His victory Sunday therefore is the victory of Nepal over India in a way, which is why, despite his Indian citizenship, the fact that Prashant speaks Nepali at home, which constitutionally is an Indian language as well, is being regarded as evidence of his being a Nepalese.

Ironically, actress Manisha Koirala, who carved a niche in Bollywood, was never an icon in Nepal.

One reason was probably because she came from one of Nepal's most influential families and the average Nepali did not identify with her.

Her popularity also took a dive after she supported King Gyanendra when the king tried to seize absolute power through an army-backed coup.

Nepalis feel that Manisha obtained stardom with the help The politics behind Prashant's Indian Idol winof the Indian film industry, she did not "defeat" thousands of Indian contenders to attain success.

First Published: Sep 24, 2007 13:00 IST