Delving into the Adipurush Fiasco

Published On: June 26, 2023 09:00 AM NPT By: Sarans Pandey

All one needs to do to become a nationalist is make anti-India, China, US or EU statements on mobile phones imported from either of these countries. But being a nationalist and appearing as one are two different things. 

The whole Adipurush fiasco created a lot of noise but failed to accommodate two key issues that will continue posing problems if they aren’t addressed. The first is with regards to the scope of accountability and second is about the nature of modern-day nationalism. The ban itself was reminiscent of the time when the CPN-M led by Mohan Baidya undertook a similar initiative back in 2012 in a move to curb India’s negative influence in our country although the ban then wasn’t just limited to films. The controversy comes not long after the revelation of the Akhand Bharat mural inside India’s new parliament which was in turn followed by Kathmandu’s mayor putting up the ‘Greater Nepal’ map in his office as a response. Quite understandably, the current chain of events have led to a loud and uniform nationalist voice against India. But while the provocations have originated from the same geography it is important to distinguish between the originations of these provocations, of which one emerged from the state and the other from the private sector.

The ministry of external affairs of India maintains that the Akhanda Bharat mural is only symbolic in nature and portrays the spread of the historical Mauryan Empire which it looks up to with pride and reverence. In that case, the map would then theoretically include parts of, not just present-day Nepal but also Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Even though the mural might very well have nothing to do with the current reality, the placing of the mural in the parliament raises alarms for all neighboring countries and more so for Nepal given that the Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh dispute happened not too long ago and still goes unresolved. In any case, the origination of this provocation happened from the government that represents India, so it is understandable that the resulting frustration be directed at India in general.

The case with Adipurush however was different because the provocation happened from the private sector. Unlike the government which broadly represents the state and its people, one movie or one production house does not represent the entire Indian film industry. For instance, would it be fair if a movie like Uunchai, which was filmed in Nepal and portrayed its beauty to the point of serving as a powerful marketing campaign, be banned had it been slated for a July release? When a transgression is committed should it not just be the transgressor who is prosecuted?

Expanding the scope of punishment to others who have no role in the transgression and are merely guilty by some nominal form of association suggests stereotypical generalization which should be absent when it comes to administering punishments. If one Nepali export company sells sub par products to India and India bans all imports from Nepal in that category then would it be a fair decision? This is a hypothetical example in a different sector, but the logical framework of punishing all for the actions of one remains the same.

When an argument as the one mentioned above is put forward, an automatic anti-national label is put on the person. This brings us to the second issue of the nature of nationalism. The rise of nationalism can be traced and linked to the concept of the nation state. The period of the 20th century that saw two major world wars along with independence movements was fueled by nationalist sentiments. ​​At the heart of the concept of nationalism is the love for one’s nation which in the time of territorial expansion implied that ‘others’ were either potential or real enemies. There is even a prominent argument about how wars, the threat of enemies and the consequent feeling of nationalism helped strengthen states. The sentiment of nationalism galvanized people but many overlook the fact that the sentiment was functional in nature. For instance, during the period of wars it helped with recruiting people into the military and the military fought to defend and/or expand the physical boundaries of a nation.

Whether for right or wrong reasons, the mayor's response to Adipurush has elicited strong feelings from among the masses. The only problem is that it comes without any functional utility and serves merely as a cathartic feel-good response. And in the absence of functional utility benefitting the nation, the feeling becomes limited to outrage and cannot transform into an act of nationalism. Because in this day and age where the battlefield has shifted from physical locations to economic domains, a contribution to the nation’s socio economic prosperity is the bigger display of nationalism than sloganeering. It is important to realize that true sovereignty and independence is not possible without strength and strength only comes from prosperity. A policy like prohibiting Hindi films by itself makes negligible, if not zero, contribution to the nation’s prosperity and is the equivalent of an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

Hindi movies, despite some of their sensationalist depictions, have actually made positive contributions to Nepal and as such it is not easy to displace them at the societal level. People in Nepal grow up watching Bollywood movies and consuming Indian content to the point of not needing any classes to learn the language. This serves to the advantage of thousands who interact with India for work and study purposes. This interaction with India is not a phenomena that can be stopped and claiming that Nepal will outpace India’s growth if we isolate from them merely highlights economic naivete. Also important to consider is the growing trend of Bollywood movies being shot in Nepal which helps the state generate some revenue and promote Nepal as a destination to visit. The latter is very important as the government wishes to consider the next ten years as the tourism decade.

It has never been easier than in the 21st century to appear as a nationalist. All one needs to do is make anti-India, China, US or EU statements on mobile phones imported from either of these countries and that's it. But being a nationalist and appearing as one are two different things. If it is not functional in nature then it's not nationalism. 

Kulman Ghising is out there pleading and warning people that without constructing more transmission lines and infrastructure Nepal is going to have severe problems going forward. Isn’t the possibility of going back to power cuts which will hamper our industries and in turn further fuel economic dependency, more of a threat to our sovereignty and independence than a bad script from Bollywood? Where are our priorities? It is high time we redefine nationalism for the current times because if we don’t, this powerful sentiment will end up being limited to envy-laden vitriol that will only hurt our national interests. 

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