MEA clarifies after Nepal objects to Jaishankar calling Buddha Indian

Nepal foreign ministry objected to EAM calling Buddha among the "greatest Indians"

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Nepal's feathers are easily ruffled these days. Today, the Himalayan nation took umbrage to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar calling Gautam Buddha one of the "greatest Indians".

Jaishankar was responding to a question at an event organised by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) on Saturday when he called the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi the greatest Indians the world remembers. 

Quick to take offence, Nepal's foreign ministry issued a statement on Sunday afternoon, appropriating the Buddha.

"It is a well established and undeniable fact proven by historical and archaeological evidence 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.''

The statement adds that, during his visit to Nepal in 2014, the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, whole addressing Nepal's legislature parliament, had said that "Nepal is the country where the apostle of peace in the world, Buddha, was born.''

The foreign ministry statement conceded that the religion spread across the world.

"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.'' 

Even Madhav Nepal, the country's former prime minister and head of the ruling Nepal Communist Party's (NCP) foreign affairs division, issued a statement along similar lines and urged the Nepal government to take up the matter. 

The international community is also aware of other realities. One, that at the time of Buddha, there was neither Nepal nor India in their present political forms. Also, even if we were to superimpose today's political boundaries over the places as they existed at that time, prince Siddharth attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, which is very much in present-day India. In fact, he became the enlightened one in India. He gave his first sermon in Varanasi, and after preaching for several years, finally left his mortal body in Kushinagar, again in India. 

India, however, is in no mood to get into lengthy explanations, and the ministry of external affairs clarified today that the EAM'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," the EAM clarified.

The timely comment has soothed the ruffled feathers and quietened the Twitter storm, too, where India was being depicted as a monster appropriating the cultural heritage of its neighbour. 

Last month, Nepal prime minister K.P. Sharma Oli had courted controversy by claiming that Lord Ram was Nepali, not Ayodhya-born. The statement had caused incedulity on both sides of the border, and India maintained a dignified silence on it, till Nepal itself issued a statement that Oli's remarks were not linked to any political subject and were not aimed at hurting anyone's feelings and sentiments.

Only after that did MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava state that "the deep and culturally rich heritage of our country is known all over the world,'' adding that since Nepal's foreign ministry had already clarified, he had nothign more to say on the matter.