November 9, 2012
On Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda, former military commander of rebel Maoist forces in Nepal, now chairman of the Unified Communist Party and chairman of the Lumbini Development National Directive Committee of Nepal (LDNDC), inked a deal with the China-backed Asia Pacific Exchange Cooperation Foundation (APECF) that will bring in a reported $3 billion to develop Buddha's birthplace at Lumbini.
Prachanda signed this Memorandum of Understanding with Xiao Wunan, executive vice chairman of APECF Foundation. Presumably, Prachanda took it upon himself to make the deal in his capacity as chairman of Nepal's steering committee. But leaders of other political parties, including Dr. Minendra Rijal, member of LDNDC and ex-Minister of Culture, challenged Prachanda’s right to sign the deal unilaterally.
“The issue was not discussed in the committee, and it has not authorized Prachanda to sign it in the manner he did,” Indian Express quoted Rizal.
Apparently, no one in Nepal’s government was privy to Prachanda’s deal with the Chinese. The signing of the MoU was behind closed doors. The media was not invited. No details of cost, development projects or time needed to complete the projects were provided.
The Prachanda-APECF connection has been controversial from the beginning—not only for its questionable motives, but for its furtiveness (if not its out-and-out dishonesty) as well. (CLICK HERE for details.)
Yesterday, GlobalPost’s Jason Overdorf pointed out:
… some see China's enthusiasm for Lumbini as part of a larger "battle for Buddha," pitting Beijing versus New Delhi in the quest to expand "soft power," or cultural influence, within the region.
In this struggle, India seeks to use its common cultural heritage to overcome China's ethnic ties to the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, and China seeks to limit the damage from its repression of religious freedom in Tibet and its incessant sparring with the Dalai Lama.
“This is part of China's effort to use Buddhism to gain an entry into Nepal, [and] to show to their Buddhists that they're showing equal attention to Buddhism outside the country,” Jayaveda Ranade, formerly additional secretary for East Asia with the Indian government, told GlobalPost of the Chinese proposal for the development of Lumbini.
… Prachanda was among the nine vice-chairs of the APECF foundation last year when it announced that the project was a done deal. But he had to backtrack following a protest from the Nepalese authorities, due to perceived irregularities in the way the agreement was forged.
Bizarrely, for instance, China's state-run People's Daily first reported that APECF had inked a deal with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to create a “special cultural zone” in Lumbini, only to be forced to retract the story when first UNIDO, then Nepal, denied any knowledge of the pact. Even weirder, it surfaced that not only Prachanda but also the controversial Paras Bir Bikram Shah Dev, Nepal's former crown prince, held positions on APECF's board of directors.
As GlobalPost wrote then: at nearly one-tenth of Nepal's entire gross domestic product, $3 billion was a stupendous sum — and, some suspect, a wholly fictional one: a carnival barker's cry, crude propaganda, or a “trial balloon” to gauge how Nepal might react.
Even the LDNDC came under fire from the Buddhist community. When LDNDC was created one year ago, Buddhist leaders pointed out that they had not been consulted, adding that, according to Outlook, the plan was “an attempt to commercialize the sacred place without their consent.”
One thing is obvious after Wednesday’s signing: Neither APECF nor Prachanda’s penchant for underhanded dealing is going to fade away. Quite the opposite: APECF and Prachanda keep raising the stakes, hell-bent on turning Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha, into a horrid theme park of gargantuan proportions.