Newsweek editor in Buddha controversy

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : A year after Bollywood film “Chandni Chowk to China” triggered an uproar in Nepal with its claim that Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in India, an internationally acclaimed journalist and author has stoked the controversy afresh.

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Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek and host of a weekly show on international affairs for CNN, has given a fresh lease of life to the controversy by making the same claim.

Zakaria’s new book, “The Post American World”, says that though the Buddha was an Indian and Buddhism was born in India, there are no true Buddhists in the subcontinent.

A committee in Nepal has raised objections to the statement in parliament and the matter is said to have reached President Ram Baran Yadav, as well as the foreign and home ministries.

Though the book was published in May 2009, it took longer to reach Nepal.

The controversy became public Saturday after the spokesman of the opposition Maoist party, Dinanath Sharma, protested against the claim in Nepal’s largest daily Kantipur.

“Are we ready to believe that Zakaria wrote this without studying about the Buddha?” the Maoist MP asked.

Zakaria is a Yale graduate and a PhD in political science from Harvard.

“You can’t say a man doesn’t know where the Buddha was born when he is minutely dissecting all religions.”

The Maoist MP indicated that the erroneous statement by Zakaria, “an American of Indian origin”, is linked to the “propaganda by traitors” to wrongly inform the world that the Buddha was born in India.

Some school texts in India also propagate this while in India’s border area, there is an effort to build a “false Lumbini” – the kingdom in southern Nepal where the Buddha was born – to perpetuate the myth, Sharma said.

“This is an expression of the Indian government’s expansionist policy,” the Maoist leader said.

Zakaria is the third American author to make the same statement about the Buddha.

“A History of Knowledge: Past, Present and Future” by American author Charles Van Doren and a prescribed text for postgraduate students in Nepal makes the same claim.

So does the 2005 novel “Saving Fish From Drowning” by acclaimed author Amy Tan.