KATHMANDU, Aug 18: As the last rites of former Indian Prime Minister and veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee were performed in New Delhi on Friday, many in Kathmandu have expressed deep condolences on his passing away, recalling him as a true friend of Nepal.
Politicians and former diplomats, who had the opportunity to work with him, lauded his approach to deal with Nepal in his capacity as foreign minister and as prime minister of India. His approach to deal with Nepal, they described, was distinctly different as compared to the Indian National Congress, which was in power most of the time during his years in active politics.
Prime Minister KP Oli, while extending heartfelt condolences to the government and people of India on Thursday lauded Vajpayee as a visionary statesman and true friend of Nepal. “In his demise, we lost a visionary statesman of world stature and a true friend of Nepal,” the prime minister said.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali who was in New Delhi on Friday morning to pay his last tributes to Vajpayee, joined Prime Minister Oli in extending condolences to the bereaved family members, government and people of India. “Nepal has lost a good friend on his demise,” he said, while recognizing Vajpayee as a veteran politician and visionary.
Former Nepali ambassador Prof Jayaraj Acharya, who had developed good personal rapport and had familial relations with Vajpayee, said late Vajpayee, was a well-wisher of Nepal. “He loved Nepal and Nepali people. His remark that every rock in Nepal has in it the presence of Lord Shiva was something that suggested his deep love and admiration for Nepal,” he said.
Vajpayee first served as foreign minister during the premiership of Morarji Desai in the late 1970s and remained as a member of parliament most of the following years until BJP came to power again in the 1990s. “He used to come to New York in his capacity as a Member of Parliament and former Foreign Minister in the early 1990s when I was serving as Nepal’s ambassador and permanent representatives to the United Nations. He was such an easy going person that he would visit us and stay with us as a family member,” Acharya recalled. Acharya served as Nepal’s ambassador and permanent representative in New York from 1991 to 1994.
Former foreign secretary and ambassador Madhu Raman Acharya also recalled the three-time Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee as a well-wisher of Nepal. “As far as I understand, he had extended support to Nepal for peace and stability in his capacity as prime minister of India when Nepal was passing through armed insurgency,” he shared.
Acharya recalled Vajpayee as a good orator with eloquence and poetic language, and deep admiration for Nepal. “Nepal-India relation is deeper than the ocean and higher than the sky,” he recalled Vajpayee as saying when he was in office. This kind of unique gesture toward Nepal was rare by any Indian Prime Minister other than his own political disciple Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of India.
Former foreign secretary and ambassador Madan Bhattarai said Vajpayee’s description of Nepal as a country of Lord Pashupatinath, where every pebble had an embodiment of Shiva, had left an indelible impression on the Nepali psyche. “As Prime Minister, Vajpayee favored best of ties with Nepal. I vividly remember his gesture of personally seeing off King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya at Palam area of New Delhi Airport in 1999 when the king was accorded a rare honor of being the chief guest at the Republic Day function on January 26,” Bhattarai said.
Bhattarai said Vajpayee had really left a mark as one of the top foreign minister and a great prime minister not to speak of his role as a towering leader of the opposition.
While most political leaders and diplomats in Kathmandu acknowledge Vajpayee’s positive role to take the often fraught Nepal-India relations to a new high, some even question his “indifference” that directly or indirectly helped Nepal’s Maoist conflict to prolong further. “It was during his premiership that the Maoist conflict in Nepal reached its peak. It is not understood why he as prime minister showed conspicuous indifference toward the Maoist conflict that somehow helped the rebels to destabilize Nepal,” asked former ambassador Jayaraj Acharya.
Various Indian scholars including SD Muni had revealed how then Maoist rebels had written a letter to Vajpayee stating that they would not harm any Indian interests apparently to solicit Indian support to the insurgency. “I think the Indian indifference then abetted the Maoist conflict in Nepal. This may suggest how bureaucracy and intelligence agencies put political leadership in the dark,” he added.