NEW DELHI: Stung by Nepal’s reaction to India’s over-generous assistance in the immediate aftermath of the April 25 earthquake, this time India is playing it slightly cool with its smaller, prickly neighbour.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to his counterpart in Nepal Sushil Koirala, a conversation very different from the one that fateful Saturday two weeks ago.
Yesterday’s had the air of a caring but cool neighbour. “PM Sushil Koirala & I had a telephonic conversation. We reviewed the situation arising due to yesterday’s tremors.” said Modi in a tweet, before going on to promise assistance.
On April 25, Modi’s tweet had a very different tone. “Spoke to PM Sushil Koirala, who is in transit in Bangkok on his way to Kathmandu. Assured all support & assistance during this tough time.” In fact, the PM was even quoted as saying that Koirala actually learned of the earthquake from his tweet. Within an hour, Modi had held a high level meeting to coordinate India’s assistance to Nepal, thanked Morari Bapu for contributing Rs 51 lakh to Nepal and the first Indian planes were taking off within hours bound for Nepal. For the next few days Modi personally oversaw relief efforts and got his top officials – foreign, home and defence secretaries to brief the media every day.
But this time, the MEA has played it cool. Apart from the occasional tweet about Indian efforts in Nepal, many more of which are coming from the defence ministry spokesperson, India has stayed quiet. The last time, Indian planes were accused by the Nepalese of hogging the runway in Kathmandu airport, forcing India to scout for other landing grounds in Pokhara, opening up land routes etc. There were days when Nepal refused to let Indian relief planes land and they had to return to India.
Meanwhile, stories were rife about a geopolitical tussle over aid between India and China. Nepalese were quoted saying they felt “overwhelmed”, while another set of voices began criticism of India’s relief and rescue efforts.
Then came a backlash from the Nepalese largely in Kathmandu and overseas on social media against the wall-to-wall coverage by Indian TV channels. Under normal circumstances, Indian media gets criticized in Nepal for its neglect. This time Nepalese appeared to be put off by what they called “insensitive” and “intrusive” coverage of the earthquake, in addition to accusing Indian channels of overplaying the Indian assistance there.
Within 24 hours, Indian search and rescue teams, along with 34 others, were given marching orders from Nepal. The TV channels switched off their cameras. This time around, home minister Rajnath Singh said India would help if asked. This time there is no unsolicited assistance. It has been a signal learning curve for the Modi government and its neighbourhood-first policy.