As India votes, Nepali Media keeps close watch
Dr. Sudhamshu Dahal:
A glance at Nepali media reporting on the ongoing 2019 Lok Sabha elections in India reveals a routine media exercise that includes detailed reporting on electioneering process with occasional news analysis of issues.
Narendra Modi’s initiation as Prime Minister of India 5 years back with ‘neighbors first’ foreign policy is a prime lens in most of the Indian election reporting in Nepal. The reports discount the announced policy as a straight failure where Nepal observed an ‘unofficial’ but all-encompassing economic blockage by the Modi administration, that too immediately following the earthquake which devastated Nepal from inside out. The reports and news articles often cite this incident as insensitive, arrogant and meddling in Nepal’s internal politics by India. Nepali media reports have also been skeptical about ‘successful’ surgical strike in Pakistan in the run up to 2019 Lok Sabha election, invoking the same question about India’s ‘neighbors first’ foreign policy with another neighbor in the region. However, media reporting on India and its ongoing election is equally primed towards promoting peace for regional stability, as well as expectations of Indian economic growth having spillover effect in the development of entire South Asia.
There has been some in-depth, detailed reporting by Nepali media into the insides of Indian party politics, as language and cultural proximity is the driver in Nepal-India relations. Most reporting is primarily based on the foreign policies of India’s two big political parties BJP and Congress. Whereas some analysts also seek to dissect India’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Chinese advancement in the region, but the fact is, from Kathmandu China is as far away as Middle East or Europe due to the high mountainous border while India lies just across the vast open (porous?) border to the south. Indian influence is often seen as a major factor in Nepali politics, so elections in India are keenly followed here.
In the tumult of electioneering that often throws up conflicting and controversial issues, the ‘chowkidar’ campaign has stoked Nepali nationalism in the context of bullying by Indian ‘big brother’ in the region. With PM Modi and a large number of his followers having initiated an electoral battle on social media by prefixing ‘Chowkidar’ to their names, the reverberations have also found space in Nepali media reporting.
As the world’s largest democracy heads off to elections, a small but tightly attached neighbor expects a more responsive democracy to evolve from this exercise.