By Amit Gautam, Kathmandu
2 July 2020
Past two months have seen a sudden shift in the manner and frequency of Indian media’s coverage of Kathmandu’s political soap opera.
Until not so long ago, India’s mainstream media gave hardly any space to the goings-on in Nepal. The “tiny country” next door was not worth the prime attention.
However, both print and broadcast media in the world’s largest democracy are now investing considerable time and space in what goes inside Nepal’s political parties – the latest being the coverage of Nepal Communist Party’s recent Standing Committee meeting held in Baluwatar.
On 30 June, Times of India, Hindustan Times and Indian Express as well as others published news on how many NCP (Nepal Communist Party) Standing Committee members asked Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to step down both as the Prime Minister and the party chair. Their tone was indulgent, almost cheering the fact that some of his own party comrades were now ready to stage a political lynching.
Times of India, the largest circulated English daily in the world, ran its emphatic headline : “Nepal’s ruling party leaders demand PM Oli’s resignation.”
Quoting Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Times wrote, “The Prime Minister’s remarks that India was conspiring to remove him was neither politically correct nor diplomatically appropriate,” who, it added, slammed Prime Minister Oli for failing to foster coordination between the party and government.
Hindustan Times covered the same event with a more eager headline, “Nepal PM’s attack on India backfires, chorus for his exit becomes louder at party meet”.
Quoting local media reports, the Hindustan Times report went on to say, “PM Oli’s rival faction is ‘hell bent’ to force him to either quit the Prime Ministerial post or the position of party co-chair.”
“Nepal’s ruling party leaders demand PM Oli’s resignation,” read the headline of Indian Express. Quoting senior NCP leaders, website of the widely-circulated national broadsheet reported that there had been strong demands that the Nepalese Prime Minister should resign on moral grounds as he uttered such “undiplomatic and nonpolitical remarks.”
Journalist and senior fellow at Institute for Integrated Development Studies, Akhilesh Upadhyay, however, denies the attention of Indian media is anything unprecedented. “This has been the case always,” he said in a telephone conversation with southasia.com.au. The former editor of The Kathmandu Post further added that the Indian media have always been interested in Nepal’s major political episodes such as the Oli-Prachanda leg-pulling that currently has overtaken media mastheads.
Veteran Nepalese journalist Yubaraj Ghimire says none of the major Indian media outlets have posted correspondents in Nepal since the early 80s which basically indicates the level of importance Indian media usually attach to their mountainous neighbour.
Mr Ghimire, who seconds as Nepal correspondent for The Indian Express, says Indian media persons however “para jump in Nepal” as soon as “developments of Indian interest” take place in Kathmandu. Such as the perceived Chinese dominance under Mr Oli’s leadership.
He said this growing concern over Nepal’s political happenings could be the result of India’s increasing suspicion that Oli government’s recent moves are at the behest of the Chinese establishment.
Mr Upadhyay says there is a widely-subscribed belief in India that Oli government came to power riding an anti-India nationalism.
It does not take a media expert to notice that the Indian media cannot wait to see Mr Oli leave Baluwatar. Their “great expectations” to that effect become obvious in how they phrase their headlines and news stories, some even spelling it out without subtlety.