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Mural, Movie and the Map: Akhand Bharat mural and Adipurush

  Lakshmi Parimala H

In the month of June, India and Nepal saw squabbles over two issues: a mural and a movie.

The mural

On 28 May, India’s new parliament building  was inaugurated by the prime minister amidst a boycott by the opposition parties. Besides the internal opposition, the new parliament faced external criticism regarding a mural put up in the new building. The mural, which is being referred to as the ‘Akhand Bharat’ mural, is a painting depicting the ancient Indian subcontinent , which includes Takshashila (now in Pakistan), Lumbini, and Kapilavastu (now in Nepal). This has sparked criticism from neighbouring countries including Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. The description of the mural says “Between 265 and 238 BC, Ashoka spread the message of Buddhism and got it inscribed in many places.” Nepal mainly saw several discussions and criticism from the opposition, who also demanded the issue be raised during PM Dahal’s visit to India. However, despite wide condemnations, India clarified that it is a ‘cultural map’ depicting ‘the spread of the Ashokan empire,’ and not a political one. As a response to the mural, on 8 June, the mayor of Kathmandu Balendra Shah, got the map in his office replaced with the ‘Greater Nepal’ map, which includes some Indian territories. On 19 June, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs instructed the Nepal embassy in New Delhi to get answers from India’s Foreign Ministry over the mural.

The movie

The next dispute is regarding a movie. Adipurush, an Indian film, was to be released on 16 June. However, the movie attracted criticism from Nepal even before its release, over  a dialogue in the film referring to Sita as the ‘daughter of India.’ On 15 June, the Mayor of Kathmandu Balendra Shah, raised objections about the dialogue. The production company of the movie T-series, complied with the demands and subsequntly removed the dialogue. However, the screening of the movie was banned in the Kathmandu Metropolitan City citing law and order reasons, which had a domino effect leading to a nationwide ban on its screening. On 18 June, he again took to Twitter, referring to the movie as a ‘cultural encroachment.’ He further stated that “If the film is shown as it is, it seems that Nepal’s nationality, cultural unity and national identity will be severely damaged and irreparable damage will be done.” A letter from T-series in response to this said : “We request you to view the film in its artistic form and support the intention of reaching out to a larger audience to create interest in our history.” On 19 June, the screening of all Hindi movies including Adipurush was  paused. The Nepal Motion Picture Association appealed to the court, seeking a solution in the wake of the nationwide ban. On 22 June, the Patan High Court issued an interlocutory order, ordering the non-intervention of the screening of films passed by the censor board. However, Shah, calling the government and the court ‘slaves of India,’ stated: "I am ready to face any punishment for this but the movie won't work and won't be allowed to run.” Therefore on 23 June, many cinema halls started screening Hindi films, although Adipurush remains banned.

In perspective

The two disputes over the mural and the movie coincide in their nature, which is rooted in the territorial aggression between the countries. India and Nepal have engaged in tacit proclamations over disputed lands, through what is referred to as ‘cartographic wars.’ In 2019, following the scrapping of Article 370, India released a new political map which included the disputed territory of Kalapani. In reaction to this, Nepal in 2020 published a new political map, which included the disputed regions of Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura, and Kalapani. The recent dispute on the ‘Akhand Bharat’ mural, which shows Lumbini and Kapilavastu as a part of India, is thereby seen as an act of cartographic aggression, especially by the opposition in Nepal. On the other hand in an interview, the screenwriter of the movie Manoj Muntashir attempted to justify the dialogue by stating that ‘Nepal was a part of India when it was said that Sita is the daughter of India,’ sparking controversy again. However, the dialogue in Adipurush resurfaced the bigger controversy over the birthplace of Sita. According to The Statesman, while Nepalese consider Janakpur, located in Madesh Province, as the birthplace of Sita, Indians believe it to be Sita Kund, in Bihar. A similar dispute on the birthplace of Buddha was manifested in the form of a ‘war of words’ between the two countries earlier. The two places hold a value of cultural significance to Nepal, boosting its soft power.

Balendra Shah, played a significant role in both disputes, by putting up a map of ‘Greater Nepal’ and seeking removal of the dialogue through Twitter. This could be attributed to Shah’s attempt to regain his media attention and his connection to the city of Janakpur.

Concerning their impact on Indo-Nepal relations, it has to be noted that the major criticism and emphasis came from the opposition, such as the opposition leader KP Oli, calling the mural ‘not fair,’ demonstrations by the youth affiliated to the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, or tweets from the independent leader, Balendra Shah. On the other hand, while PM Dahal has not reacted to the Adipurush controversy, he defending India’s stand about the mural, he defended India’s stand, stating that it is ‘a cultural map and not a political one,’ and therefore should not be viewed politically. This response comes amidst the growing criticism from Nepal’s opposition, evident after Dahal visits India. The visit was referred to as a ‘sell-out’ to India due to Dahal’s reluctance to take up contentious issues such as the EPG report, the Agnipath Scheme, or the boundary and the 1950 border agreement.

About the author

Lakshmi Parimala H is a Postgraduate Scholar at Stella Maris College, Chennai.

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