Days after reviving a controversial project to develop Buddha's birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal, with the aid of a China-backed non-profit organization, the former leader of Nepal's Maoist rebellion has invited India, too, to join in creating what some have derided as "Disneyland for Buddhists."
"Nepal, China and India should come together and form a strategic partnership through this Lumbini project for peace, stability and development in the region and Asia," said Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, according to India's Saturday Hindustan Times.
He also mentioned discussions with top Chinese and Indian leaders on the project but didn't give any information on how Indian government or companies could get involved, the paper reported.
As GlobalPost reported earlier this week, Prachanda, who is now the chairman of Nepal's Unified Communist Party, has reportedly inked a deal with the China-backed Asia Pacific Exchange Cooperation Foundation that will bring in $3 billion to develop Buddha's birthplace at Lumbini into a "world-class city attracting tourists and pilgrims from across the world."
According to the Indian Express, the agreement was signed by Linus Xiao Wunan, executive vice chairman of the APEC Foundation and Prachanda in his capacity as chairman of Nepal's steering committee. But members of Nepal's other political parties challenged his right to sign the deal unilaterally.
“The issue was not discussed in the committee, and it has not authorised Prachanda to sign it in the manner he did,” the Express quoted Minendra Rizal, former Minister for Culture and a Nepali Congress leader, as saying.
“This project has enormous potential and will benefit Nepal, India and China and I have spoken to Indian authorities and they are positive about the project,” Prachanda said during the signing ceremony, according to the report. He did not disclose the details of the project, its total cost, or the time needed to complete it, however.
As GlobalPost reported in January, 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.