India and Nepal are two major South Asia countries that have shared strong cooperation at every level of their relationship. The relation between these two countries dates back to the ancient period of 300AD when the Lichhavis of India settled there for the first time.
Even in terms of Hindu Mythology, Nepal and India seemed to have traced their roots to the popular Hindu religious epic Ramayana. But, keeping aside these things, the relations between the two nations have not been positive in the recent past. The relations between the two countries have been soured for various reasons since Nepal observed a political transition from Monarchy to Democratic-Republic.
There have been some areas of contention over factors like security concerns and boundary disputes which have been quite an irritant factor-like staking claim over India’s Kalapani and Lipulekh passes to the unnecessary killing of Indian civilians by the Nepalese border police, rise in extremism like the movement of Maoist insurgents into each other’s territories and most importantly a water dispute.
The bedrock of diplomatic relations — the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship — is also being repeatedly questioned by the Marxist Government in Kathmandu. Getting attracted to China’s draconian steps in the name of soft loans, which in reality is a debt trap diplomacy, has left New Delhi disappointed for quite a long time.
But despite all these suppressive tactics, Nepalese citizens still favour India because of their cultural, social, and traditional linkages resulting from the rich heritage being shared for ages. In India, we have around 7–8 million Nepalese Nationals residing in various cities and states of India, around 26.88% of Nepalese students studying in Indian Universities, and most importantly, more than 35,000 Nepalese recruits serving as regular personnel in the Indian Army, which constitutes to be the second in terms of overseas military service after the British Army.
These Nepalese recruits are deployed in India’s most vital areas, at either the LoC or LAC, and have earned fame and popularity by attaining supreme levels of sacrifice. A popular example is Havaldar Bhim Bahadur Dewan, who posthumously earned the Veer Chakra in Operation Vijay during the Kargil War in 1999, and there are many more.
Apart from all these factors, Nepal is a land of Shaktipeethas with three out of 51 shrines at Guhayeshwari, Muktinath and Janakpur, and Jyotirlingas, along with being the birthplace of Lord Buddha at Lumbini. Even a few years ago, Nepal was globally recognised as a Hindu-majority state, but it has become a secular state since the inception of the Marxist government.
Since being a secular state with its government led by the Marxists, the country has witnessed a rampant rise in forced religious conversions and many such unfavourable changes, which has reached new and quite surprising heights.
But still, the Communist Government is believed to have supported activities secretly, which is posing a threat to the long-standing heritage of the traditional and cultural legacy that has been practised since time immemorial, and the citizens of Nepal do not accept it at large.
This situation was observed with daily protests by the people at Kathmandu, demanding the end of the Democratic Republic and restoration of that old Monarchy. Honestly, the restoration of the old cultural harmony will help win back the lost faith amongst the people.
As Nepal is home to 80.7% Hindus and around 10.3% of Buddhist populations, constituting the majority of the state, India is not leaving a single stone unturned. This comes as a strong and active step besides China’s aiding of draconian debt traps, and India is looking to reshape and win the emotional and sentimental beliefs of the common people.
Under Prime Minister Modi’s rule, India is trying to bring the rich cultural ties back on track, which is quite an important role. After the earthquake of 2015, the Indian government contributed $50 million to restore many of the cultural and heritage projects in Nepal. With the support of the Indian reconstruction projects, six out of the 28 cultural and religious sites have been reconstructed.
Currently, India is funding a reconstruction programme of three major cultural projects in Nepal at the cost of $246 million. The projects are the Jyestha Varna Mahavihar of Lalitpur, Shulighyang Gumpa and Shramathanga Gumpa of Sindhupakchowk District, for which an MoU has been signed by the Head of Development Partnership of Reconstruction Wing of the Indian Embassy of Kathmandu and the Project Director of the National Reconstruction Authority.
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is taking up efforts to provide technical assistance to restore the Jyestha Varna Mahavihar temple. The Central Level Project Implementation Unit will take up the others.
Also, other contracts were signed for the conservation of other sites such as the Seto Machindranath Mandir, the Bhoomi Pujan of which was conducted on 28 February, 2021, by the Indian Ambassador to Kathmandu, Vinay Mohan Kawtra, Sushil Gyawali, CEO of National Reconstruction Authority, and Bidya Sundar Shakya, Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City. The Dharamshala Budhanikantha Mandir and the Kumari Chan and Kumari Niwas in Kathmandu, Nepal, which was damaged due to the earthquake in 2015, are also part of the Project.
Besides these efforts, various top-level Indian officials visited Kathmandu, like the Director of R&AW, followed by the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army General MM Naravane and the Secretary of Ministry of External Affairs Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
These visits pose a major relevance and are important from the end of the efforts India is taking up in Nepal to create an equilibrium and strengthen the relations at a bedrock level. This will protect Nepal’s rich cultural and traditional heritage and create a cultural revolution within the state that might change the country in the future.
India’s move is very tactical in nature and the cultural and traditional base of Nepal is quite strong, which cannot be suppressed by any political or diplomatic forces.
Nepal and India have had the same soul and voice for ages, which adds sense with the famous Hindi proverb “Roti-Beti ka Rishta”. The long-standing relationship and development partnership are quite unwavering, unmatched and multi-dimensional in nature. However, initiating these projects will help bring stability to the relations and restore the bedrock of strong historical and friendly linkages.