A faux pas that could have lead to another Indo-Nepal war of words

Nepal objects to External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s Buddha statement, India forced to act quickly to placate neighbour

Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has had to move at lightning speed to try and undo the diplomatic damage done by the words of Minister S Jaishankar who called Gautama Buddha one of the two greatest “Indians”. The other name Jaishankar invoked was of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, who truly is an Indian, unlike Gautama Buddha who was born in Lumbini, Nepal, and is worshiped the world over.

According to the Indian Express, Jaishankar’s statement at a webinar on Saturday, the remark disturbed many in Nepal, and could have led to diplomatic stress between the two nations. Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement giving Jaishankar a refresher course on the life of Gautam Buddha. It stated, “It is a well-established and undeniable fact proven by historical and archaeological evidences that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha and the fountain of Buddhism, is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites.”

“During his visit to Nepal in 2014, the Prime Minister of India H.E. Shri Narendra Modi himself, while addressing Nepal’s legislature Parliament, had said that ‘Nepal is the country where apostle of peace in the world, Buddha, was born’,” they added.

As reported by The Indian Express, leaders from both, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the opposition Nepali Congress, joined voices and expressed their anguish over Jaishankar’s statement who said on Saturday that Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi were the two greatest Indians. “Who are the two greatest Indians ever that you can remember. I would say, one is Gautam Buddha, and the other is Mahatma Gandhi. Not just the greatest Indians that you and I, as Indians remember. But the greatest Indians that the world remembers,” Jaishankar had said during a webinar on Saturday.

The Telegraph reported that India was then forced to act swiftly to soothe a “possible new irritant in the already strained relations.” That the Buddha’s birthplace of Lumbini is located in Nepal “remains beyond doubt and controversy and thus cannot be a subject of debate”, Nepal’s foreign office said, adding “It is true that Buddhism spread from Nepal to other parts of the world in the subsequent period. The matter remains beyond doubt and controversy and thus cannot be a subject of debate. The entire international community is aware of this.”

India’s external affairs ministry responded quickly, saying: “EAM’s (external affairs minister’s) remarks yesterday at the CII event referred to our shared Buddhist heritage. There is no doubt that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, which is in Nepal” said the news report. 

According to the Telegraph, Jaishankar’s comment was made at an interactive session organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry on Saturday. He had been asked by Naushad Forbes, co-chairman of Forbes Marshall, if there was “a place for moral leadership in India’s foreign policy or is that being Jimmy Carter in 2020 (being impractical and putting principle ahead of interest)?”

Then, Jaishankar began his reply saying, “Who are the two greatest Indians ever you can remember? I would say one is Gautam Buddha and the other is Mahatma Gandhi — the greatest Indians that the world remembers.” 

The rest is history.


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