BRIGHT lights, a booming soundtrack and 100 back-up dancers set the stage for the “Da-Bangg Tour”. The main attraction, a heavily built 52-year-old man dressed in spangly clothes, gyrates and lip-syncs just as in his Hindi blockbusters. Who wouldn’t wish to see India’s Salman Khan, tough guy of the Dabangg (“Fearless”) film franchise, bring his song-and-dance routine to Nepal?
A tiny faction of Maoists, it turns out. Da-Bangg’s local promoter postponed the show because of a warning against “Indian cultural interventions” issued by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), or CPN(M). Those parentheses matter. In 2014 this group splintered from the CPN-M, which has a hyphen; both descend from the CPN (Maoist Centre), now a partner in Nepal’s coalition government.
The Supreme Court struggles with partisan redistricting
Donald Trump ousts David Shulkin as VA secretary
Americans are richer than they were in the 1970s
Why Africa’s two biggest economies did not sign its landmark trade deal
What a ten-year-old duck can teach us about electricity demand
A ball-tampering row consumes Australia
Thousands of Nepalis had paid between 2,000 and 10,000 rupees ($19-96) for tickets to see Mr Khan prance on March 10th. A new date has been promised for mid-April, but frustrated fans are still waiting. Others could not resist mocking the less-than-dabangg leading man in retreat. Kedar Ghimire, a celebrated comedian, was not joking when he tweeted that money would be better spent on local talent.
Resentment at India’s shadow has darkened since a blockade of the landlocked country’s border in 2015. Independent India, like the British Raj before it, has a long history of meddling in Nepalese affairs, often to constrain the far left. No wonder Nepal’s Communists seize on insults to their country’s sovereignty. (This week they scolded the EU for finding fault with its electoral system; “Nepal,” the prime minister reminded them sternly, “is sovereign.”) Last year it joined the Belt and Road Initiative, a big infrastructure scheme championed by its only other neighbour, China. In February the prime minister welcomed his counterpart from Pakistan, India’s implacable rival, before making his first trip to India since taking office.
Yet there is no comparing China’s influence with India’s. Across the dusty parade ground awaiting Da-Bangg in Kathmandu, the China Town Centre mall bears a plaque commending the Sinohydro group that built it. Inside, however, the cinema screens only Indian and Nepalese films. The love affair with Bollywood has been fraught: in 2000 unfounded rumours about another star’s disregard for Nepal sparked deadly riots.
There have been at least eight such furores, mainly based on nonsense. In 2009 a movie was banned because one character in it described the Buddha as Indian. Years later, stickers on taxis remind visitors that “Buddha Was Born in Nepal”, albeit near the border with India, and long before either country existed.
Nepal’s time zone—15 minutes ahead of Indian Standard Time, which it borders on both east and west—is an exercise in narcissism. Then again, in their tireless vigil against “cultural interventions”, Nepalese have good company in India. A year ago India’s foreign minister asked Amazon to stop selling doormats printed with India’s flag and flip-flops bearing the image of Gandhi. And Indian Standard Time itself is an unusual five-and-a-half hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.