NEW DELHI: A claim by Nepalese Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli that the disputed religious site of Ayodhya was in Nepal, not India, and that the Hindu deity Lord Ram was Nepalese, has inflamed tensions between the neighboring countries.
Oli also accused India of “cultural encroachment” in its use of the religious site, reigniting a feud over the issue that goes back centuries.
“Ram was not Indian, but Nepali. Nepal has become a victim of cultural encroachment and its history has been manipulated,” Oli said while marking the holiday of Bhanu Jayanti at his residence in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital.
This year’s Bhanu Jayanti marks the 206th birthday of renowned Nepalese poet Bhanubhakta Acharya, who translated the Ramayana, the Hindu epic, from Sanskrit into the Nepali language. Nepal, like India, is dominated by a single belief system, with 81.3 percent of its population identifying as Hindu.
However, 80 percent of the Indian population is also Hindu and claim that Ayodhya, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram.
But on Monday Oli said India had created a “fake” Ayodhya, and that it was actually “located west of Birgunj in Nepal.”
He said: “India has created a disputed Ayodhya, a fake Ayodhya. Lord Ram’s kingdom was not in Uttar Pradesh but in Nepal, near Balmiki Ashram.”
Officials from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condemned the claims. Spokesperson Sudhanshu Mittal told Arab News that the Nepalese premier is a “communist” and is “playing the Chinese game.”
He said: “Communists in Nepal will be rejected by the masses in the same way they have been in India, even as left-wing parties in India played with people’s faith.”
The BJP is a predominantly Hindu party that has gained huge political and electoral power in India. It has staged a long-term campaign to build a temple for Lord Ram at the disputed religious site in Ayodhya.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the BJP, then only a marginal political power, launched a divisive political strategy to build a temple on the site of the 16th-century Babri Mosque. The party and other Hindu organizations claimed the mosque was built by Babur, the first Mughal emperor, following the demolition of a temple which allegedly marked the site of Ram’s birth.
The campaign resulted in the demolition of the mosque by Hindu activists in 1992, leading to religious violence across the country, which claimed hundreds of lives. Mumbai witnessed one of the worst religious riots in its history.
The matter went to court and after several years, the Supreme Court, in a controversial judgment in November last year, awarded the disputed territory to a Hindu trust and gave Muslim petitioners five acres of land in a separate place in Ayodhya to construct a building of their choice.
The World Hindu Organization, an ally of the BJP and a prominent group which mobilized people for the Ram temple campaign in Ayodhya, said that by claiming that Ayodhya was in Nepal, Oli was hurting the religious traditions of the two countries.
“This is an attempt to hurt the ancient religious bonding and feelings between Nepal and India,” Sharad Sharma, the group’s spokesperson, told Arab News.
Dhirendra K. Jha, journalist and author of the investigative book “Ayodhya — The Dark Night,” said that India’s claims were nothing but a “myth.”
He said: “The story of Ram is a myth and not based on any historical evidence. And you cannot prove that he was born in Ayodhya, which is located in Uttar Pradesh.”
He added that Oli’s claim was part of the “myth-making” process, as there were “varied stories about Ram.”
“The entire process of myth-making is something used by different communities in different points of history. That’s why there are so many varied stories about Ram. You also have examples of several birthplaces of Ram in terms of belief. Nepal’s PM is talking about one such myth,” Jha said.
He added that the latest controversy is a sign of deteriorating relations between the two countries.
“In normal times, these statements by Oli would not have attracted attention. But now the relationship between India and Nepal is not good, that’s why it’s being taken seriously. The statement would hurt the BJP because it has grown as an all-India party by using Ram and Ayodhya as symbols,” Jha said.
Ties between India and Nepal have been strained since November last year when New Delhi published a new political map claiming disputed territory as its own.
The crisis between the two neighbors — who share more than 1,800 km of border territory — reached a peak on May 8 when New Delhi announced the inauguration of a Himalayan road link which passes through the disputed area of Kalapani.