NEW DELHI: India moved to quell a new controversy over the birthplace of Gautama Buddha after the Nepalese government took exception to foreign minister S Jaishankar claiming Buddha was Indian.
Addressing a CII event on Saturday, Jaishankar had said, “Who are the greatest Indians ever that you can remember? I would say one is Gautam Buddha and the other is Mahatma Gandhi.”
To the extraordinarily sensitive Nepal, already tense about the downward spiral in bilateral relations with India, this was added insult. Nepal’s foreign ministry issued a sharply worded riposte said, “It is a well-established and undeniable fact proven by historical and archaeological evidence that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Lumbini, the Birthplace of Buddha and the fountain of Buddhism, is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites.”
On Sunday, the MEA said reassuringly, “EAM’s remarks yesterday at the CII event referred to our shared Buddhist heritage. There is no doubt that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, which is in Nepal.”
Nepal’s foreign ministry statement added prime minister Narendra Modi had, during his visit to Nepal in 2014, said that “Nepal is the country where the apostle of peace in the world, Buddha, was born.”
“It is true that Buddhism spread from Nepal to other parts of the world in the subsequent period. The matter remains beyond doubt and controversy and thus cannot be a subject of debate. The entire international community is aware of this,” the Nepal statement added.
The new controversy, ironically, comes on the day when the Indian Army donated 10 ICU ventilators to the Nepal army, which was handed over by the Indian ambassador Vinay Kwatra in Nepal.
“These ventilators are designed for a broad range of applications to include advanced invasive or non-invasive respiratory support. They can be used in support of secondary care in hospitals with ICU, tertiary multispecialty hospitals and dedicated ICUs. Further, due to their compact nature, they are portable and handy in transportation of patients requiring intensive care.” said a statement.
Former foreign secretary of Nepal, Madhuraman Acharya tweeted “Some 2270 years ago, Indian Emperor Ashok erected a pillar at Lumbini in Nepal to mark the birthplace of Buddha. That monument stands taller than any self-aggrandizing claim to say that Budha was an “Indian”! Period !!”
Even the Nepali Congress, perceived to be closer to India was upset. Former Prime Minister and chief of the Foreign Relations Department of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, Madhav Kumar Nepal objected to Jaishanker’s statement.
Nepali Congress spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma took strong exception to the Indian foreign minister’s claim. “Lord Buddha was born in Nepal. We have reservations toward the Indian foreign minister Jaishanker’s statement against historical facts that the land is in today’s Nepal,” he tweeted in Nepali.
Since Nepal changed its political map and included Indian territories in Lipulekh, the Indian system has frozen out Nepal. The Indian government has refused to hold talks on the territory issue while these new maps, which India considers to be illegal are around. India believes Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli is bent on ruining bilateral ties while cosying up to China.
Nepal government is trying hard to hold talks with the Indian system, but neither the Indian government, nor the ruling party BJP wants to give any opening to the Nepali government to start talks. However, the Indian government has made it clear that its problems with the Oli government notwithstanding, there would be no let up in its engagement with the Nepali people.