But the book, titled Nepalko Bhubhaag Ra Seemasambandhi Swadhyay Samagri (Nepal’s Geography and Territorial Boundary) is far more than an academic misadventure.
It is a blatant attempt to foster feelings of hostility towards India among impressionable schoolchildren.
This, say educationists, is exactly what the totalitarian regimes in China and North Korea do to their schoolchildren: indoctrinate them from a very young age to be ultra-nationalists and develop intense hatred towards ‘enemy countries’.
That is why, say these educationists, Nepal’s move bears a distinctive Chinese imprint. And more so since the Education Minister, Giriraj Mani Pokharel, a former Maoist insurgent, is well known to be China’s ‘lackey’.
The reference book purportedly aims at “teaching students” Nepal’s territory and border disputes, primarily with India. But it is the vituperative language used in the book that gives away its primary aim of fostering intense hatred towards India among Nepal’s ‘GenNext’.
What is also highly unusual is a six-page preface written by Pokharel himself. The language he uses against India is, to put it mildly, unbecoming of a minister.
Pokharel, said to be close to Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, writes in the preface how he campaigned very forcefully 24 years ago to “chase the Indian army away from Nepal’s territory”.
“It was natural for a proud Nepali to get hurt by the move of India to publish its political map incorporating Nepal’s land from Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura area,” reads one of the lines in the preface.
Another part of this reference book reads: “After getting defeated in the 1962 war with China, then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru requested king Mahendra to allow India to keep its army for some time (in Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura). But even after 60 years, instead of taking its army away from the land that was given to it temporarily, the Indian government rather issued a map putting the area within its territory”.
Page 27 of the book says that of the 27 districts bordering with India, there are disputes in 24 places. “Some incidents of land encroachment can be attributed to locals’ acts while others are due to deliberate and planned moves by India”. Those who have gone through the book say that it will definitely agitate young and impressionable minds against India.
“This book is a highly insidious attempt to disrupt and sever the civilisational ties between the people of Nepal and India. This is exactly how China has indoctrinated and turned the Han Chinese against its neighbours and some other countries. North Korea has done it to turn its populace against South Korea and the US,” said Narayan Gurung, a teacher of international relations at a prominent college in Kathmandu.
Khadga K C, head of the Department of International Relations and Diplomacy at Tribhuvan University, said that when Nepal is trying very hard to repair its damaged ties with India, this book is ill-timed.
“A country’s curricula should be designed to produce academics, not activists,” said Mrigendra Bahadur Karki, an associate professor at the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies. “Such books neither help produce an informed new generation nor facilitate dialogue between the countries at a time of frayed ties,” he said.
Karki was quoted in the report as saying that the language used by Pokharel in the preface is “highly problematic”. Also, it is unprecedented for a minister to write a preface for a school textbook.
Binaya Kusiyait, a professor at Tribhuvan University who has researched on school education, is quoted by The Kathmandu Post as saying: “This looks like a populist move of the education minister. He may be hoping that publication of such a book would compensate for his failures”.
According to Kusiyait, the book is just another example of the minister’s misplaced priorities. “The minister, instead, should have been working on finding ways to ensure education for thousands of children who have been deprived of education due to the pandemic. He has squandered state resources and wasted time by publishing the book which is not needed at all,” said Kusiyait.
“Nepal should refrain from any move that irritates India because that will disrupt an environment for dialogue,” said Lok Raj Baral, a former professor at Tribhuvan University and Nepal’s former ambassador to India.
“A chapter in any other textbook about the new map and the incidents that led up to the constitution amendment could have been enough, instead of publishing a whole new book,” Baral told the Post.
What many find more troubling is that Prime Minister Oli gave his consent for the book. Officials at the education ministry’s curriculum development centre, which published the book, said that the decision to come out with this reference book was taken on 3 July.
Keshab Dahal, the director general of the centre, was quoted as saying that the book was ready in three months and minister Pokharel was closely involved in the process of drafting the book.
The Prime Minister and other ministers then gave their consent, Dahal added.
Nepal’s former ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay said the book, especially the preface written by Pokarel, sends out a “hugely negative signal” to India.
Upadhyay regretted that instead of trying to create an environment for dialogue, the government is engaged in publishing a book which barely serves any purpose. “Both countries should try to find an amicable solution to the problem in hand, and the book by the Nepal government is definitely not the way to go about it,” he added.
Many academics, diplomats and foreign relations experts have demanded that the book be withdrawn. “This book will become a major irritant in ties with India and should be withdrawn before it does any further damage to bilateral ties,” said Upadhayay.
But there are no chances of its withdrawal. Because it serves the purpose for which it was written: to create a divide between the people of the two countries who are closely bound by ties of religion and culture.
If Nepal’s future generations harbour hatred for India, they will be much more amenable to closer ties with China. And Beijing will find it much easier to make Nepal its client state.