NEW DELHI: Rakesh Sood, India's envoy to Nepal, had cautioned Maoist leader Prachanda on Thursday that his party cadres might attempt violence in the Pashupatinath temple after the appointment of two Indian priests.
His worst fears came true on Friday when a group of 25-30 Maoist cadres beat up the new priests, Girish Bhatt and Raghamendra Bhatt, partially stripped them and paraded them in Kathmandu, leading to a strongly worded protest by India.
"The embassy in Kathmandu took up the matter with the political leadership and the government has assured them of the security of the priests," a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Friday. About 20 people have been arrested and sources said one of the main culprits too had been caught.
This incident is the latest in a series of events that is leading India to conclude that the Maoists are now hell-bent on undermining traditional institutions in Nepal, specially those that have any connection with India. The attempt, officials said, appeared to be to make these institutions less Nepali but more Maoist.
In 2008, the then Maoist-led Nepalese government had sacked three south Indian priests at the Pashupatinath temple, triggering a crisis, particularly after they were replaced by Nepali Brahmins. This departure from a 300-year-old tradition drew huge protests and the government was compelled to revise its decision.
In fact, the crisis earlier this year which ended with the ouster of Prachanda as prime minister was yet another instance, Indian officials said, where the Maoists were attempting to subvert the army, an institution with strong India links, but also to wrest control of the institution.
Although Indian officials said they were trying to keep Maoists in the loop, it's becoming clear that relations between Maoists and India are deteriorating by the day. The Maoists have launched a struggle committee, and this week the Maoist leadership also announced that it would restart the parallel local governments. In other words, Maoists are preparing the ground for a return to violence, which India now sees as inevitable.
It doesn't help that the Madhav Nepal government, including the mainstream political parties, have proved to be totally inept at handling the Maoists.
The constitution is certainly not going to be written in time, said sources. But governance too is petering out, which might prove to be oxygen for the Maoist's movement the second time round. Although PM Madhav Nepal himself approved the appointment of the priests, with full knowledge of the Maoists' disapproval, he could barely ensure their security.