India Watching from Nepal

Diwakar Chettri

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP has suffered a shocking setback in assembly elections in five states, some of them in the Hindu heartland. The defeat is comparable to the debacle faced by President Donald Trump in November’s mid-term polls in the US.

The loss of crucial states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh this week is a severe blow to the BJP’s Hindu-right agenda. The party was stoking communal divisions, but the extreme rhetoric appears to have backfired. This setback has made many analysts rethink BJP’s chances of winning in next year’s general elections.

In 2014, Prime Minister Modi led his party to a landslide with promises to transform living standards of ordinary Indians. Modi, however, was constantly abroad in his first year, busy being a global statesman. When he returned to New Delhi after one such visit, Indian media even headlined: ‘Modi Visits India’.

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Prime Minister Modi was the first Indian leader to visit Nepal in 17 years when he came to Kathmandu in 2014. Since then he made two more visits, including pilgrimages to Janakpur and Muktinath this year, televised live to Indians preparing to vote in state elections.

However, Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy turned out to be a curse for Nepal because of the inhumane five-month Blockade in 2015 that stopped energy and essential supplies as well as urgent earthquake relief at the border.

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“We have to analyse how India’s policy on Nepal changes depending on whether the BJP or Congress is in power in New Delhi, and be prepared for it,” cautions Nepal’s former ambassador to India, Bhekh Bahadur Thapa.

Under Modi’s powerful National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) called the shots in Nepal rather than the other spy agency, RAW.

This election was a referendum on Modi, and the Indian electorate has reminded him that they prefer better living standards to slogans of populist Hinduism.

But ironically in Nepal, the BJP defeat coincided with the Koirala faction in the Nepali Congress opting to take Nepal back to being a Hindu state. If the secular Indian National Congress does come back to power next year, it could be ideologically opposed to a Koirala Congress.

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