New Delhi: After a day of street protests in Nepal, the Ministry of External Affairs on Friday, June 2, said that the controversial mural in the new parliament was about the extent of the Ashokan empire and refused to comment on an Indian minister’s description as ‘Akhand Bharat’.
After the inauguration of the new parliament building, Union parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi had tweeted a photo of the mural with the caption, “the resolve is clear – Akhand Bharat”.
The map seemed to depict the Nepalese towns of Lumbini and Kapilavastu within the borders of an extended empire. With the controversy erupting just before the India visit of Nepal Prime Minister, former Nepali prime minister and opposition leader K.P. Sharma Oli hoped that it would be raised with New Delhi.
“A country like India which sees itself as an ancient and established country and as a model of democracy keeps Nepali areas in its map and hangs the map in the Parliament, this cannot be considered appropriate,” he said.
Nepal Socialist Party leader Baburam Bhattarai had tweeted that India should express its intention behind the installation.
“It has the potential of further aggravating the trust deficit already vitiating the bilateral relations between most of the immediate neighbours of India. It would be prudent for Indian political leadership to unravel and communicate in time the real intent and ramification of this mural episode,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the pro-monarchy party Rashtriya Prajatantra Party’s youth wing organised demonstrations in front of the Indian embassy in Kathmandu on Friday against the mural. As per the Republica newspaper, the protestors were chanting slogans like, “We love our country more than our lives”, “Stop Dominating/Insulting Small Nations”, “Take down the mural of Akhanda Bharat”, “Down with Indian expansionism” and “Kalapani, Lipulek, Limpiyadhura are ours”.
While a question was raised at the MEA briefing on Nepal PM’s meetings on Thursday about the mural, the foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra had not answered.
During the weekly briefing, the MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi clarified that the issue of the mural wasn’t raised by the visiting Nepalese leader. “So I don’t know if the protests are still going on. Certainly, the Nepalese side did not raise it,” he said.
The MEA spokesperson also claimed that the mural was not about ‘Akhand Bharat’, but rather the expanse of the ancient Mauryan empire.
“The mural in question depicts the spread of the Ashokan empire and the idea of responsible and people-oriented governance that he adopted and propagated. That’s what the mural and the plaque in front of the mural says. And I really don’t have anything further to add to that,” Bagchi stated.
He also refused to comment on the tweet of the parliamentary affairs minister. “I’m certainly not going to comment on statements that other political leaders might have made.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Mumtaz Baloch said that she was “appalled” at the statements from ruling party politicians in India linking the mural to ‘Akhand Bharat’.
“We are appalled by the statements made by some BJP politicians including a Union Minister, linking the mural with ‘Akhand Bharat’,” said the spokesperson at a briefing in Islamabad on Friday.
“The gratuitous assertion of ‘Akhand Bharat’ is a manifestation of a revisionist and expansionist mindset that seeks to subjugate the identity and culture of not only India’s neighbouring countries but also its own religious minorities,” she stated.
She said that it was a matter of concern that this theory was being propagated by the ruling party’s politicians.
“The Indian politicians are well-advised not to indulge in rhetoric against other countries merely to further their divisive and parochial political agenda,” she said.