Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is hell bent on taking the bull by its horns. It is well-acknowledged that he has no love lost for India, and rather enjoys the company of the Chinese, be it in relation to bilateral relations or in provoking India. The latest taunt from him is on the culture front with a heavy load of religious content. His claim, that Lord Ram’s birthplace is near capital Kathmandu in Nepal, not India, might enthuse many. Notably, the whole edifice on which the ruling BJP here built its aura was on reclaiming a mosque and its land in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh from Muslim hands and building a new temple there, on the claim that this was the birthplace of Lord Ram.

Sharma Oli, a Hindu ruler himself, is now showing the audacity to tame the BJP and Prime Minister Modi – the poster boy for the Hindutva cause – at one lethal sweep. Reactions from the ruling BJP cannot but be harsh. Oli might rather look for more ways to needle India, like claiming land by a change of map.

Religion was at the centre of a recently developing alienation between India and Nepal. The frenzy with which Nepal decided to change the Constitution and remove the Hindu nation tag from the country and turn it into a secular entity was in tune with the ideology of the Communists who run the nation. However, the pro-Hindutva BJP that led India since 2014 could not stomach this.

Notably, until the time when King Birendra was killed in a palace coup around the turn of the century, the two nations maintained excellent relations. Even today, Nepalis do not require any document to cross over to this side of the border, settle down here or engage in gainful work. There indeed are problems on the other side of the border, where Indian settlers in the plains known as Madhesis are seeking increased rights. Nepalis hate India’s ‘big brother’ attitude, which led to animosity there even during the time when batches of Indians went there to extend help to earthquake-hit victims some years ago.

All these are obviously music to Chinese ears, and President Xi Jinping is bent on edging closer to Nepal through generous support to it in infra projects etc. At the minimum, Xi is encourage Oli to take on India even as the PM’s own position in the leadership levels there might be under siege from leaders like Prachanda. The ‘Ayodhya’ taunt comes as a lethal dose.

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