India, China win hearts, minds in quake-hit Nepal

India, China win hearts

POKHARA (TIP): At Pokhara airport in the Himalayas, Indian soldiers race back and forth loading rice, blankets, tarpaulins and other aid onto waiting helicopters for delivery to Nepal’s quake-devastated villages.

In the ruined ancient town of Bhaktapur outside the capital Kathmandu, Chinese rescuers in blue uniforms search for survivors in the rubble of toppled temples and homes.

Nepal’s overwhelmed government has been criticised by frustrated residents, hundreds of thousands of whom are desperate for assistance after Saturday’s monster quake.

But foreign countries, with their medics, specialist rescuers and helicopter sorties, have won applause, with giant neighbour India sometimes singled out for praise as the biggest provider.

“We are hungry, we have no food, and we’ve had no help from our own government,” Arjun Budhathoki, 30, said as he queued, along with thousands of others, for a bus out of Kathmandu this week.

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“The Indian government is the only one helping our citizens, they are doing so much for us,” Budhathoki said.

India and economic powerhouse China have long vied for influence in the impoverished Himalayan country which was ripped apart by the quake, leaving more than 6,200 people dead.

China has dispatched about 300 personnel to Nepal and announced about $10 million in aid so far, according to state media.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to “wipe the tears of every Nepali” while the country’s air force alone has sent 950 personnel and dropped more than 400 tonnes of aid across the country.

India’s hyperactive media have devoted hours to the country’s assistance, including plucking stranded climbers from Everest base camp. But analyst Rajrishi Singhal said India’s efforts involved a degree of self-interest.

“We share a long border with Nepal and any turmoil there can spill into India,” Singhal, senior fellow at the Gateway House think-tank in Mumbai, said.

“It is in our interest to see that Nepal gets back on its feet as soon as possible.”

Singhal said both India and China could play a significant role in Nepal’s reconstruction once the relief effort has concluded.

“Affordable housing is one area where India can really help Nepal because we have seen the large-scale devastation and the way houses have been destroyed,” he said.

“In that sense when it comes to rebuilding and reconstruction, both India and China must be prepared for the long haul in Nepal.”

Beijing has swept aside any suggestion it is being overshadowed by its rival in the quake zone, although it says it is planning to “intensify our efforts in disaster relief”.

“The assistance shows that all the Asian countries are part of the community of common destiny and we will work together with Nepal to help them rebuild their homeland as soon as possible,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing on Thursday.

Nepal’s foreign minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey has attempted to strike a balance, saying his government is grateful to its “very good friend” India, but also quick to mention China.

“They (China) too are sending teams of people and medicines,” Pandey said in an interview with the Indian Express newspaper on Tuesday.

“They are trying their best to rescue our people. We have divided areas between India and China.”

Modi has made clear since being elected last May that boosting India’s influence in its backyard is a priority.

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