Though the comparison sounds a bit out of context as China is a big country and Madhesh is part of Nepal, yet if we go deep into the complexity and transformation happening in Nepal, the issue will be more reflective. This also means to have a lens of ‘identity’ to relook at the gradual changes that may create bigger problems and dissect communities engaged in irreparable tussle of belongingness and recognition.
Nepal is a multilingual and multiethnic plural society. The diversity of the state has also evolved due to the various external actors that have redefined its territorial boundaries and reshaped the geography of present day Nepal. Inevitably, this evolution was a result of wars and concessions made after wars. Hence, the current geography of Nepal is also a subject of contestation and conflict.
As the nation-state is an evolving subject matter, the under-current of anxiety and animosity is also in evolutionary state among many communities, often divided based on hierarchy of power, position, and control. The most disturbing factor in present day Nepal is not just the external actors that have reshaped the social culture of Nepal, but the communities within that have deep-rooted unhappiness over recognition and acceptance. It is not just a few communities that feel dissected or excluded from the mainstream role and control, but an entire region of Terai (Madhesh) where many communities were not amalgamated and accepted under the notion of ‘Greater Nepal’. Therefore, it seems that there exists ‘One Nepal, One Madhesh’’, which in formal parlance is an integral part of this notion of ‘Greater Nepal’.
Over the decades, this psychological barrier has pressurized Nepalese government to redesign policies to break the dissection; while many forces within have actually felt greater divide. As a result, there is the emergence of alternative force and voice that feels alienated in the entire process of nation building. The pertinent issue raised is the push of people belonging to the eastern part of Nepal into the parts of Terai region that has only resulted in deeper animosity due to loss of jobs, higher ratio of absolute poverty, and invasion of local culture.
Now place the similar gradual evolution of Nepal in the larger context of Asian region. Nepal, that has been traditionally culturally dominated and linked to Hindu religion and civilization, is being juxtaposed by an alternative culture that had few communities in close proximity and similarity to China. In fact, as Nepal and Tibet had bloody wars due to which Nepal had to accede to the power of the Chinese Empire, the Tibetan communities in Nepal only evolved as a segregated and dissected communities in fringes or walled areas.
Today, China is mooting the linkage of Nepal to its Tibet region with connectivity projects and hydropower deals. The BRI project is just the tip of the ice-berg, though the expansion of roots and development of the linkages have been an ongoing process for long. However, the speed at which the transformation is happening for the last few decades is remarkable.
China that lies on the northern part of Nepal is a far neighbor due to the Himalayan range that creates barriers to proximity; while with India there has been a long open border for decades. Yet, China always had keen interest to transcending the distance, which was visible in the Maoist revolution in Nepal. Hence, the ideological transformation of many Nepalese was a result of decade long civil war, though the core identity remained Hindu.
Chinese dependent market, and the free market of Nepal will be open to global market, there will be strong jitters that Nepal will have to face. Till date, Nepal has been under the ‘protective umbrella’ of India, but PM Oli’s agenda has been to not let any foreign power gain excessive control over Nepal. The biggest challenge for Oli government is to not only protect the national boundaries, but also safeguard the communities of Nepal from falling into the quagmire of intertwined, interdependent, and Increasingly, Chinese government has targeted the market potential and resource potential of Nepal that is vulnerable due to political instability and enhanced corruption. The division in political voices and backwardness of the state are added advantages to exploit the polity and use the power of economics to gain leverages. The lucrative offers have all along created a tinkling in the underbellies of even the hardcore ideologues of Nepal, especially since each one of them have to stand to prove their might in the electoral process of gaining power, where money is mightier than actual work.
The cleavages and spaces have allowed Chinese an easy entry into the Nepalese land, whereby many China study centers are functioning, there is China-Nepal friendship association, there is enhanced flooding of Chinese tourists, and of course a flood of Chinese goods. The business of Chinese goods and food that was initially confined to the Tibetan dominated areas, has now spread to the heartland of Nepal. Therefore, it is not just the bordering areas of Nepal or few Tibetan communities where you get the taste of China, but Thamel, central tourist hub in Kathmandu, is slowly transforming into a ‘China townbut also safeguard the communities of Nepal from falling into the quagmire of intertwined, interdependent, and interlinked world, where its own culture and existence of ‘Nation’ gets challenged by foreign powers.’.
The juxtaposing of Chinese culture and life in Nepalese land is not without challenges in future, as this might lead to ‘cultural invasion’, thereby creating animosity of existence. As of now, many Nepalese dance to the music of money, but when this money will challenge their local existence, or alter their local communities, there is bound to be a reflective action. Already, in Nepal there is a discourse on development of local economy with local people, thus benefiting the local populace and spreading the cake equally among all communities.
However, if the Chinese presence will dilute the local market into interlinked world, where its own culture and existence of ‘Nation’ gets challenged by foreign powers.However, if the Chinese presence will dilute the local market into Chinese dependent market, and the free market of Nepal will be open to global market, there will be strong jitters that Nepal will have to face.
( English Translation from Hindi )
By: Dr. Geeta Kochhar Jaiswal, Assistant Professor (Chinese), Jawaharlal Nehru University.