David N. Robinson
With China’s enhanced interest in Asian affairs and particularly President Xi Jinping’s aggressive policy of building deeper economic relations with the Asian nations in particular and implementing his One Belt One Road (OBOR) plan, India’s influence in South Asia has been on fast decline.
Nepal, for example, a land-blocked country, which has been almost a buffer state of India for decades, currently has started shifting towards China by distancing with India.
In December 2018, Arun Budhathoki, Editor-in-Chief of Kathmandu Tribune and contributor of internal media such as the Diplomat, while speaking to Guwahati Press Club’s ‘Meet the Press’ on video conferencing said, school children in Nepal have to learn three languages – Nepali, English and Mandarin Chinese. “Students at different levels are also flocking for higher education in China. To encourage this flow, Beijing has instituted a “generous scholarship program.”
Elaborating further on the growing Chinese influence upon various sectors in the Himalayan kingdom, Budhathoki said that Chinese citizens can now shop in Nepal with their currency yuan. This can be contrasted with the Nepali government’s ban on rupee which requires Indian tourists to use American dollars as foreign exchange there.
These developments indicate how Nepal has been distancing herself from India to move closer into Beijing’s embrace, which can be attributed to the emergence of Maoists as a political force and their stints in power at Kathmandu.
Dwelling on the relatively stable situation in Nepal presently, Budhathoki said that peace talks with the Maoists and their participation in government have paid dividends, even though a split in the Maoist leadership has pushed some hardliners into the path of confrontation. “While the political influence of former prime minister and supreme Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ has waned, he continues to be socially relevant,” commented Budhathoki.
As for the print media in Nepal, there has been significant growth with several Nepali dailies coming up in recent years, even as the few English dailies continue to hold steady; in electronic media, private TV channels have emerged to offer more choices to viewers long serviced by the government channel. In this context, Budhathoki pointed out that most Indian newspapers are available in Nepal. “However, journalists in Nepal operate under certain restrictions and have to be mindful about security, which naturally makes them more cautious in their reporting,” he signed off.
Arun Budhathoki’s fear of Nepal going into the grips of Maoists political force may be true, but what he has missed is – by romancing with India for decades, Nepal practically has received nothing. Instead, India always wanted to make sure, Nepal remains as economically and socially disadvantaged so that it can remain as rather India’s enslaved nation. By shifting towards China, Nepal will most certainly receive huge economic assistance for infrastructural development and also getting out of its struggling economy and possibly within next few years, emerge as another fastest growing economy in South Asia. Nepal’s associating with China would be actually a huge blessing to the Nepalese populace and it also can use China as a corridor in boosting its export trade. At the same time, the newer generation Nepalese with skills of communicating in Chinese Mandarin language would place them in an advantageous position in having better relations with the Chinese enterprises and entrepreneurs.
Beijing will also help Kathmandu in strengthening its defence sector with sophisticated weapons, which is essential for Nepal to safeguard its sovereignty from any threats posed by hostile neighbors.
In the case of Bangladesh, another country in South Asia with which, India has always shown big-brotherly attitude – a wind of prompt shifting towards China has become clearly visible. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has magnificently pulled an economically troubled Bangladesh into the level of a fastest growing economy, had no hesitations in breaking the decade-old practice of appeasing India by introducing a fresh batch of cabinet members, most of who are, well educated, sharp, focused and above all – free from Indian influence. While Indian media were competing in rejoicing the landslide victory of ruling Awami League during December 30 general election and were portraying it as a “victory for India”, a patriotic Sheikh Hasina has made a brilliant decision, which might have stunned most of those Indian pundits, by prioritizing the interest of Bangladesh above anything else. Patriotic forces in Bangladesh know, Sheikh Hasina’s father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had similarly dedicated himself in transforming the newly-born country into a strong nation. But unfortunately, enemies of Bangladesh had brutally assassinated him along with members of his family, with the ulterior agenda of letting Bangladesh remain as an economically struggling under-developed country.
According to financial and investment experts, during next few years, China is going to invest billions of dollars towards infrastructural and economic development of Bangladesh. Gigantic industrial project from China would be shifted to Bangladesh thus creating hundreds and thousands of new jobs as well as drastically increasing Bangladesh’s exports and foreign currency earnings.
Taking Nepal and Bangladesh cases into consideration, one can conclude, saying – India’s influence in South Asia is on rapid decline.