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An Assessment of Nitish Kumar’s Visit to China

Bihar(India) might not have played a very significant role in the modern saga of Sino-Indian Relations, but it certainly was the main conduit between Sino-Indian Ties during the ancient times. To resuscitate the glorious relations and traditions of the ancient times and for promoting trade, business and attracting investment and tourists to the Buddhist circuit of Bihar, Chief Minister Mr. Nitish Kumar was recently on a sojourn to China for a week-long (June 12-18) study trip. Mr. Kumar is widely viewed as one of the most successful Chief Ministers of India.

In the recent few years, for better governance and economic revival, Mr. Nitish Kumar and his government has not only won accolades from several International and Western media but the Chinese ambassador to India, Mr. Zhang Yan during his January trip to Patna (Capital City of Bihar) openly showed Chinese appreciation for Bihar’s progress in the recent few years. The newly appointed Counsel General of China in Kolkata, Mr. Zhang Lizong has also showered plaudits on the positive approach of Nitish Kumar’s government and China has said that it was looking forward for strengthening its ties with one of the poorest province of the country in the field of agriculture, industry, tourism and education.

More than 85% of Biharis live in villages and Mr. Nitish Kumar’s main goal of visiting China was to attract investment, support and co-operation with China in agro-industries. In this pursuit, the Chief Minister not only visited the mega cities of China—Beijing and Shanghai but also went to a distant village in the eastern Chinese province—Shandong. Nitish met several local leaders and his talks with the deputy mayor of Weifang town, Mr. Wang Shuhua is said to be quite fruitful, positive and substantive in nature.

Nitish knows that he and his province need to learn a lot from China in the field of agriculture, infrastructure and industry. Bihar is primarily an agricultural state and it lacks energy resources in particular. Except the capital city of Patna, not to talk of villages, even other major towns and cities of the state do not get 10-12 hours of electric supply in a day. To get some lessons from China, he visited Linuo Ritter International Company Ltd, a company manufacturing cutting-edge solar-thermal panels in Jinan and inquired about using solar technology for power generation and water heating for industrial and domestic use. Tapping solar energy would be a very good way of resolving the power and electricity problems in the state. Bihar gets more than 320 days of very bright sunlight in a year and comprehensive use of solar panels would be a very positive step in the right direction.

Chinese tractors are comparatively much cheaper than those produced in India and Bihar needs loads of tractors to fulfil the demand of poor peasants. In Shandong, he visited several factories and personally made a round trip to several assembly lines of the tractor manufacturing companies and other machineries helpful in harvesting, sowing and cultivating the crops. In Shizui County, he visited several farms taking a lesson or two from the Chinese farmers. Visibly, he was awe-struck and completely impressed to see the infrastructure and progress, China and its villages has made in the recent few decades. Although not completely endorsing the Chinese political system, he did relent, that two different political parties ruling at the centre and provincial level was one of the cause of dismissive growth in India.

Near Patna, across the Ganges—the holy river of India, there is the growing city of Hajipur and plans are underway to build food plaza in this burgeoning town. To understand the Chinese situation, Nitish also visited Anqiu Huzai Food Company Ltd and another food plaza in Shandong.

Geographical position of Shandong in China is almost like geographical position of Bihar in India— both lying in the Eastern part of their country. Both have been primarily agricultural states and evolving now as agro-industry based states. If Shandong has been the home province of the greatest Chinese astute sage—Confucius, then Bihar has been the home-state of the greatest Indian philosopher sage—Gautam Buddha.

Buddhism is the most popular religion in China and Nitish wants to tap and attract Buddhist pilgrims from China to his state. Gaya—where Lord Buddha got ‘enlightenment’ is already an international airport with some flights from Thailand and Singapore. However, Gaya has no direct flight between any Chinese cities and if Gaya could be connected to any southern Chinese cities, it will be of great relief and comfort to Chinese pilgrims and tourism Industry of India and Bihar in particular. On his part, Nitish has already written to the central government of India and suggesting that the name of the Gaya International airport should be changed to Buddha International Airport. Bihar has already seen a ten-fold increase in the inflow of tourists from that of 50,000 in 2000 to more than 500,000 in 2010. This is mainly due to Buddhist pilgrim places in the province.

Bihar was also the most important place of power in the realm of culture, education, religion and politics throughout the first millennium after the Birth of Christ in India. Scholars treat ‘Maurya’ and ‘Gupta’ Dynasty of Bihar as pivotal, golden and glorious as Han and Tang Dynasty of China. The first university in true sense in the whole world with residential dormitories for International students and scholars was established at Nalanda and Vikramshila and all the three main Chinese Buddhist pilgrim-scholars—Faxian, Xuanzang and Yijing visited these places.

Xuanzang even studied and taught at Nalanda University in seventh century and on February 12, 2007, Xuanzang Memorial Hall was inaugurated in presence of several Chinese and Indian leaders including the Former Chinese Foreign Minister Mr. Li Zhaoxing and the Chief Minister of Bihar Mr. Nitish Kumar. The writer was himself present on this occasion acting as the ‘Master of the ceremony’ and had delightful talks with Mr. Li Zhaoxing and Nitish Kumar.

Imbibing to the same spirit, Mr. Nitish Kumar met the Vice-Presidents of the Buddhist Association of China Venerated Abbot Xuecheng at Guangji temple (Built during Jin and Ming dynasty and presently headquarter of the Buddhist Association of China) in Beijing and Abbot Juexing at Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai. This year marks the 2,600 anniversary year of the “Mahanirvana” of Lord Buddha and Bihar has plans to organize series of celebrations to commemorate this event. Nitish invited the religious leaders and hoped that China could actively participate in the programs. Mr. Kumar also addressed a Buddhist Conference organized jointly by both the countries in Beijing on “Mapping Asia’s history and culture’’. These are all right step at right time in the right direction. Buddhism certainly has the power to resuscitate the ancient wonderful relation between the two countries.

Nitish not only visited villages, small towns and agricultural farms, called upon religious and business leaders but also met top political leaders of China to foster the relationship between the two nations. He had substantive talks with Mr. Wu Zhiming, Secretary of the Shanghai CPC Municipal Political Science and Law Committee; Mr. Wang Junmin, the Deputy Governor of Shandong Province; Prof. Yan Junqi, Vice Chairperson of the NPC and many other leaders. All the leaders agreed that the long history of bilateral cultural and religious exchanges and economic cooperation between the two nations has great potential for further strengthening the ties in all these arenas and the writer would completely agree with them as no one is furtive or mealy-mouthed about it.

(The Writer Dr Yukteshwar Kumar, is Course Director, Chinese Stream, University of Bath and can be contacted onyukt123@gmail.com. The views expressed are Author’s personal)

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